Understanding Psalm 137
Psalm 137: 9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.
For reference, the Hebrew can be found here:
Why was it written?Perhaps a bit of historical context is in order. When the Psalm was written, the Jews were in exile in Babylon. Clearly they were not happy about it, and what we read in Psalm 137 is the glee one of the captives feels at the thought of the Babylonian children getting bashed against rocks.
However, as this page makes clear, a lot of good actually came of the exile. The Jewish people developed a strong independence that it is still apparent today, and allowed them to survive the best part of two millennia without a homeland. Furthermore, the Jewish faith was re-made at this time, explain why this tragedy had befallen the people, and to some degree borrowing concepts from the Babylonians (and consequently the Christian faith would be quite different without the Babylonian captivity).
An eye for an eyeOne explanation is that the Psalmist was just wanting for the Babylonians what they had suffered. This would fit with the eye-for-an-eye motif of the OT, but the problem is that there is no evidence the Babylonians actually did this.
Just how bad was the captivity?Probably not that bad, as these pages make clear:
That is not to say the Israelites would have been happy about it, I am sure they were not, but things could have been much worse. They could have been treated in the manner they had themselves treated conquered nations.
1 Samuel 15:1-9
It was not God's wordOf course, someone might argument that the Psalm is just some guy's opinion; it does not reflect what God wants or thinks at all. Well, yes, I agree. That is exactly what I believe. As far as I am concerned the whole Bible is just people's opinions. It in no way reflects God's word, because there is no God. From an atheist perspective, this makes perfect sense.
However this is a big problem for anyone claiming the Bible is sacred, or is God's word. As soon as you say this verse is not really God's word, you loose all authority in the Bible. How many of the other 31,101 verses are you going to decide are inconvenient, and not really God's word? Why not all 31,102 all of them?
Here is an example:
Nowhere does it say that God approves of the Psalmist’s request or that he fulfilled it. Just because it is recorded that the Psalmist wrote the imprecation, doesn’t mean it was approved by God.So what parts of the Bible are approved by God? How do we know? And why did God, supposedly all-powerful and all-knowing, allow verses he does not approve to get incorporated?
Maybe bashing kids against rocks is okay!Or so some Christian apologists would have us think.
Also, the critics need to provide an acceptable, objective moral standard by which they can criticize biblical morality. It is one thing to complain. It is another to offer a justification for the validity of the complaint. By what right and by what objective ethical standard do the critics offer moral condemnation against Biblical morals?It is an interesting strategy. You cannot objectively show bashing kids against rocks is morally wrong, therefore you cannot show the Bible is immoral. However it is rather throwing the baby out with the bathwater (on to rocks, I guess). Does anyone actually believe bashing kids on rocks is ever morally acceptable?
What we can do is consider it against Christian morality. If bashing children against rocks is immoral in the Christian morality, then the Bible is show to be inconsistent with Christian morality.
Some translations say "happy" not "blessed"[This section added 12/May/17]
A Christian really did try this one. Of course they say "happy" not "blessed", they want to convince their flock the Bible is all nice and fluffy.
Nevertheless, the original text says "blessed".
The Hebrew word is אַשְׁרֵי. And according to here, in the NASB, that word is translated as blessed 41 times and as happy 4 just times. When it says happy, it means the happiness that comes when you are blessed by God.
Some examples to illustrate (these just happen to be the first five from Psalms):
Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!In these and in ever other instance in the Bible the word means blessed, and specifically by God. There is no doubt that Psalm 137 states that those who smash the Babylonian babies against rocks will be blessed by God.
Psalm 2:12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
Psalm 32:1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
Psalm 32:2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.