Today is the final of our readings and discussions about the category of Psalms under the title of “imprecatory.” Again, an “imprecation” is not a word we have likely used in general conversation this week. By definition it means “an offensive word or phrase that people say when they are angry.”
So an imprecatory Psalm involves the verbalized passions of a writer (often David) who has been effectively righteous and living for God, but who has suffered unjustly, and there does not seem to be a ready remedy. And hence they are calling out to God to bring down a just judgment upon the head of the offender(s).
Are you able to enter into the feeling of these writers? If not, let me see if the following helps you get into their sandals just a bit …
All you have to do right now is look at the international news. Check out this group of terrorists called ISIS and look into some of their behaviors. Google search “ISIS atrocities” or “Sinjar, Iraq.” I cannot even bring myself to type out the words as to what is occurring there to minority Muslim and Christian groups. Executions, beheadings, crucifixions … including women and children … heads being put on display on posts, etc. That is happening right there, right now as I write this and as you see it posted here on August 15, 2014.
How does that make you feel? Imagine this was happening to your family and countrymen. What would you want to see done in terms of a just retribution upon those who had committed such atrocities? Would you wish upon them the same experience they have inflicted on others? If you put that into a statement, you would be making an “imprecation.” And in tha context, you would likely also put it into a prayer to the Lord to ask why this is being allowed… seeking and promoting that God would act in just judgment.
Our Psalm today is from a very different era than most we have read heretofore. It is from some 400 years after the time of David, when many from Israel have been taken from the area of Palestine and into captivity to Babylon. They experienced ISIS-like atrocities from the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar.
The Psalm pictures some Jews sitting along the river there – a beautiful spot, only a couple hundred miles from where the ISIS events spoken above are happening – and reflecting upon their homeland and Jerusalem. Their captors are taunting them to sing a song of joy, which they cannot do in their unpleasant circumstances.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
The writer and his associates cry out to God, asserting their loyal hearts for Zion and home, mentioning also the despicable Edomites (descendants of Esau) and their complicit role in what had befallen them.
7 Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
You may remember from our previous “Uncharted” series on the Minor Prophets that we wrote about the little book of Obadiah – who prophesied against Edom, and you can reference that HERE.
From that devotional in January, I wrote: “Obadiah prophesied (accurately as it would turn out) that Edom would not stand up for Judah when the time of destruction of Jerusalem came at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Not only did they not defend their former relatives, they participated in a variety of ways in assisting the decimation of God’s people… even gloating over it.”
And then in the final two verses of Psalm 137, the author turns to strong words of imprecation.
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Wow, those are harsh words! Among the most blunt in all of Scripture. If you go to any site (of which there are many) by skeptics who mock the Bible as ridiculous and assert their view of the silliness of believing in the myth or fairytale of a loving God, you will see this verse included.
Certain nations and peoples were so constituently evil that God did desire and promote their total elimination, including the children who would be the next generations. Israel failed to obey God at several junctures in this regard, and they would pay a terrible price for it later. These were people who had completely rejected God and who were entirely given over to evil pursuits.
A part of me was ready to set out and write about what a different millennia this was and to put these harsh words in that context. But, again, referencing current events, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Sin and evil doesn’t change that much, but neither does God’s grace – open to those who will believe and trust in the one true God, be they from Babylon in 600 BC, or from ISIS in 2014.