Thursday, December 11, 2008

Psalm 137: On Bashing Babylonian Babies

I've been teaching from the Book of Psalms on Wednesday nights. What a blessing. But what a challenge, too.

We started out with an introduction and overview. From there, each class session has been devoted to one psalm in particular. Next Wednesday night will be the last time for me to teach the class. I've decided to go with Psalm 137. Here it is from the New International Version:

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, O 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.
7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. "Tear it down," they cried, "tear it down to its foundations!"
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-
9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

As you guessed, I wanted to get to this one because of its one of the best known of the so-called imprecatory or cursing psalms. Verses 8 and 9 pronounce a blessing on the one who smashes the little children of the enemy. It's not something most people expect to find in the Bible. Savage vindictiveness can be found in other places in the Scriptures. But it's not often this raw.

Naturally, I plan to take the class back to one of our first observations about the psalms: they aren't like the Ten Commandments or a prophetic oracle. That is, they don't come from God per se. Instead, the psalms are primarily the words of people. It is only because these particular psalms make up a biblical book that people of faith regard them as being part of God's written word to humanity. By their very nature, the psalms tell us about God in a much more roundabout way than something like a prophetic sermon.

From there, I want the class to explore the kinds of experiences that led the poet to feel this way--massacre, looting, destruction, robbing people of their dreams and their well-being. I want to explore questions like, Don't passages like this one speak of the way that we ourselves sometime feel? I want to get into questions like, What are Christian people to do with their own deep anger? Is it appropriate for us to pray our own rage? How do we do that? Or do we just do it, like Psalm 137?

While I'm turning the text over in my mind, I'm interested to hear what you think.

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