[Psalm 137 is a controversial psalm for many because in it the psalmist prays for God to dash his enemies’ children against the rock. Atheists will often point to this as an example of the BIble somehow exhibiting a lower moral standard than that of the atheist. But this is said for two reasons, namely: 1. The atheist is suppressing the truth about his own state of guilt and condemnation before God and, thereby, seeking to alleviate his own pangs of conscience, and 2. the atheist, and sadly many Christians, don’t read this psalm carefully enough.
In the following except of my sermon on the psalm (you can download it from my church’s website here), I aim to show how the psalm fully demonstrates the righteousness of God. I hope this will be a blessing to you, and that you’ll find apologetic value in it.
Soli Deo Gloria!
At this point, you might be noticing that from Psalm 137 to Psalm 136 and all the way back to Exodus 1, the offspring of God’s enemies are slain by him. And in the opposite direction, in the New Testament, we see the same thing. Matthew 2:13-18 –
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more.
But why is this the case? Well, we need to go back even farther to Genesis 3:15, the proto-Gospel. In Genesis 3:15, the Lord tells the serpent –
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Why did the Pharaoh seek to destroy the offspring of Israel? Because he was doing the will of his father, the devil, who wanted to destroy the seed of the woman, the promised one to come. Why did the Babylonians dash the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David against the rock? Because they were doing the will of their father, the devil, who wanted to destroy the seed of the woman.
So returning to Psalm 137…
What appears to the world to be the harsh outcry of a vindictive poet of Israel is, in other words, a deep cry for absolute justice to brought forth by God. It is a prayer that finds its roots in the very Gospel itself, spoken by God in Genesis 3:15. It is cry for God to judge the offspring/children/seed/little ones of the serpent.
And this happened to the Babylonians years after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. In the 5th year of the reign of King Darius, the city of Babylon was seized and destroyed by the Medo-Persians. One historian relays the account, writing –
As soon as the Babylonians saw themselves begirt by such an army as they could not cope with in the field, they turned their thoughts wholly to the supporting of themselves in the siege; in order whereto they took a resolution, the most desperate and barbarous that ever any nation practised. For to make their provisions last the longer, they agreed to cut off all unnecessary mouths among them, and therefore drawing together all the women and children, they strangled them all, whether wives, sisters, daughters, or young children useless for the wars.
What the Babylonians had done to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, they now had to do to their own children. Lex talionis. Life for life. Perfect justice administered by God in time.
Was this the judgment of God on the seed of the serpent? Yes, in a sense. But there is one thing missing from that historical judgment – the Rock.
Why does the psalmist pray that the seed of God’s enemies be dashed against the Rock? Well, the Hebrew word for Rock “Selah” was also the name of the chief city of the Edomites, the children of Esau, the reprobate hated by God (according to Romans 9:13). There is wordplay here, then, that suggests the destruction of the seed of the wicked one will take place by means of their own hands! But what is more, this is the same word that is used of God in the Old Testament several times. For instance –
2nd Sam 22:2 – …the LORD is my Rock, my fortress, and my deliverer…
Ps 18:2 – …the LORD is my Rock…
Ps 42:9 – …God my Rock…
Ps 71:3 – …you are my Rock…
And even more specifically, it is the word that is translated “Petran” in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. And who is that Rock? None other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the “rock” upon which the church is built (Matt 16:18 & 1 Cor 3:11), he is the “rock of offense” (Rom 9:33), he is the “spiritual Rock” that followed Israel in the desert (1 Cor 10:4).
The stark ending of Psalm 137 is not accidental, but points us toward Christ, the Rock against whom the devil and his offspring would be shattered, dashed to pieces, even as one dashes pottery to pieces. This is no mere cry for physical, temporal, earthly justice – it is much more. It is the longing of God’s people for the promised seed, the Rock of Ages, to come and destroy the devil and his spiritual offspring. And at the cross, this prayer was answered, was it not? Yes, in part. For at the cross, Christ the Rock destroyed the works of the devil (1st John 3:8). Yet at his return, he will destroy all of the offspring of the devil, the seed of the serpent. He will save us, his very own little ones (Matt 18:1-6), his very own little children (1st John 2:1) – but he will destroy in hell forever all those who are the “sons of the wicked one” (Matt 13:38).