Psalm 137 - NRSV - Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the Lord's song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem's fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
Devotional from Scott Evans
Some of my favourite Psalms are Psalms that are overlooked or deliberately ignored by good, religious people. I like them because they are raw and emotional. They are vulnerable and honest. They don’t dress up their feelings in religious language or pack away their questions in neat little boxes. Instead, they take their anger and their fury and their prejudice and their sadness and their hopelessness and, instead of hiding it or denying it, they sing it at the top of their lungs. I can only imagine how cathartic and liberating it must have been for them to sing their hearts out.
And how challenging it probably was for other people to listen to them.
That’s especially true of this Psalm. It’s not a joyful one.
It’s bitter and it’s brutal.
It’s written by Israelites who watched their city and country burn before they were dragged off into exile as prisoner and servants.
You can imagine them sitting on the banks of the river, singing through their tears, crying out to God,
‘Don’t let us forget who we used to be! Don’t let us lose the memory of who you called us to be!’
They are angry at their captors. They’re probably angry at God. And they’re definitely angry at themselves because the reason they went into exile is that they forgot who God had called them to be. They allowed greed and selfishness to direct their lives. They allowed injustice to thrive in their cities and inequality to run riot in their communities. They’re angry. And this anger is a toxic thing. We all feel it. It’s like a drug — like an energy all of its own. It’s powerful and its destructive. Or at least it has the potential to be.
The final line of this Psalm is disgusting:
‘Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.’
What a horrible and inexcusable thing to say, let alone to include in a song of lament to God.
And yet, this is how they’re feeling. There is a courage in expressing it. Once we have expressed it, God can transform it.
He can take our rage and turn it towards redemption.
He can take our bitterness and make something beautiful from it.
But he needs us to express it. To own it.
So sing it out — whatever it is that you are feeling.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.