Psalms – Prayers of Honesty and Praise
Today’s psalm is praise for God in the memory of evil gone wild in the Babylonian heathens who are attacked God’s people, drove them from the land of their birth, and mocked the God they said they loved.
Psalm 137, The Message
1-3 Alongside Babylon’s rivers
we sat on the banks; we cried and cried,
remembering the good old days in Zion.
Alongside the quaking aspens
we stacked our unplayed harps;
That’s where our captors demanded songs,
sarcastic and mocking:
“Sing us a happy Zion song!”
4-6 Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song
in this wasteland?
If I ever forget you, Jerusalem,
let my fingers wither and fall off like leaves.
Let my tongue swell and turn black
if I fail to remember you,
If I fail, O dear Jerusalem,
to honor you as my greatest.
7-9 God, remember those Edomites,
and remember the ruin of Jerusalem,
That day they yelled out,
“Wreck it, smash it to bits!”
And you, Babylonians—ravagers!
A reward to whoever gets back at you
for all you’ve done to us;
Yes, a reward to the one who grabs your babies
and smashes their heads on the rocks!
FROM THE HEART…
“Remember” and “forget” are used a total of five times in these nine verses. The American humorist Elbert Hubbard said, “A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.” Sometimes we must remember to forget.
A Jew, probably a Levite, wrote this psalm after he had returned home from Babylon with the remnant in 536 BC. Twenty years later, Babylon was destroyed. The psalmist was with a group of former exiles (note the “we” and “us” in vv. 1-4), recalling some of their experiences, and from this encounter with the past, he learned some lessons about the human memory, himself, and the Lord.
Memory Can Open Wounds (vv. 1-4)
Sitting was the official position for mourning, and the Jewish exiles felt and acted like mourners at a funeral. The two major rivers were the Tigris and the Euphrates, but Babylon had a network of canals that helped to turn the desert into a garden. Perhaps the Jews gathered by the canals because they needed water for their religious rituals (Acts 16:13). Whatever else they may have left back in Judah, they brought their harps with them, for music was important to their worship of the Lord (81:1-3). Music was also one way of expressing their grief and seeking the help of the Lord “who gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10 nkjv).
Their city, temple, and homes had been destroyed, their people had been deported, and the throne of David had been cast to the ground. But even worse, they had seen the Babylonian soldiers get great glee out of throwing Jewish babies against the walls and smashing their heads (v. 9). It was one way the Babylonians could limit the future generation of their enemies.
Yes, memories can bring pain, and the pain does not go away when we try to “bury” the memories. Denial usually makes things worse. But the fact that the exiles could talk about these painful things indicates that they were facing them honestly and learning how to process this pain in a mature way. It takes time for broken hearts to heal, and Jesus can heal them if we give Him all the pieces (147:3; Luke 4:18).
Memory Can Build Character (vv. 5-6)
Sometimes we have to lose things to really appreciate them. Here were the exiles in Babylon, mourning the loss of everything that was important to them, and asking themselves, “Did we really appreciate what the Lord gave us–our land, our city, the temple, our homes, our children?”
At least one man made a vow when he was in exile, that he would always remember Jerusalem and make it the highest priority and greatest joy in his life. By “Jerusalem,” of course, he meant the Lord Jehovah, the temple and its ministry, the city and its people, and the ministry of Israel to the world.
As we look back on life and evaluate our experiences, it is important that we learn our lessons and grow in godly character. “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (90:12 nkjv). “I will pay You my vows, which my lips have uttered … when I was in trouble” (66:13-14 nkjv).
Memory Can Encourage Faith (vv. 7-9)
These three verses have been a serious problem for the unlearned and a target for the unbelieving who are at war with God and the Bible. However, once this passage is understood, it should encourage the faith of God’s people in times of upheaval when the Lord seems to be shaking everything (Heb. 12:25-29). The Babylonian guards were taunting the Jewish exiles, wanting them to sing about their God, who had not rescued them and their city, which was now a heap of ruins.
This was not a matter of politics but theology, nor was it a personal vendetta but an issue between two nations. As individuals, we have the right to forgive an offender, but if the judge forgave every criminal who appeared in his court, the foundations of society would be undermined and chaos would result.
It was not the Jewish people individually who punished Babylon but the God of Israel who answered their prayers and vindicated His people (Rom. 12:17-21). One day, He will vindicate His church and punish those who have persecuted and slain His servants (Rev. 6:9-17).
This weekend in Santa Cruz many will be put in harm’s way by revelers full of liquor and drugs to celebrate carnivale (mardi gras in our country). It is more of a ritual where evil has a hay day. All good is put aside. Evil no longer hides but comes out in the open with pride and arrogance. Lives will be lost or maimed in the process. Children will be left alone to run unattended in the streets. Vandals will throw paint at passersby and on the businesses they frequent themselves. The city will not be safe to travel to or do business. So, since the Babylonian evil, how far has society come?
Evil is still among us. Know your enemy enough to be alert to his schemes to destroy humanity. Run from his suggestive thoughts that give birth to sin. No evil thought or action is worth giving into that leads to loss of life for eternity.
So, here are some questions to think about…
Remember” and “forget” stand out in this psalm. What did the Jewish exiles in Babylon remember? What did they ask the Lord to remember?
What should we remember? Why?
What do we make of the psalmist’s strong words about vengeance against those who have hurt him?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing. It means deciding not to retaliate and leaving justice to God. What wrongs are hard for us to forgive? Talk to the Lord about these experiences. I am right now.
Our desire must be to learn from experiences that hurt us or draw as away from God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Help us to grow up in your love, wisdom, insight and understanding. Help us to stay alert to evil’s schemes to destroy your children. Thank you for overcoming this world and preparing us for the next and final home with you forever! I believe. I trust in You with all that is in me. I love you first. I love you always. Thank you for memories that teach us. Thank you for helping us forget the hurt and remember the lessons learned.
In Jesus Name, Amen