Psalms 137-143

Good morning! Today with Psalms 137-143 we see our second-to-last day of the Psalms. Most of these chapters focus on a central theme of deliverance from enemies. Psalm 140, for instance, prays for salvation from the wicked, giving the impression of traps all around. Likewise Psalm 141 is a pious prayer for preservation in a time of evil, and is also a fixture in the evening prayer liturgy of many Jewish and Christian traditions. Yet two psalms—137 and 139—stand out especially in this group for their ability to channel the best and the worst of human experiences.

Psalm 137 evokes the condition of captives in Babylon, when they grieved what had occurred in the fall of Jerusalem and their captivity, plus how they were taunted by captors to praise their fallen and beloved city. The psalm includes one of the bitterest expressions ever written, directed against Edom and against Babylon. Anyone who condemns the violence in texts of other holy books and faith traditions must also cringe at the genocidal intent of Psalm 137:9, where the slaying of children is lifted up as a good thing. Such a verse as this remains in Scripture—in the holiest book of the Judeo-Christian tradition—as a cautionary tale. Every human being of no matter what identity can be guilty of unrighteous, murderous excess. This final verse drips with the venom of retribution, which has led to countless horrors in human history. This sentiment is wrong, and though it’s in this most important book, there’s no way it describes the will of God.

On the other side of the coin, we also read the transcendent beauty that human beings can channel at our best. Decades ago I read a children’s book called “Runaway Bunny”, which describes a baby bunny asking his mother what she would do if he were to run away. Wherever he runs away to, the mother bunny says she will find a way to follow him there. That’s what Psalm 139 reminds me of. This deeply beautiful psalm about the ever-presence and omniscience of God gives both comfort and caution to the reader. There is nothing which can drive God away, but also nothing to hide human actions from the divine. With verses that centuries have treasured, the writer describes a God who “knit me together in my mother’s womb”, providing a most tender counterpart to the graphic infanticide of Psalm 137. Finally, at the end of the psalm the writer concludes, “lead me in the way everlasting”. A young bunny decides to stay home and not run away after all. Happy reading!

Read Psalms 137-143.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 144-150. Thanks for reading!

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