Song #137. . . The Song that makes people reject God.


March 15, 2014

Psalm 137

By rivers of cruel Babylon, there we sat down and wept;
When we remembered you, Zion, our home we’ll not forget.

Upon the trees we hung our harps, for they demanded song;
Our captors, with triumphant scorn, said, “Sing songs of Zion.”

But how can we the Lord’s song sing within a foreign land?
If I forget Jerusalem, let skill leave my right hand.

May my tongue cleave to my mouth’s roof, if I do not recall;
If I don’t praise Jerusalem, my chief joy above all.

Remember, Lord, all Edom’s sons who razed Jerusalem;
Who said, “Tear down, tear down its walls unto its foundation.”

O daughter of doomed Babylon, you devastated one;
How bless’d will be the one who pays to you as you have done.

How blessed ever will he be, who thus ends your cruelty;
Who dashes e’en your little ones upon the rocks justly.

Song #137 may be the most difficult passage in all of the Bible. Here we find Israel robbed of virtually everything but their breath (and many had been robbed of that). After marching them out of their homes and into the corpulent abyss of Babylonian exile, after losing everything they had, after it got worse than the worst could have possibly been–it was then their captors demanded them to sing the songs of Zion. This scene offers a truly un-thinkable moment. It was for this moment they wrote an almost unsingable song– Song #137.

“How blessed ever will he be, who thus ends your cruelty; Who dashes e’en your little ones upon the rocks justly.”

Song #137 is one of the ten imprecatory Psalms (7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, 139). What is an imprecatory Psalm? It’s when the song writer calls down napalm from heaven on their enemies heads– and in the case of #137– on their children. It’s a prayer and plea to God for immediate, unmitigated justice. Julie Tennent, one of the creators of the Seedbed Psalter from which our Lenten texts are coming, has written some helpful guidance on how to approach these Psalms. She titled it, “We’re not supposed to sing those Psalms are we?” I’d like you to read it.

Why is this so important? These Psalms, and this one in particular, pose significant barriers to faith for many people in today’s world. Who hasn’t had the argument thrown at them that they want no part of a God whose inspired word involves the murder of other peoples’ children? As ambassadors of Christ we must learn to help others, many of whom are in desperate need of the grace of God, to navigate these troubled waters. We must learn to approach these conversations not as God’s lawyers but as lovers of people. Julie has developed a thoughtful and helpful approach. Please read it today.

After that, if you are up for it, go from there to Song #137 and try singing what feels like an unsingable song.  CLICK HERE

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at  


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.