The Song That Makes People Reject God



February 27, 2021

Psalm 137

To the tune of “My Soul Gives Glory to My God” C.M. Sing it at

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 How bless-ed 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 unthinkable moment. It was for this moment they wrote an almost unsingable song:

How bless-ed 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, and 139). What is an imprecatory psalm? It’s when the songwriter calls down napalm from heaven on his enemies’ heads—and in the case of 137, on their children. It’s a prayer and plea to God for immediate, unmitigated justice.

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 people’s 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 witnesses to his character.

If you are up for it, try singing what feels like an unsingable song.

Ask Yourself. Share with Another.

Have you ever had to deal with this particular passage of Scripture? How did you do it? Do you need a better approach?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

P.S. If you need some help navigating this type of psalm, consider this article by Julie Tennent.


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


  1. I relate to this scripture, the same way I deal with life. I can remember one time and one time only, I told someone to go to hell. Those words pierced me immediately, and I apologized. Life will throw STUFF at us. BUT I have trouble with this scripture, and yet I know of that kind of anguish. I think God is just showing us the true essence of man, when things do not go our way.

  2. I read this passage with this question. What does it say about the nature and character of God? And what I learned from it is that God is capable of handling our deepest, darkest frustrations and hearts’ cries. No thought need be withheld.

  3. They are being brutally honest about where they are which is where healing/redemption begins; this Psalm is more about them than it is about God. For me, the key verse is this question:

    4 But how can we the Lord’s song sing within a foreign land?

    They are in a situation they never anticipated; a place I am all too currently familiar with and it has not always been pretty.