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Short, disturbing, and highly prized by God haters, Psalm 137 should be considered a must read for serious Christians. Why? Because it will force you to rethink this ridiculous theory that God is the One doing the talking in the book of Psalms as well as the absurd notion that the Bible is “inerrant, infallible and Divinely inspired.” If we’re going to say that God is the One inspiring Psalm 137, then we’d be forced to conclude that God is commanding us to care more about the earthly city of Jerusalem than we do about Him. Does this sound right to you? Hopefully not.
Hopefully you know better than to think that God wants you to partake in this idolatrous obsession with some political nation. But with the Church obsessing over all things Jewish, it can be easy to start losing your grip on the fact that God doesn’t give a hoot what ethnicity our earthsuits are. It’s our souls that God cares about—and it’s our soul response to Him that we are judged by. Is Psalm 137 going to help you embrace spiritual priorities and attitudes that are pleasing to God? Not hardly. God says we ought to treat others as we want to be treated. God says we ought to be generous with the mercy and stay away from trying to get revenge. Well, the fellow who wrote Psalm 137 has no use for what God wants. Instead, he’s all about wallowing in hate and an idolatrous obsession with some irrelevant patch of dirt. Such is the way with the biblical authors—immaturity abounds (see Spiritual Maturity in the Bible: Where is it?).
When you crack open the book of Psalms, it’s like you’re turning on your car radio and hearing the latest release of some popular artist who always sings about the emotional side of the human experience. The psalms are actually poetic lyrics which were meant to be sung out loud. There is nothing prophetic about the psalms: they’re just a bunch of verbal drama that was vented by folks who were in very agitated emotional states. Some psalmists were super happy when they penned their lyrics, others were down in the dumps, and some are swinging all over the place as they write. Either way, if you confuse the emotional freak out of humans with words from God, you’re going to end up with a lot of very wrong assumptions about who God is and how He operates.
The book of Psalms is a primary source for those wicked little Bible promise books which encourage you to claim promises that God never said to you while totally blowing off the things that He did say to you (see Practicing Discernment: Bible Promises). It’s from Psalms that many false Messianic prophecies have been invented, and it’s from Psalms that we get our idolatrous notion of guardian angels (see Angel Q&A). Essentially what we’re doing is taking the carnal musings of a bunch of immature humans, calling it “God-breathed,” and then ending up in faith crises when God fails to live up to our Psalm based expectations. So how can we break out of this destructive habit and actually benefit from the book of Psalms instead of being deluded by it? We need to start by chucking everything the Church ever taught us about this collection of songs and start fresh by asking God to give us His discernment when we read. Then we need to ask Him to help us learn the lessons that He wants to teach us, and that means learning more about who He is and how He wants to be treated. Life is about knowing, serving, and loving our three glorious Creators. Life is not about using, controlling and leading Them. Guess which road the Church is going to shove you down? The wrong one, of course, and she starts by telling you that all of the carnal rot we find in this collection of songs is actually “God breathed.” Of course she’s just quoting the apostle Paul when she says this, and since he had the spiritual discernment of a rock, it’s no surprise that he would slap the “God breathed” label onto something like Psalm 137. Let’s now dig into this carnal little whine fest and see what God honoring lessons we can learn.
Psalm 137 is a fabulous example of how important historical context can be in properly understanding something. So how do you gain historical context? Isn’t that a tedious process? No, it’s just a matter of getting familiar with the chronological order of the Old Testament accounts. Once you know the order that things happened in and you’re familiar with certain key events in Israel’s history, then instead of getting confused by the strange names mentioned in Psalm 137, you’ll recognize them as clear indicators of what the historical context of this psalm is. So, wow, how do you get that smart? Doesn’t that mean you have to go to Bible school or something? Not at all. It’s really quite revolting the way Christians have turned Bible education into such a money making machine. Stay out of Bible school—you’re much better off without the brainwashing and the piles of debt. Our Know Your Bible Series will walk you through the whole Old Testament in chronological order, and give you all the tools you need to figure out Psalm 137 without any help. Plus it’s free–obviously. How stupid would we have to be to sell truth to people? We aren’t going to mess with the God who created Hell.
Now it’s shockingly easy to become smarter than your pastor and all of those fatheaded theologians when it comes to this Bible business. This is largely because most pastors and degree waving theologians have gone through the Church’s brainwashing machinery in which they are actually taught how to ignore and misinterpret much of what the Bible says. This is why we say you’re better off not going to Bible college: because you’re just going to be told the whole thing is God-breathed, and once you start with that idiotic assumption, you can only go downhill.
Okay, so what historical facts do you need to understand in order to grasp what’s happening in Psalm 137? Well, for starters, the psalms were written by ethnic Jews, and the ancient Jews took patriotism to idolatrous levels. Now pick up a candy bar and snap it into two uneven pieces: that’s what Yahweh did to the nation of Israel centuries before Psalm 137 was written. He broke His “chosen nation” into two kingdoms who rotated between liking and hating each other. The larger northern kingdom kept the name of Israel, while the much smaller southern kingdom took the name Judah. So why did Yahweh break Israel apart like this? Because she was a rebellious twerp who was always defying Him. What happened after He broke the nation apart? He ended up with two smaller kingdoms who continued to defy Him year in and year out. Of course He convicted the Jews to shape up a billion times. Of course He raised up countless prophets to warn everyone that if they kept messing with Him, He’d bring total disaster on their heads. But no one listened. Unwrap the larger piece of your candy bar and eat it. Yum. That’s what a nation named Assyria did to the kingdom Israel: she ate her. You’ve heard of the Roman Empire—well, there were many empires that came and went before anyone knew about the Romans. The Assyrian Empire was one of those. The Assyrian Empire gobbled up Israel and scattered her people all over the place.
Well, empires are like milk in your fridge: they only last so long before they expire and get thrown out. About a century after Assyria gobbled up Israel, the Babylonians gobbled up the Assyrians. Now we have a new empire on our hands. And just as the city of Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire, the city of Babylon was the capital of the Babylonian Empire.
It’s now time for you to eat that last small piece of your candy bar. Munch, munch, swallow. Yum. This is what the Babylonians did to the kingdom of Judah. They chewed her up with a series of violent military invasions, and then they finally gobbled her up entirely and she became part of the Babylonian Empire.
Now most of the nations you read about in the Bible were tiny little things. If you’re an American, think of a patch of land that’s smaller than New Jersey: that’s how small Judah was. Americans are used to having space, and Bible maps are always blown up to make things seem much bigger than they really were. Judah was a postage stamp, and her capital city was Jerusalem. Jerusalem spread across the tops of four hills, one of which was called Zion. It was on Mount Zion that Solomon built his famous gilded Temple. Well, when the Babylonians devoured Judah, they burned Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground, butchered thousands of people, and hauled thousands more off to live as slaves in various parts of the Babylonian Empire. Why bother with the hassle of hauling off slaves? Because it makes it hard for the people you just conquered to strike back in any organized way when you spread them all over the place.
Now the city of Babylon was parked by a large river, and many Jews ended up there. The prophet Ezekiel was one of them. The guy who wrote Psalm 137 was another one. The guy who wrote Psalm 137 was a Jew from Judah who is feeling utterly humiliated by his degrading situation. He’s also boiling with hate at the bully Babylonians who are naturally gloating over their success and taunting their Jewish prisoners.
Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Zion. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Zion!” But how can we sing the songs of Zion while in a pagan land? (Ps. 137:1-4)
Why is Zion being mentioned here? Well, Zion was where the Temple stood, and the Temple was supposed to be Yahweh’s House. Yahweh was the national God of Israel, and to the ancient peoples, when one nation triumphed over another, it was proof that the victorious nation’s gods were stronger. Right now, the Babylonians are feeling quite cocky about their victory over Judah. To them, this makes it pretty obvious that the gods of Babylon are far stronger than the gods of Israel. But wait—didn’t Israel have just one God? Well, that gets complicated.
From the beginning, Israel was supposed to be a one God nation, with her God being the magnificent Yahweh. But in reality, the Israelites worshiped a whole pantheon (or collection) of false gods instead of Yahweh. They stole gods from the nations around them, and they even invented new gods whenever it suited them. It was this kind of outrageous rebellion that resulted in Israel getting completely mowed down. Yahweh told her time and time again that He was furious about her ditching Him for idol gods. He accused her of acting like an adulteress and a prostitute for ditching Him to go have spiritual “sex” with her many other gods. So as far as the Babylonians are concerned, the Jews worshiped many gods who the Babylonian gods just spanked. But since Yahweh was Israel’s national God, the Babylonians take special pride in besting Him.
National gods were viewed as very patriotic beings who remained in a specific geographical location. So when the Jews were hauled off as slaves, Israel’s national God was viewed as remaining in the patch of land which He considered to be His home turf. If you were a foreigner who then moved into Israel, you would probably pay homage to the “God of the land” in hopes that He wouldn’t take offense at you moving onto His turf. This is all superstitious nonsense, of course, but it’s how these people thought.
So what we have in Psalm 137 is a bunch of Jews feeling humiliated while Babylonian bullies are saying, “Hey, Jews: how about you sing us one of those praise songs that you used to pray to your national God—you know, that same weakling who we just conquered. Ha, ha, ha!” And of course the Jews aren’t going to do this because they really do feel like Yahweh has been triumphed over. But has He? Of course not.
Yahweh prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem countless times before it actually happened. He said well in advance that the Babylonians would be the ones doing the attacking and burning. And He also said that the Babylonians were merely tools that He was using to spank His terribly rebellious people. Yahweh made it quite clear that the Jews should view the fall of Jerusalem as Yahweh’s own doing, because He was fed up with them stuffing His Temple with idol gods and reveling in evil just to spite Him. So given that the Jews brought this whole mess on themselves, is our psalmist really being appropriate to say, “But how can we sing the songs of Zion while in a pagan land?” No, he’s being a pill. Yahweh is just as deserving of praise now as He was before Jerusalem was leveled. Of course no human likes being taunted, but trying to use one’s physical location as an excuse to not praise Yahweh is just bratty.
You have to understand what rebellious snarkers this particular batch of Jews were in order to understand this psalm. Yahweh rants and raves about the horrible, unrepentant attitude of these people in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel—two prophets who were actually preaching before and after Jerusalem’s fall. If our psalm writer was modeling the correct attitude, he’d be saying, “Well, Yahweh, You warned us this would happen, and now it has. We treated You horribly for centuries and we refused to repent. We’ve brought this misery down on our own heads. We sure can’t accuse You of being ungracious, for You gave us so many chances to repent, and we spurned them all. You sent us many prophets, and we murdered them in cold blood just because they spoke for You. So now here we are living in the land of our enemies who are mocking us. What defense can we plead? None. We deserve this, and I personally want to say how sorry I am for being such a rebellious twerp to You.” This is what our psalmist should be saying, but he’s not within a million miles of this kind of maturity. Instead, he’s wallowing in a “poor me” mentality and acting like the fall of Jerusalem was some horrible thing that was never supposed to happen. It’s like the man is completely blowing off everything he’s heard Yahweh say for the last several decades. Should we really be feeling sorry for this guy when he’s treating Yahweh with such gross disrespect? Not hardly. You see, once you understand historical context, you recognize just how obnoxious this whine fest really is.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. (Ps. 137:5-6)
WOW, really?? “If I forget you, O Jerusalem”?? So it’s okay to forget Yahweh and blow off everything He says? It’s devotion to some stupid city that we’re supposed to be living and dying for and not devotion to God Himself? Are you seeing what’s so offensive about this guy saying that he wants Jerusalem to be his greatest joy in life? As you read this guy calling down curses on himself if his devotion to his nation’s capital ever falters, you should be thinking, “Wow, what a spiritual zero this guy was. Talk about blowing off God’s priority system.”
As Christians, we really can’t be treating devotion to our Gods like some “whatever” issue. Yahweh, Jesus, and the magnificent Holy Spirit are supposed to come FIRST. They’re not supposed to be totally blown off as irrelevant while we say asinine things like, “Oh, may I stop breathing if I ever love anything more than the town where I was born!” Are you getting a feel for how idiotic the apostle Paul was being for calling rot like this “God breathed”? Paul was a Pharisee—a man who was trained in the Old Testament enough to know that Yahweh’s first command to His people was to love HIM first and foremost. So, no, it certainly isn’t Yahweh or the Holy Spirit who led some fool to write this idolatrous garbage about loving some city of earth above all else in life.
O Yahweh, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” (Ps. 137:7)
An ethnic Jew descends from the man named Jacob (aka Israel) who was the grandson of Abraham. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau (aka Edom). It’s more than a little ridiculous to pretend that two twin boys have entirely different ethnicities, but this is what happens in the biblical records. Jacob’s descendants are called Jews, and Esau’s descendants were known as Edomites. The nation of Edom was a neighbor of Israel, and the two nations hated each other intensely—each one taking turns to trash the other one whenever it was possible. Israelite soldiers did plenty of hideous things to the Edomites whenever Israel was the top dog, and so it was no surprise that the Edomites were whooping and cheering when they saw Jerusalem going up in flames. In fact, the Edomites tried to help with the butchering—a fact which got them in big trouble with Yahweh. Why? Because to war against Israel was to war against her national God.
Yahweh certainly doesn’t love ethnic Jews more than other people—that’s what you’re told by many in the Church today, because they’re recycling the bigotry of the apostle Paul (see More Lies from Paul: God Loves Jews More Than Gentiles). When you find Yahweh railing at other nations in the Bible and saying that He’s going to trash them as revenge for them trashing Israel, what He’s really punishing people for is their soul rebellion against Him. Today we misunderstand this because we live in an atheistic world and we don’t view every nation as having national gods. But if you did believe that Germany was protected by a some god named Siegfried, well then by attacking Germany, aren’t you really attacking Siegfried? Yes, you are. Today if you go graffiti someone’s house, aren’t you really trying to stick it to the guy who lives inside the house? Yes. So when that guy then says, “I’m going to trash you because you messed with my house,” you both understand that what he’s really responding to is your personal attack on him. And if the German god Siegfried says, “I’m going to spank your nation because your nation attacked my people,” you would understand that Siegfried is taking your military strike on the Germans as a personal attack on him. This is how it worked in Bible times: all wars were an attempt to assault each other’s gods. So when Yahweh starts mowing down the nations around Israel and says He doesn’t like the way they’ve treated His chosen people, everyone understands that what He’s really reacting to is the fact that other nations have tried to assault Him by attacking the people who they associate with Him. Once you understand this very important point, you can stop reading ethnic favoritism into everything God says, because it just isn’t there.
Yahweh has always taught that all ethnicities were invited to come to Him. But of course the Jews blew off what Yahweh said, just as our psalmist is fluffing off Yahweh’s command for the ancient Jews to love Him first in life. Are you seeing why it’s so important for you to ask God to give you wisdom when you read the Bible? If you don’t ask Him, you’ll end up listening to these rebellious dingdongs and mistaking them for models of spiritual maturity.
O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks! (Ps. 137:8-9)
You can just imagine what a favorite that last line is among God haters today. Many atheists leap upon this verse as “proof” that the Christian God is some kind of sadist. And since the Church makes the ridiculous claim that God is the One speaking in all of the psalms, atheists say, “Hey, Christians, so since this is your God talking, how can you possibly defend His behavior?”
It’s easy: this isn’t God talking. It’s a revenge obsessed Jew who is refusing to listen to anything that God says. But of course we can’t expect those who hate God today to have much spiritual discernment, which is why atheistic rants about passages of Scriptures are always peppered with theological blind spots and misinterpretations of the text.
So what are we to make of this horrific idea of grown men smashing infants to death against rocks? Well, what are we to make of the raging popularity of boxing in the world today? Today scores of “civilized” people pay big money to get ringside seats to a show in which two strangers beat each other into bloody pulps. When one guy collapses in agony, the crowd goes wild. As some referee counts off the seconds it takes for the guy to try and struggle back to his feet, everyone is screaming with excitement, and when the fallen guy just can’t manage to stand up because he’s too badly crippled, then the whole stadium erupts in applause. How sick is this? It’s very sick, but it’s also typical behavior for humans.
We all have a sadistic side to our nature, and how we express that side depends on the cultures we live in. Today we like to assault each other in video games and in formal contests. Today we write games in which one game character can sexually assault another with the press of a button. And as we crank out the sadomasochistic books and movies and sell torture toys online, can we really claim to be better than the ancient people? Not really. Okay, so they butchered kids on rocks and burned them alive to idols. Well, we build clinics in our communities where we regularly blend living human children into pulp while they are still inside of their mothers’ wombs. So the next time you hear some God hater trying to make a thing about the ancient peoples bashing kids brains in, realize the guy is just playing the classic human game of denial. We love to pretend that different can be translated into better and worse, but in reality, much of what humans do is driven by the same depraved impulses.
They didn’t have drones and tanks in Bible times. Hand to hand combat was a common element in warfare, and once you chop a guy down, you might as well rip open his pregnant wife and bash his kid’s brains in. This was all part of trying to demoralize your enemies. Was it sick? Absolutely, but it was also very common, and all nations took part in it. So our Jewish guy isn’t worse or better than the guys around him for exulting over the image of Babylonian babies getting theirs. The thirst for revenge is human, and the mode of revenge he’s looking for is based on his cultural context. What’s really wrong with these concluding remarks is that our psalmist has failed to acknowledge what this situation with the Babylonians is really about.
Yahweh told the Jews over and over again that He was the One handing them over to the Babylonians. Yet here our psalmist is refusing to acknowledge the spiritual issues that have caused this situation and he’s reducing this whole thing to some human war game. First he whines, “Yahweh, these bully Babylonians are so mean!” Then he says, “Oh, Jerusalem, you’re my greatest joy!” Then he finishes by whining, “Yahweh, I can’t wait to see You trash those nasty Edomites and these bully Babylonians! Get ‘em good! They so deserve it!” Wow. This guy is completely missing the point and he’s demonstrating a stubborn refusal to mature through this experience.
Once you understand the context of this psalm, you realize what a waste of ink it is for us to keep reprinting it in our Bibles. This guy is modeling zero respect for God as he wallows in carnality and pretends that he and his fellow Jews have been unjustly assaulted. Well, no, according to Yahweh, they’ve gotten much better than they deserved after the way they’ve been treating Him.
When the Jews were hauled away to Babylon only to start griping about their lot, Yahweh specifically instructed them to drop their attitudes and learn to like the Babylonians because they were going to be stuck living there for seventy long years. Yahweh told them to actually become patriots of Babylon, for the welfare of the empire would be to their benefit. But is our psalmist listening to anything that Yahweh has said? No, he just wants to gripe. And this is the kind of rot that the Church calls Holy Scriptures. Makes you lose a lot of respect for her discernment, doesn’t it?
Know Your Bible Lesson 30: The Yoke of Babylon
Know Your Bible Lesson 36: The Fall of Jerusalem
Psalm 91: Life is Perfect & God Always Does What We Want
Psalm 82: Asaph Wants Yahweh to Judge the Wicked