Tough Passages #6: Dashed Against the Rocks (Psalm 137:9)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last month, we looked at a command from Deuteronomy about…shall we say, damaged men.  For June, we have something a lot darker from the Psalms.

The Verse

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Psalm 137:9, KJV

The Secular Response

The Bible encourages disciplining your child… by throwing him against a stone wall, baby!

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

We’re in somewhat uncharted territory this month for Tough Passages. This is the darkest, most seemingly-evil, most difficult-sounding command that we’ve seen yet. Discipline your child by throwing him against the wall? As Ivana notes in her article, “This is a dangerous encouragement of violence against helpless children.” It sounds like it promotes authoritarian parenting at best or child abuse at worst.

It’s hard to reconcile a God who says this with a Jesus who says, “Let the little children come to me; don’t hold them back, this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.” And frankly, if this is what God is like, I don’t want any part of it.

So how can I possibly still be a Christian after this?

First, let me dismiss with the notion wholesale: God isn’t advocating for throwing your children against stones. As with a lot of verses in the Bible, this one demands context. If someone overheard you saying a small part of a sentence, you’d want them to know what else you were saying before they judged your character, right? If they overheard you saying something particularly mean, you’d want them to know that you were actually describing a character in a TV show.

Psalm 137 is not a happy psalm. Rather than being sung to the strums of a lyre, it’s screamed through sobs. It’s not a snappy worship tune. And, importantly, it’s not written from God’s point of view, but from that of a captive Israel; the nation has been taken from their home by Babylonian conquerors, and forced to watch as their city was destroyed. And, most painfully, their children were snatched from their arms and killed.

Psalm 137 is a lament. Not a soft, mournful one, but an active, angry, grieving one, with ugly tears and guttural screams.

Psalm 137 is a lament. Not a soft, mournful one, but an active, angry, grieving one, with ugly tears and guttural screams. These people are still alive, but they can’t sing for their captors. They can’t rejoice in God. In fact, their prayers are angry and plead for revenge. “Remember what they did to us!” they plead with God. “Destroy their cities! Doom them to destruction! Show them how it feels to have their children taken from them and killed!”

It’s not Christlike. It’s not Godly. But it’s real.

And God doesn’t rebuke the Israelites for their outburst. In fact, he comforts them.

This is an important message for the modern American church to hear. The God of the universe doesn’t demand that we be “shiny happy people” all the time. Like with Job, He recognizes that there are pains and injuries in this life that cut deeper than anything we could imagine. Anger and sorrow can mix together, even in the Christian heart. And by inspiring this Psalm to be in His Bible – among the comfort and calm of the songs of praise – He is saying, “You will be angry and sad. It’s okay. I will comfort you. I will defend you.”

The previous Psalm (Psalm 136) gives us an assurance with the only thing that could possibly make things better in the face of the darkness in Psalm 137, when it reminds us 26 times that “His steadfast love endures forever.” But it doesn’t just insist that this is true. It reminds us of 26 times when the Lord proved it.

He proves His enduring love, so that when we face the unspeakable, we can run to his arms and cry our eyes out.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!  Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to tackle something particularly hard: a verse about women out of 1 Timothy 2. If you’re familiar with the Epistles, I bet you know what I’m talking about.  In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!

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