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Psalm 137

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (v. 4).

How unbearable is it to wait for justice? When others have lied about us, it seems like time stops as we wait for our vindication. Friends and family of those who have suffered violence endure a hardship greater than the loss itself when they have to wait years for the perpetrator to be caught, put on trial, and convicted. It is so much worse for these friends and family when a known perpetrator is never apprehended or convicted in this life.

When we feel as if we cannot wait any longer for justice to be done, God’s Word reminds us that we are not the first people to long for God to set things right. The book of Psalms, in particular, assists us as we await the manifestation of the Lord’s justice.

Psalm 137 is especially helpful in this regard. First, the psalm reveals that we should expect discomfort as we look for judgment on our adversaries. In vv. 1–4, the psalmist reflects on the covenant community’s experience during the Babylonian exile. In that period, the people could not sing the “LORD’s song.” It is not that the exiles were unable to worship God at all; rather, they could not praise Him in His fullness because they were outside the Promised Land and had no access to the temple the Lord gave them for the sake of worship. The picture is one of pilgrimage, of a people who were out of sorts because they were not in their true home. Similarly, as we wait for the better country that is our home (Heb. 11:16), we will at times feel disconcerted and discomforted as we long for the day on which God will judge all people and bring in the new creation. Moreover, we must not lose sight of this heavenly home. The psalmist did not forget Jerusalem when the people were in exile (Ps. 137:5–6); similarly, we should not forget the city of God as we go about as strangers in this world. If we forget the Lord’s kingdom, we will be tempted to compromise so that we do not feel like strangers, and we will lose our expectation for our Creator to set things right.

Psalm 137:7–9 is a difficult passage, for it expresses hope that Edomite children will be dashed against rocks. Here we have an imprecation asking God to visit the same horrors upon the Edomites that the Edomites visited upon the Judahites when Babylon captured the Promised Land (Ezek. 25:12–14). It is a call for retributive justice based on God’s hatred of sin and a demand that sin be repaid in kind (Ex. 21:23–25). It is not inappropriate to long for justice, but in so doing, let us pray that our enemies would receive justice in the same manner we have—through the cross of Christ that paid for our sins and freed us from God’s wrath.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments on Psalm 137:9 that “it may seem to savor of cruelty … but [the psalmist] does not speak under the impulse of personal feeling, and only employs words which God had himself authorized, so that this is but the declaration of a just judgment.” Sin is so serious that it must be repaid in kind. Thanks be to God, the atonement of Jesus accomplished this for us. Bearing the Lord’s righteous wrath, Christ exhausted the divine curse on our sin and secured blessing for us.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 13
  • Jeremiah 12:1–4
  • Romans 1:18
  • Revelation 6:9–11

The Worth of a Good Name

The Lord’s Established Purpose

Keep Reading The Fifteenth Century

From the July 2015 Issue
Jul 2015 Issue