The book of Psalms contains some of the most beloved pieces of scripture across centuries and cultures of this world. Psalms have been frequently cited is sermons, devotionals, movies, poetry, and songs. Most often, Psalms are attributed to King David of the 10th century BCE. But regardless of the authorship of the different psalms, each seem to carry a special place in describing human relationships to God, to country, to friends, to enemies and more. As time has progressed, certain psalms have become favorites because of their encouraging and uplifting messages, such as the timeless Psalm 23.
However, other psalms are neglected in Christian circles because of the difficulty they present in interpretation. Often, these psalms are overlooked because of their themes of apparent anger, resentment, or wrath. These psalms are not as frequently preached on or discussed, despite the fact that many believers would readily quote 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (NIV). What then must the believer say about these difficult psalms?
Psalm 137 is one of a selection of psalms that is frequently difficult to discuss because of its content. The pericope begins with what may appear as a lament like any other in the book, but ends with horrifying imagery of a desired revenge. How does a believer give the proper respect due to the holy Scriptures among such vitriolic language? This paper will assert that proper interpretation of the following pericope involves careful attention to the historical and cultural background, structure, genre, and language of the written text.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. If I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem, above my chief joy. Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, "Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation." O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock. (Ps 137, NASB)
It is not often that theologians can agree upon the date of authorship of a text, but Psalm 137 is an exception. It is widely accepted that this psalm was written during or shortly after the exilic waves of the Southern Kingdom during the Babylonian captivity of 597 BCE and 587 BCE , extending to 538 BCE . While no specific author is identified as the author of Psalm 137, it certainly is not...