Tag Archives: Psalm 137

Old Wounds Die Hard

Old Wounds Die Hard (CaD Ps 137) Wayfarer

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.

Psalm 137:8 (NIV)

It’s interesting the places my mind can wander when my body is embroiled in a mindless task. This past weekend as I spent hours power-washing, I found my mind wandering back to a slight that I experienced fifteen years ago which became the death knell of a relationship that effectively ended ten years before that.

Old wounds die hard.

Along my life journey I’ve come to believe that some relationships are for a lifetime. Others relationships are just for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are relationships that need to end for the health of both parties. When Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” I don’t believe that he meant that all relationships should be hunky-dory for the long-haul. Paul had a falling out with more than one individual along his own journeys. I’ve come to believe that sometimes to “live at peace” means to allow for relational time and distance

Old wounds die hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 137, is fascinating for its emotional honesty. The Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem, razed it to the ground, and took the citizens into captivity in Babylon for a generation. They experienced their fair share of persecution. This was not only from the Babylonians, but also from Babylon’s allies which included a people known as the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Esau was the first-born twin. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and became a patriarch of the Hebrew tribes. Esau became the patriarch of the Edomites. Bad blood between them. Fifteen-hundred years later the descendants of the twins are still feuding.

Old wounds die hard.

The songwriter of Psalm 137 channels the pain of captivity, the humiliating treatment by his captors, the homesickness of exile, and the wounds of the feuding enemies, the Edomites. The song has three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the torment of exile, the second stanza expresses love and commitment to Jerusalem, and the final stanza is a raw expression of the vengeance the songwriter feels and the desire for Babylon and Edom to get their just desserts.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Psalm 137 for being an example of healthy expression of unhealthy emotions. Along my journey I have had multiple waypoints in which I have felt betrayed and wounded. Those experiences lead to anger which can easily lead me to bitterness which can poison my soul. Wendy and I often remind one-another that anger is like me drinking poison thinking that it will hurt the object of my rage. Yet, I have to do something with my anger. I’ve got to be honest with it, process it, and find healthy ways to get it out.

Which is why the mental scab that I picked at while power washing was simply a fleeting visit down Memory Lane. I processed it and got it out a long time ago. Life has moved on for both me and the one who slighted me. I honestly hope that he is well and has continued to grow in his own journey. There’s not much left of that wound. It’s healed over. There are just the dried remains of scab that I brushed away with my power-washer.

Old wounds die hard, but I have found that they do eventually die when I, like the lyricist of Psalm 137, am honest with my anger. Getting it out, processing it, and expressing it allow for doing what Jesus asks of me: to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.

Choosing In

An engraving on an eye stone of onyx with an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II. Anton Nyström, 1901. Source: Wikipedia
An engraving on an eye stone of onyx with an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II. Anton Nyström, 1901. Source: Wikipedia

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
Daniel 1:3-4 (NIV)

At the beginning of every script, the playwright “sets the scene.” Perhaps it’s my years of working on stage, but whenever I launch into reading a book I’m always wanting to “set the scene” before I begin. For the story of Daniel and his three friends, I think it’s critical to understand the context.

The Babylonian (modern day Iraq) army swept into Palestine and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. It was an ugly time. People were starving. The prophet Jeremiah describes people reduced to cannibalizing their own children to survive. Jerusalem eventually fell and the Babylonians ransacked the city. They burned the city, tore down its protective walls, and destroyed the beautiful temple of Solomon that had been one of the wonders of the ancient world. Daniel and his friends would have been witness to a horrific holocaust at the hands of these enemies. And now, they are enslaved to their enemy and expected to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians.

I think it’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like for these four young men. It’s very likely that their own families had died during the siege or had been slaughtered by the Babylonians. Their homes and families were decimated. The level of despair laced with rage that they felt had to have been off the charts. I’m reminded of the song lyrics of these Babylonian exiles in Psalm 137:

     By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
         when we remembered Zion.
     There on the poplars
         we hung our harps,
     for there our captors asked us for songs,
         our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
         they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

In today’s chapter we find Daniel and his friends choosing a path of righteous rebellion. Their choice was to serve God and be faith-full in the midst of their terrible predicament.

We all go through periods of tragedy in our lives, even if the pale in comparison to what Daniel and the boys experienced. Nevertheless, I find that when people experience intense suffering and injustice they spiritually tend to go one of two ways. They become angry with God for their circumstances, flip Him off and walk away, or they choose in to believing that God has some ultimate purpose for them in the inexplicable pain.

Today, I’m appreciative of the mettle it took for these young men to choose in and to cling to their faith in God despite all they had seen and experienced. We will see that there was, indeed, eternal purposes in their dire circumstances. They will see and experience things they could have never imagined. I’m reminded this morning of the adventure of choosing in.

The Dark Turn Towards Vengeance

"Vengeance" by jbelluch via Flickr
“Vengeance” by jbelluch via Flickr

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:7-8 (NIV)

Years ago I found myself the victim of another person. I wasn’t wronged in any tangible way, mind you. It was more of the personal affront in which a person of authority demeans and diminishes  another person because he or she has the power to do so. I was hurt and my hurt became anger. Sometime later, while still seething with anger, I found myself in a unique position to wreak vengeance on the perpetrator and make this person’s life extremely uncomfortable. I had a choice to make.

The psalms are song lyrics and they express the breadth of human emotions. Today’s psalm was written in extreme circumstances that we can scarcely imagine today. Around 600 B.C. the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Eventually, they destroyed the city, razed the walls, tore down the temple of Solomon, plundered the city, and returned to Babylon taking all of the best and brightest young people as their slaves (fyi: the prophet Daniel was one of them).

The writer of today’s psalm was one of the slaves living in Babylonian captivity. The lyricist had survived the siege during which, according to Jeremiah in his song of Lamentation, the residents of Jerusalem were reduced to cannibalism to survive. Perhaps the song writer had been forced to eat the flesh of his family or friends to survive. Certainly the song writer had seen his hometown and all he held dear destroyed. He had likely seen friends, family and neighbors senselessly slaughtered in sadistic ways. Then he had been forcibly taken from family to live life as the slave of those who destroyed their family and home.

With psalm 137, the writer is feeling more than just the blues. His pain was coming out in anger. I get that. My pain of being victimized is nothing compared to what the writer of this song went through, but yet the human reaction is the same. Pain turns to anger, but once anger is realized the path leads to a fork in the road. We have a choice. We can sit endlessly in the anger as it endlessly gnaws away our spirit, we can choose the path of forgiveness, or we can choose the path of vengeance. Our psalmist is struggling with feelings of vengeance and he pours them out in his musical prayer. I like to think that writing a song about it was probably a healthy outlet for his feelings.

As for me, I chose not to pursue vengeance on my perpetrator. The thoughts of revenge were sweet, but in the long run I believe it would have damaged me spiritually more than any pain and discomfort it would have inflicted on my perpetrator. Like the psalmist I expressed my anger and desire for vengeance to God and I vented with a safe cadre of loved ones. Then, I let it go. I chose to forgive and gave up any “right” I felt for revenge.

Anger and the desire for vengeance are real emotions. They need to be explored and expressed in healthy ways. Finding a creative outlet like the psalmist can be an important part of that process. The path of vengeance carries with it deep spiritual consequences. When anger makes the dark turn toward vengeance victims risk critical damage to their own souls.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 137

"Oh, how could we ever sing God's song in this wasteland?" Psalm 137:4 (MSG)

The lyrics of Psalm 137 don't pull any punches. This song was sure-fire, sixth century B.C., mesopotamian, ten verse blues. The song writer was living in captivity. Uprooted from his home in Jerusalem when it was sacked and destroyed (Read more about that from another "soul man," Jeremiah, in the book of Lamentations), we find our lyricist standing by the Euphrates river as his Babylonian captors mock him and call for a song. In defiance, he hangs his blues harp on the limb of a nearby willow tree and sits down to weep and cry out to God in an angry rage.

Life's road will take us through some pretty barren wastelands. Consider another bluesy musical trip down Route 66. Chicago is a rocking great place to start. There are some amazing views through the plush green of middle-Missouri and into the plains of Oklahoma. But, before you wet your toes in the deep blue Pacific off the Santa Monica pier, you've got some long stretches of desert wasteland to traverse.

We can't always control where life's road will lead. As another psalm writer, Solomon, penned, there are times along the journey to crank up the music and sing with the windows rolled down; there are also times to hang our blues harps on a tree by the road and keep silent. Both are equal parts of the journey.

Our job is to keep going.