In 586 BC, the Babylonian army invaded Jerusalem destroying the city and the Temple. They took many people captive and forced them into exile. Today’s reading provides a glimpse of how God’s people responded to their situation.
Psalm 137 opens with a heartbreaking description: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (v. 1). To make matters worse, their Babylonian captors taunted them by asking them to sing songs that celebrated Jerusalem (v. 3). They were the people who had destroyed the city. It was the kind of request a bully would make to shame someone weaker than them.
The people recognized that they could not bring themselves to sing about Jerusalem, but they did not want to forget the city either (vv. 4–5). They understood that in exile it would probably be easier if they could just forget about Jerusalem and assimilate into Babylonian life. But that would mean turning their back on who they were and on God’s promised restoration.
The psalm takes a dark turn in verses 7–9. The people ask God to remember the atrocities that the Edomites and Babylonians did to them and not to let them go unpunished. Israel’s exile was due to their own sin and unfaithfulness to the covenant. Still, the Babylonians and Edomites went above and beyond the demands of justice in their behavior toward Israel (Lam. 4:22; Ezek. 35:15; Jer. 50). In this lament, the people vent their anger and frustration to God and beg Him to act. In voicing their disturbing feelings toward their oppressors, they are giving these feelings over to God.
>> It is good to know that when we walk through difficult times, we can be honest to God in our prayers. Be reassured that God cares about justice and will one day right all wrongs. But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is also room for forgiveness and grace even for our enemies if they turn to Him in repentance and faith.
Lord, Your ways are higher than our ways. Give us a godly sense of justice and help us see through false, worldly justice. Move us to forgive others, for You have forgiven us much.