Anonymous Question (edited) God, in Psalms 137:9 I did as you commanded and dashed the infants against the rocks, but it did not bring me the promised happiness that I was expecting. Could you please tell me what else I need to do, whilst smashing the skulls of babies that would bring me the happiness the bible promises? I will do anything you command. Should I rip pregnant women open? (Hosea 13:16 AND 2 Kings 15:16)
A Christian Response
I’m sure most Christians also find these passages uncomfortable, difficult to grapple with and defend. Nor can this issue be answered with a slick one liner. I won’t take the “easy out” and suggest that the early parts of the Bible represented an uncivilised age or was somehow out of sync with God then. However, Christians do believe there is a growth in knowledge of God over the 1500 years God revealed himself to the authors, culminating in Jesus’s revelation of God. But I believe all the Bible is the word of God, as he has revealed himself, including Psalm 137
So what about the “command” to “dash babies” to death. None of us likes our comments to be read or judged out of context. I think you may have with Psalm 137. The author is a Jewish prisoner of war in the concentration and forced labour camp of Babylon. He has just survived the devastating, brutal holocaust inflicted on his people in 6th century BC. Psalm 137 is his cry, his prayer to God for justice and rescue. Only those who have experienced the awfulness of war or being a refugee can possibly understand the depth of grief that lies behind his cry, this psalm. I think you misrepresent his prayer. It isn’t a command of God as you suggest. Far from it. It’s the refugee’s cry for the Babylonians to “get what they deserve” for what they have done – they slaughtered innocent kids and a whole lot more when they invaded Israel.
We would hope that brutal justice and retribution wasn’t all this man prayed for his Babylonian oppressors. Elsewhere in the Bible, in the book of Daniel, we read of similarly enslaved Jews in Babylon bringing God’s blessing and forgiveness to their slave masters. At least in the midst of all he is facing, this poor man still looks to God with faith and hope. I think that the fact that this difficult prayer is even in the Bible says to us that even in our worst moments God is willing to listen to our desperate, even crude, cries. But the Bible teaches that God is not only just and will punish fairly. God is also hugely compassionate and keen to forgive.
This refugee’s prayer isn’t easy to handle, and for those who have had to defend their homeland wars are never easy either. I thank God that I have never had to experience either personally as this man did. But we don’t know what other prayers he may have prayed. Hopefully, he was eventually able to pray with compassion for his captors, as well as for justice & retribution. Certainly that was Jesus instruction to his followers – they were commanded to “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” for their invaders the Romans. Jesus commanded them to “love your enemies and pray for those (Romans?) who persecute you” (Matthew 5). Thanks for the question. It’s a very important one. I’m happy to dialogue further.