In 1978 the Euro disco music group Boney M released a single title,” By The river of Babylon.” It was a very catchy upbeat tune that people bumped and swayed to on the disco floors around the world. The song was based on Psalm 137, which, unlike Boney M’s version, sang of the sadness and misery that the Jewish exiles felt while in captivity in Babylon. It reflects the intense emotions of these exiles who longed to be back in Jerusalem, singing songs of praise to our Lord.
The final verse in Psalm 137 ends with a disturbing statement, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
It is a cry against injustice.
It sums up their anger and bitterness at the purge of Jerusalem.
Like these exiles, you and I may feel the same disappointment in our failing society that seems eager to suppress and even eliminate our love of God. We may also desire some form of vengeance on the world around us. But we must remember that God doesn’t sanction killing children, the pursuit of retaliation. He does grant us complete freedom to express our anger.
Prayer is a safe place to release intense emotions. God doesn’t expect us to “suffer in silence.” In prayer, God can take our hatred and heal it. God can handle our anger, and He wants both you and I to be frank with Him. Psalm 137 is a blunt expression of honest emotions, with nothing held back. Our anger needs to be prayed, not suppressed.
This psalm accurately expresses the people’s feelings, but there is no divine approval for their reaction. The context helps us understand that this is a prayer in response to oppression, expressing human emotions and not the intent of God. Jesus urges us to pray for those who persecute us. Prayer is a battleground where we wage war with every idea, action, and movement contrary to God’s will. Prayer is rebellion against the evil of the world. And we should be disturbed by sin; our indignation should take us to our knees.
Prayer doesn’t legitimize hate, but it does use it. Hatred isn’t a promising first step toward reconciliation; nevertheless, any first steps in prayer may help us consider better options than what we may have in mind. It is better to pray badly than not pray at all. With spiritual maturity, we begin to see that the foul disease of sin causes people to oppress us. We may start to see our oppressors as pitiful victims of the human condition, marred by an unredeemed sinful nature. We shouldn’t expect godly behaviour from people who reject God. We cannot control the evil around us, but with God’s help, we can keep from responding in kind. When we bring our hurts to God, we can even learn to forgive and thus be healed.
Will you spend a few moments of quiet time this week and read Psalm 137. Then, ask God to reveal to you that thing in your heart that angers and frustrates you and ask how you can seek reconciliation.
As we gather by our waters of Babylon, by our place or prayer and reflection, God will dry our tears.