Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Are We Captives of Babylon?

"I see this same dynamic at play in the church today. So many Christians (both liberal and conservative) are disgusted to be in “exile” amidst the sinful, secular, bastions of empire. They curse the culture, they curse the government, and metaphorically hang up their harps and withdraw from the system. Since the system is evil, they choose to wash their hands of it and refuse to get involved."--Julie Clawson

Julie Clawson, over at Onehandclapping, put together this insightful post about the Jews during the Babylonian captivity and how their situation and attitude unfortunately reflects the Church's today.

Psalm 137 records the prayer/cry of the Jews for revenge against "God's enemies" after being taken into captivity. This is the same psalm that celebrates the enemies' infants being smashed against rocks:

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
-Psalm 137:8-9

For the life of me, I could not figure out how God could "endorse" this kind of prayer that advocates murdering innocent children. This is where discernment between descriptive truth and prescriptive truth comes in handy. Head over to Julie's blog to find out why this passage is descriptive of the Jews state of heart and mind and not a prescriptive truth from God on what the right state of heart should be.


Michelle said...

I've started 2 long replies to this post that I never published because the truth is I don't have time or business writing long comments right now. :) So let me just say that I too had a sort of epiphany about this very verse (about the babies on the rocks) a few months ago - I'm glad you shared this.

The call to settle in, plant gardens, etc, was really interesting to me - I'd not had that verse pointed out before in that context. I'll look into that more! :)

Tia Lynn said...

I think what we have here is the scriptures contrasting the heart of man with the heart of God. Even His own people completely miss HOW we should live out the faith, even in the midst of captivity. Man wants to pick up the sword, see their enemies destroyed, and even smash the heads of their enemies' babies against rocks. But God wants them to continue serving Him right where they are at and to actively seek peace and prosperity for the very city, for the very "pagans" that have taken them captive. Blows my mind. Love your enemies is right there in the old testament. :)

Mike L. said...

I'm not so sure we can be too quick to claim the role of Israel in this story as an exiled people in Babylon. I think that we more closely parallel the character of Babylon.

There is a big difference between the cries of ancient Israel and the frustrations of Americans in the 21st century. Today, we have complete control over the actions taking place. We are not captive against our will. We have not been enslaved and moved to foreign lands. Most of us are actually blessed by injustice and the misuse of our power. Most of us profit directly from the evils committed in our name.

Tia Lynn said...

Mike, I could not agree more. Many of us in the church are quite comfortable in "babylon" and quite happy to follow suit. But I think the point of the post I linked to was not so much to play the victim card, but to reveal how the church responds to the culture they reject so adamantly despise and reject. Whether or not we are real "victims", the church in America has a tendency to behave like a victim and withdraw from the culture or judge it from afar, instead of living a life of sacrifice and service in the midst of it. The point to be an agent of change in the way of Jesus within babylon, whether up to this point you've been a babylonian captive or a babylonian co-conspirator.

Gareth said...

So you are pretty much telling me that Psalm 137 was included in the the bible by mistake? It just slipped past the Holy Spirit? God's judgment is righteous and awful. If that means babies (who would have grown up to be fierce, unrelenting enemies of Israel), had to die, who are we to question that or fault Israel for their celebration of the conquering of His enemies?

Greg Anderson said...

Gareth, I don't think anybody here has questioned whether or not Psalm 137 should have been included in the Canon. What is in the table however, is what we should interpret as descriptive Biblical history, vs. how we ought to behave as Christians.

Michelle said...

of course it is scripture, it is showing us a transparent look into the heart of God's follower ... the Holy Spirit wanted us to have this in the word, I believe that. But that doesn't "endorse" smashing babies' heads against rocks any more than we would endorse suicide, even though David and Job both (probably others too) prayed wishing they could die. We get to see the depths of peoples prayers but it is wrong to lift that and make some grand statement about the character of God based on those, out of their context.

musicmommy3 said...

Well said Michelle.

Terry, Ornament of His Grace said...

I linked to your blog in my latest post. I called you a rabble rouser, LOL! This post, like most of your posts, makes me think. No comment right now. Need to re-read psalm 137 first.

Tia Lynn said...


No one is claiming that Psalm 137 was a mistake, although people's interpretation of it has definitely been one. I completely believe that this passage is in the bible for a reason, but not to reflect God's heart and will toward "our enemies." It's to show us the raw emotions and struggles of God's people. It teaches us about the heart of man, how our sinful nature seeks to return evil with evil and not overcome it with good. The passage in Jeremiah counters the attitudes expressed in Psalm 137, not because the bible contradicts itself, but because one passage is the truth about the ways of men, even godly men, and how they pale in comparison to God's ways.

If only we would heed God's word in Jeremiah to seek the peace and welfare among the very people who wish to enslave us or do us arm, what a world we'd live in then. :)


Rabble Rouser? Who? Innocent, lil ole me?? :) I love it. :)

In all honesty, Julie's post was a Godsent. This verse troubled me for many moons. I would get angry when I read it. I thought it was so barbaric and vile and yet there it was in God's word, being celebrated. I could not reconcile it so I pushed it to the far corners of my mind, praying God would show me how it all fit together. One more piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. Thank you Julie, for that. :)

Tonya said...

There are still other places in the Bible where God commands the Isralites to wipe every person (man woman and nursing babe along with the sheep and everything else) off the face of the planet. I think our problem is not so much that we need to find a way to make these types of verses fit our veiw of God, but understanding that there are things about God that we may just not "get" due to our lack of insight into His character. I have seen people loose their faith over things like this.

God is not a "tame lion". The only safe place is in clinging to Him, moving with Him and submitting to Him.

I'll have to go back and read to see how closely Jerimiah's advice was to the time the Psalm was written to see if it was an actual response to the lament there. That was an interesting, and possibly quite valid, interpretation:).

Greg Anderson said...

Read carefully the text of Psalm 137 (KJV)and it becomes apparent that the lower case he(s) in verses 8 and 9 are not referring to God's glee over the dashing of little ones against the stones.

The margin note for verse 9 in Bullinger's Companion Bible says: "The reference is to Isa. 13:16-18, which belongs to a Dispensation of Law and Judgement, and is not to be interpreted of the Dispensation of Grace."

Most reputable scholars will agree that the reference is to future prophecy concerning the destruction of Babylon (looking forward from Psalm 137), and that the he(s) are referring to atrocities by a military force.

Ava said...

I guess Tonya takes the genocide passages literally.

Maybe if those babies would have just "submitted" they could have been spared. But you know how stubborn and satanic babies can be. Better to just slaughter them. Ya know, terrorists' kill innocent babies, women, and the elderly because their god "tells" them to, too.

Michelle said...

I agree with Tonya, these are difficult passages and at some point we have to surrender the fact that we cannot always reconcile the things God has revealed to us.

However, the most important thing for me to grasp is knowledge of the Father... I see most clearly revealed in Jesus, and somehow I have to read the OT through that lens.

I believe love and mercy are present IN God's wrath ... but gee, that would be much too long a comment. Maybe someday I'll write out my thoughts on that. But no mistake, these issues are difficult, and yes, I do take the historical accounts literally. While I do not believe this Psalm necessarily reflects God's heart as much as it did the Psalmist's heart at that moment... I still wrestle with LOTS of things. But I trust His heart.

Julie Clawson said...

To clarify a couple of things. I too fully agree that God is not a "tame lion" so to speak. We can never understand the ways of God. There is a lot in the Bible that appears contradictory though. I am on the mind that there are no mistakes in the bible, but that our interpretations are often flawed. So Psalm 137 should not be read as a mandate for how things should be, but as a description of the hearts of a certain people in a certain place and time. (and placing the Psalm and Jeremiah passage in a timeline will very greatly depending on which dates for the writing of those you accept...).

So while I don't want to tame God, I also must be willing to question conventional interpretations of scripture if I truly care about getting at truth. I have to ask sometimes how much of the books we have (that command utter destruction of babies) are just the Israelites telling their history and claiming that God is on their side. I am reminded of the passage in Joshua 5. Right before the Israelites take over Jericho and kill everyone this strange scene takes place -

"13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"

14 "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord [e] have for his servant?"

15 The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so."

What God was demanding was worship not slaughter, but that is not how the story is usually read. Sometimes it is us that have to rethink our perspectives...

Tia Lynn said...

While I obviously believe in God's sovereignty and that He is not "tame," I also believe that His righteousness if COMPRISED of HIS ACTIONS, not just HIS ESSENCE. (In other words, will God use any means to justify an end?) I've wrestled with the genocide passages because they seem to violate and contradict God's own prescribed laws for His people. How can you give the law "Thou Shalt NOT murder" and then tell people to murder. (Please do not try and argue that slaughtering defenseless INNOCENT babies is not murder as some have tried). Also before the genocide passages, there is another "law" in which God states that children shall NOT pay for the sins of their parents. How can this be true if God orders PEOPLE to wipe out babies on account of the wickedness of their parents?

I am not prepared to share my own views on these passages in a comment section, so that will be a post for another day, but I would recommend the book, "Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on the Caanaite Genocide." Four evangelical biblical scholars present their own views and respond to the other authors' views on the subject in a sort of debate format. It's a good for getting a grasp on the various interpretive options of the genocidal passages of the bible, the evidence for each and the weakness of each.