The Psalmist’s Lamentation And The Demise of Babylon

(King James Version) Psalms 137:8-9 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

The above verse is one that was brought to my attention recently by a skeptic on Twitter. Though I have read this passage before, I hadn’t spend much time or research studying it. One of my former friends -who was leaving the faith- mentioned this to me as well; acting like it was a deathblow to the Bible and it’s inspiration. Though I will admit that such a passage at face value seems hard to reconcile -and incites appeals to emotion- but upon further investigation there are factors and context which give us the clarity, that a surface reading won’t do. First, we must remember that the psalmist is a Jewish writer (not sure who as it does not say) who is embittered towards Babylon as the Babylonians ransacked the civilization of the Jewish people -taking them into captivity- and destroyed their once glorious temple. He may very well be hoping for the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” scenario.

This next point, is a key issue that I would like us to zero in on. There is no command or condoning of by God to do such a thing of the Babylonian children. One may object by saying “well this scripture is in the Bible”,  but here’s what we must consider. These sentiments are the thoughts of a distressed man, and the Bible is merely recording what he said. Just because it’s written in there, doesn’t mean it’s to be construed as an endorsement from God. (There are other views/angles to examine, but before we get to them I want to continue this thought process) We can read other passages in the Bible where various individuals are lamenting about their situation through frustration or anger; such frustrations that didn’t have a stamp of approval.


 It’s Pain Speaking To Us

David proclaimed that God was “sleeping on the job” and hiding from him because he wasn’t getting what he wanted. [1] You’d be hard pressed to find a Bible scholar who believes that God actually sleeps. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon proclaimed that “life is useless” and nothing makes sense. [2] Does this admission mean that the Bible is teaching Nihilism? No, it’s Solomon speaking out from his despair, realizing how fragile and hard this life can be. The book of Ecclesiastes is known to be proverbial literature whose statements are not to be taken as absolutes. [3] This passage could also be viewed as a poetic dialogue of a man expressing differing views; one debating himself. [4]

Going back to the psalmist, we find out something else going on here. He is likely referencing Isaiah’s prediction of the destruction of Babylon. [5] The time was to come when the Medes and Persians would overthrow their empire. [6] His usage of dashing thy little ones against the stones is a term that would have been familiar to the ancients, meaning that Babylon would be utterly destroyed and left in ruin. This is the strongest language possible that he could have used to convey the destruction of a nation. Homer used similar language. [7] It’s conceivable, that the writer is speaking in the viewpoint of the victor that would ultimately carry out this conquest.




1. (Good News Bible) Psalm 44:23-24 Wake up, Lord! Why are you asleep? Rouse yourself ! Don’t reject us forever! Why are you hiding from us? Don’t forget our suffering and trouble!

2. (Good News Bible) Ecclesiastes 1:2 It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless.

3. On the Genre of Ecclesiastes –

4. Ibid

5. (King James Version) Isaiah 13:16 Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.

6. Gleason L. Archer Jr., 1982 Encyclopedia Of Bible Difficulties (pg. 245) Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan

7. My heroes slain, my bridal bed o’erturned; My daughters ravished, and my city burned: My bleeding infants dashed against the floor; These I have yet to see; perhaps yet more.

4 thoughts on “The Psalmist’s Lamentation And The Demise of Babylon

  1. One other thought. The psalmist is describing the attitude of the ones who would overthrow Babylon. There is a difference between descriptive narrative and prescriptive narrative. Just because he acknowledges the pleasure that the soldiers would feel does not mean that God endorses that behavior.

    • “One other thought. The psalmist is describing the attitude of the ones who would overthrow Babylon.”

      Yes, that’s what I was alluding to in my last sentence, but the way you said it is perhaps a little more clear that how I said it. I’m not sure the difference between a descriptive and prescriptive narrative. Can you please explain that? Thank you for your insight!

      • The way I would explain it is that when the Bible is descriptive, it is telling us what is happening with no indication of whether it is right or wrong. An example of this is polygamy in the Old Testament. The Bible tells us what the Patriarchs did with regard to polygamy and all the heartache it brought. But this is not an endorsement of polygamy nor can you build a case for polygamy from the Old Testament.

        When Jesus tells us of the two Great Commands to Love God and Love our neighbor. This is prescriptive. Jesus is telling us something that is to change our behavior. It is something that we are called to put into action. When we see how Jesus interacts with sinners we can take that as prescriptive because we are called to emulate Jesus in the way he ministers to a lost world.

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