Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: When others sin against you, the resulting pain is very real. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says you can be honest about that pain to the Lord.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: God’s not asking you to bury that pain or to pretend like the offense never happened. In fact, He wants us to face that pain honestly, to let Him know the pain and the anger that we feel. You can tell God, but He also wants us to do what the psalmist is doing, and that’s giving it all to God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Thursday, April 25, 2019.

This month at Revive Our Hearts, we’re addressing a few of the really difficult things we face in life. The pain we’ve experienced at the hands of others is one of those tough issues. All this week Nancy’s been in a series called “Singing the Lord's Songs in a Foreign Land.” It’s a study of Psalm 137, written from the point of view of Jewish people who have been exiled from their homes and are captive in Babylon. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: “Psalm 137,” one commentator said, “has the distinction of having one of the most beloved opening lines and the most horrifying closing line of any psalm.” Now, we’re about to see that that’s surely true.

The first four verses, God’s people are pining for Zion, longing for their homeland. Verse 1:

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps, our lyres. [No use for them. Don’t feel like singing.] For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?  (vv. 1–4).

It’s a lament. How can we do it?

Well, verses 5 and 6, God’s people pledge, they promise to never forget, to remember Jerusalem. Verse 5:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem [my homeland, the place where God’s glory dwells—if I do not set Jerusalem] above my highest joy!” (vv. 5–6).

Now, what the singer is really saying there is, “I call down judgment on myself if they ever lose their heart, my love for God and for my true home.”

Then in verses 7–9, we started looking at this paragraph, this stanza in the last session, the people of God plead, they pray to be avenged of their enemies. They appeal to God for justice to be meted out to their abusers. And this is where we come in this stanza to some of the most severe language you read anywhere in the Scripture, the language of “imprecation.” That’s a word that means to invoke or to call down evil or curses on someone.

Let me read the passage, and then we’ll talk about it today and tomorrow. Verse 7:

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, "Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!”

We talked about how God had pronounced judgment against the Edomites because they stood aloof and didn’t help God’s people when the Babylonians were ransacking the city. And God said, “As you have done to them, it will be done to you. I will stand aloof when My judgment comes upon you.” That’s the Edomites.

Now we come to the Babylonians. What’s going to happen to them, the ones who’ve been the instrument in God’s hand to bring judgment and chastisement to His people? What’s going to happen to the Babylonians? Verse 8:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (vv. 8–9).

End of psalm.

Now, there are other psalms where you see some hard things that are said, some depressing things, some desperate things, but usually those psalms end up with, “But I will praise the Lord in spite of whatever it is I’m going through.” We like those psalms.

But this one? It’s horrendous! When is the last time you remember hearing these verses read aloud in church? Or a sermon preached on them? Probably never!

Some commentators consider these two verses, verses 8 and 9, to be the most difficult verses in the whole book of Psalms. In fact, in 1980, the Anglican Church declared that this passage could be omitted from its liturgy as they read the Scripture. And, in a way, you can understand it, humanly speaking. The language is disturbing, it’s shocking, it’s gruesome—this thing about bashing babies’ heads on rocks. You don’t even want to start to picture this.

And, in fact, this passage, more than any other passage of Scripture perhaps, has caused some to reject the inspiration of Scripture and some to reject Christianity altogether. And, as God’s people, who love God’s Word, we believe it’s God’s Word, we believe it’s inspired, but we’re tempted to want to soften these words, to pretend like they’re not there. Maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe God hiccupped; He just didn’t intend it this way.

Well, James Boice has written a wonderful commentary on the Psalms. He’s now with the Lord, and he understands all this in a way we never do this side of heaven. But in his commentary he says, “The psalmist is not suggesting that he is about to take revenge on his enemies or even that he would if he could. On the contrary, he is appealing to God to do what is right and to judge those who have been excessively wicked and cruel in their actions.” I think that’s helpful.

Psalm 137 is a response to God’s expressed intentions toward this evil empire, for the way that they have treated His people. For example, and there are other passages in the Old Testament where God says, “This is what I am going to do to Babylon for what they have done to My people.” Jeremiah 51 is an example. Verse 24—and I’m excerpting some verses from Jeremiah 51—God says, "I will repay Babylon . . . for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the Lord.”

Now, the Babylonians have done a lot of evil to a lot of people in a lot of places of the earth, but God takes personally what people do to His children. He’s not going to let it go. And He says,

"I will repay Babylon for all the evil they have done in Zion. Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, declares the Lord, which destroys the whole earth; . . . Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel, just as for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth. . . .  For the Lord is laying Babylon waste and stilling her mighty voice” (vv. 25, 49, 55).

This is exactly what Babylon had done to Israel and to other nations. They had laid these places waste. They had stilled their voices. And God said, “What you have done to them, I will do to you.”

Still in Jeremiah 51, verse 56: “A destroyer has come upon her, upon Babylon [and who is that destroyer?] for the Lord is a God of recompense; he will surely repay.”

So the Scripture tells us, in God’s words, that every sin Babylon has committed against Zion will be repaid. They have destroyed others. They will be destroyed.

Now, when some of those prophecies were written, Babylon was riding high in the sky. I mean, Babylon was the victor. Babylon was the conqueror. And I can imagine that Babylonians scoffed at these Old Testament prophets, saying, “This is what the Lord of Hosts says,” and the Babylonians going, “Yeah, sure.” Saying, “We’re not going to be destroyed.” But God’s Word always comes true.

The requested judgment against Babylon, however, seems unspeakably brutal and merciless. Do you agree with me? Does it just sound horrendous? But keep in mind, it helps our perspective to realize that this is exactly what the Babylonians had done to the Jewish children when they sacked Jerusalem. They had taken the little ones and dashed their heads against rocks. So they were unspeakably cruel. And God is saying to them that this is exactly what is going to happen to you.

The prophet Isaiah said it this way in chapter 13:

The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. . . . Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! . . . I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. . . . Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished. . . . And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them (vv. 6, 11, 15, 16, 19). 

So God spoke through His prophets. When Babylon was riding high, He said, “You are not going to get away with this. Payday will come someday. There will be recompense.”

So let me come back to Psalm 137, to these last two verses, and in light of this, let’s try to get a picture of what’s being said here. Psalm 137, verses 8 and 9: “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

So this prayer is not out of a personal desire for revenge, but it’s out of a desire for God’s justice to be seen, and for this cruel generation and culture of evildoers to be cut off from the earth. The retaliation being prayed for is just.

Now, God had given time for the Babylonians—even the Babylonians could have repented. But they refused to repent. And God says, “You want it your way? Let Me show you what that way is going to be.”

In the face of their deep despair, the exiles, the people of God, turn to God in deep lamentation, and they plead with Him for justice, crying out on behalf of the victims of Babylon’s cruelty.

“Yes, but what do you say this thing, ‘blessed shall he be’?” Some of your translations say “happy shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us.”

“Blessed, happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.” What does this mean?

Well, I can’t say entirely, but just some thoughts that may be helpful. I’ve been meditating on this a lot. I have trouble sleeping at night in this season of my life, and what I often do is meditate on Scripture that I’m getting ready to teach. So this has been a lot of my nighttime meditation in recent weeks—not my favorite meditation ever in the middle of the night, but really important, I think. It gives us a big picture of who God is and His ways.

Blessed. The destruction of this evil empire is certain. The Scripture is saying they will be judged. Those who were involved in executing God’s justice and overthrowing Babylon would have a sense of satisfaction in this righteous judgment taking place.

This passage, I think, anticipates the day prophesied in Revelation 18, which we’ll look at in more detail in just a moment and in the next session, when the anti-God world system that is symbolized by ancient Babylon comes under God’s final cataclysmic, crushing judgment. And then God’s people who’ve been under the thumb of this anti-God system, they rejoice in the vindication of God’s righteous judgment and justice.

Here’s how Charles Spurgeon said it in his commentary on this psalm. He said:

Horrible as was the whole transaction, it is a thing to be glad of if we take a broad view of the world’s welfare; for Babylon, the gigantic robber, had for many a year slaughtered nations without mercy.

And when I read that, I thought ISIS: that would be a modern-day Babylon in the extreme.

So Surgeon goes on to say:

Her fall [Babylon’s fall] was the rising of many people to a freer and safer state. The revenges of providence may be slow, but they are ever sure; neither can they be received with regret by those who see God’s righteous hand in them.

You see, God has triumphed. Heaven rules, and that brings you a sense of joy and blessing.

Now let me give you eight takeaways from an imprecatory psalm such as Psalm 137, and tomorrow, in the last session, we’ll give you the end of the story. But eight takeaways. There are more that we could list, but these are the ones that have been on my heart as I’ve been meditating in the night hours.

Number 1: There are no simple, pat answers to the problem of sin and pain and human cruelty. There are no easy answers. That’s important to remember. So there’s part of this kind of psalm that will always be a mystery to us.

Number 2: This kind of psalm helps us see how incredibly horrific sin is, that it would bring about these kinds of consequences—both in this world and the next. You see that God laments over both the sin and its consequences in this world that He created for His glory. God created this to be a beautiful world without violence, without abuse. But sin has wrecked this world. We see that sin is horrific. It’s a violation of God’s holiness, but God grieves it as well as we do.

Number 3: When we or those we love have been sinned against, we have a natural human desire for revenge. We want to see evildoers get what they deserve. I think it’s helpful to understand that God does not ask us to repress those natural emotions, or to bury the pain, or to pretend that the offense never happened.

I’m looking into the eyes of women today who have had unspeakable atrocities committed against you or someone you love, and there wells up in your heart this sense that, “Something is really, really horrible about this and something needs to be done. It’s not right!” And God’s not asking you to bury that pain or to pretend like the offense never happened.

In fact, He wants us to face that pain honestly, to let Him know the pain and the anger we feel. You can tell God. But then He also wants us to do what this psalmist is doing, and that’s give it all to God. “Remember, oh Lord. They say we hung up our harps on the willows in Babylon.” It doesn’t say we smashed our harps, or we threw them in the ocean. We hung them up. But there’s still a sense of God’s presence, a sense of hopefulness that there still is a Zion, there still is a homeland, there still is a future, even though we’re not there yet. So we give it all to Him, trusting that in the end He will right all wrongs.

Number 4: God is a righteous, just God. He will not let wickedness go unpunished indefinitely. Now, I know you know this in your head, but sometimes when you’re seeing injustice in the world, in the macro or in the micro, in your own life and family, we just forget what we know to be true. We need to remind ourselves to counsel our hearts according to the truth that God will not let wickedness go unpunished indefinitely. He will repay all unrepentant evildoers. He will recompense all arrogance, all abuse, all cruelty, all racism, all violent crime, all injustice, all oppression, all genocide.

People say, “Where is God when all this happens?” God’s where He’s always been—on His throne. He’s not silent. He’s not standing aloof as the Edomites did, watching the Babylonians take over Israel. God cares. He laments. He’s grieved in His heart when He sees these atrocities. He will recompense all evil in His time and in His way.

Number 5: God’s people, the righteous, may suffer, but their suffering will not last forever. God will deliver them out of their captivity. And, on the other hand, those who hate or mistreat God’s people, they may seem like they’re doing fine, but their being fine will not last forever either. They will come to a calamitous end, and they will be eternally doomed.

“Oh daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed.” When this was written, it didn’t look like that would be the case, but it was the case. Babylon is no more—the literal, physical Babylon. They will be eternally doomed, regardless of how powerful or prosperous they may appear, if they do not repent of their sin.

So what you see now is not what it will be like forever—for the righteous or for the wicked. The righteous suffer now, but they will be experiencing eternal joy in the presence of God. The wicked seem to prosper now, but they will be doomed if they do not repent.

Number 6—this is so important: Our own sins will not go unpunished. It’s so easy to concentrate, to focus, to fixate on the sins, on the wrongs of others and totally miss the log, the beam, that’s in our own eye.

This is true so often in family hurts. There’s not a woman sitting in this room today, if you’ve lived any length of time, who doesn’t have some history of pain in your family. I do in mine. But it’s so easy to see the wrong others have done and to miss our own sin. And we need to remind ourselves, as we read an imprecatory psalm like this, that our own sins will not go unpunished.

How I wish that my attitudes toward my own sin were as violent as the attitude this psalmist expresses toward the physical enemies of God! Imprecatory psalms are concerned first and foremost with the glory of God. Oh that we were as eager to kill all those things in us that are raised up against God’s glory.

How often have we been insensitive, harsh, cruel in our treatment of others, in word, deed, or thought? How often have we wounded them with our words, our actions?

You see—and this is a hard thing to grasp, but it’s true, it’s important. We deserve God’s wrath for our sin as much as Babylon did for her sin. We will receive the righteous wrath of God for our sin, unless we repent and place our faith in Christ who bore the wrath, the judgment of God in our place. And as we place our faith in Him, we receive what we do not deserve, which is mercy, forgiveness.

Number 7: Jesus became a “little one” who was crushed for the sins of the world. That comes to mind when I see verse 9: “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.” The precious Son of God paid the ultimate penalty for all the injustice done in the history of the world. And the penalty was death, doom, damnation. He took that penalty upon Himself.

Our producer, who is helping us from Michigan today, sent me a podcast late last night where he had explored this psalm years ago. He heard that I was going to be teaching on it, and he said, “Maybe this will be helpful.” It was so fabulous! I want to read you just a paragraph of what Hugh Duncan said about this chapter, this verse. He said:

Jesus would have been justified to find all the evil people and smash them; but instead of coming as a baby smasher, Jesus came as a baby. Looking carefully at Psalm 137 [Hugh says] the most amazing thing to me is that the character that most resembles Jesus is the one getting smashed against a rock. Imagine some self-righteous person with an evil Babylonian, getting ready to smash their brains, and Jesus steps in and says, "Wait, take Me instead.”

So this psalm, these imprecatory psalms, they point us to Jesus who bore the righteous wrath of God for our sake.

And then, finally, number 8: In the light of the cross of Jesus, we are called upon to pray for mercy for our enemies, for them to be made right with God and to be spared from His wrath.

Hassan Dehqani-Tafti was the Anglican bishop of Iran for nearly thirty years. He spent those last ten years in exile after the Iranian Revolution and an assassination attempt in 1979, which left his wife wounded. Seven months later, his twenty-four-year-old son was murdered by Iranian government agents.

In a book I treasure called Prayers of the Martyrs, we read a prayer by this Anglican bishop upon the murder of his son, and here’s how he closes it, and I close with this prayer. He says:

O God, our son’s blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls; so when his murderers stand before [You] on the day of judgment, remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives and forgive.

It’s a whole different prayer, isn’t it?

Leslie: Yes, it is a very different prayer. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back.

She’s been helping us get real about the hurt sin causes. It hurts when others sin against us. Then we have to recognize that our sin causes hurt, too. She’s been showing us the hope and healing available because of Jesus. That message is part of a series called, “Singing the Lord’s Songs in a Foreign Land.”

When you’re in a foreign land, you get a lot encouragement by getting together with God’s people. To take a time out, focus on the Lord in a concentrated way. To sing with your sisters and hear God’s Word. That’s what it will be like when you come to the conference Revive '19, hosted by Revive Our Hearts. Revive '19 is coming to Indianapolis September 27–28.

The theme for this year’s conference is Seeking HIM, and each speaker will help you seek the Lord in fresh ways. You’ll hear from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Mary Kassian, Dannah Gresh, and other speakers as they unpack aspects of personal revival. You can get discounted registrations between now and May 1, so I hope you’ll make plans to join us now!

The last Revive conference sold out right around that discount deadline of May 1, so act fast. For all the details on Revive '19, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Does it ever feel like the world is falling apart? like extremism, terrorism, and divisiveness will never end? Tomorrow, Nancy will remind you that this is not the end. She’ll point you to the true end of history and give you hope. Now, she’s back to pray, asking the Lord to take evil that’s been done to us and to use it for good.

Nancy: So, Father, as we think about how our lives have been enriched by even the painful, hard things, we pray that You would remember what has been done to us and remember what has been done by us to others. And, Lord, forgive. Have mercy. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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