Rev. L. Althouse
November 19, 2006
Background Scripture: 2 Chronicles 36:15-21; Psalms 137. Devotional Reading: Proverbs 1:20-33.
In Sunday School a little boy defined a “prophet” as ”someone who isn’t appreciated until he is dead.” While there is more to the meaning of the word than that, his definition is not far off the mark. In the Bible, it is abundantly clear that God’s prophets were about as popular as tax collectors or snake oil purveyors.
They were strange, seemingly possessed people who appeared to be bent upon disturbing the peace. Their messages were usually negative, accusatory and unpatriotic, even treasonous. The prophets of God were always prodding them to become something else - a “something else,” which they imagined they already were.
But, “The Lord…. sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people… but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, ‘til the wrath of the Lord rose against his people…” (vs. 15,16)
Perhaps we cannot understand how these people could have so persistently ignored the prophetic message - until we consider whether we might be equally as unreceptive today.
God met their obstinacy with divine patience until, at last, the people were saddled with the consequences of their behavior. When the Babylonians (Chaldeans) invaded Judah, God did not intervene in the horrible destruction of Judah. He is unbelievably merciful and forgiving, but that does not mean that he will absolve us of the consequences of our own folly. I believe God has forgiven our country of the terrible sin of slavery that prevailed here for three centuries, but we are still paying the consequences of our national sin.
The picture of the captives in Babylon in Psalms 137 is that of a people who are now realizing the price they are paying for ignoring God’s prophets. The “waters” of which the Psalmist speaks are probably the irrigation canals that connected to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Sitting on the ground was the normal posture for mourners in the ancient East. This is a psalm of mourning, of remembering what they had lost.
It is also a scene of humiliation, for their captors are taunting them to “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” But the exiled Jews cannot bring themselves to sing: they have hung their harps on willow trees and protest, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:2,4)
All their songs are about Jerusalem and Judah. The remembrance of what they have lost is great enough without singing of a joy they once ignored and now can no longer feel.
Suddenly, the spirit of Psalm 137 changes radically: the honest prayer of sorrow and remorse of verses 1 to 4 becomes a startling utterance of three curses. The first of these is a self-curse: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” (vs. 5,6)
We can understand and even appreciate this vow, even though it is so extreme.
But each of the next two curses is for many of us a turn-off. They ask God first to curse Edom because the Edomites threw their lot with the Babylonians in the defeat and exile of Judah. We can understand their bitterness, even if we do not go along with their vengeance. But not the vitriol of the third curse: “O daughter of Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall he be who requites you with what you have done to us! Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against a rock!” (vs. 8,9)
While we might understand the suffering behind that curse and, while we may give the Psalmist credit for being honest with God in his prayer, we cannot help but recognize with the late Dr. Samuel Terrien, that “The Psalmist stands very far away from Jesus, who commanded, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.’” (Mt. 5:44)
This farm news was published in the Nov. 15, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.