Joy of Dead Babies?

When I was a new Christian, I used to participate in a Fidonet echo called Holysmoke.  If you google Holysmoke and my name, you will find some of my earliest attempts at apologetics, before I knew there was something called apologetics.  Just remember, I was a brand new Christian at the time.

One of the participants of that group recently reminded me of one of their favourite Bible verses:

“Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalms 137:9 ESV)

Taken by itself, this verse looks like it condones violence and murder against children.  But this passage says no such thing.  You have to read the entire Psalm to understand.

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 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? 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 above my highest joy! 

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!” 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!” (Psalms 137:1–9 ESV)

The technical name for this type of Psalm is an Imprecatory Psalm.  In the context, the writer is responding to the Babylonian destruction of Judea and exile of its people.  The Psalmist is being honest about how he feels over the fate of his nation.  At the same time, he is indicating his confidence that judgment will come upon Babylon.  Is the Psalmist saying that they are particularly looking forward to the death of the children?  Not at all.  They are calling upon the worst thing they can imagine.  That worst thing is not just the death of a loved child.  In that culture, the one thing worse than your own death was the death of your child because that meant that your line was broken.  A type of immortality was seen in the continuing of generations.  By speaking of the death of the children, the Psalmist is seeking to strike terror into the hearts of the Babylonians.

Does this mean that God rejoices in dead children?  No.  He is a God of judgment and he did bring judgment on the Babylonians through the Persians.  This Psalm is not God’s stamp of approval on infanticide.  It is God’s encouragement that we be completely honest with how we feel.  We need to bring everything to God, even the feelings of anger and rage we feel toward those who have hurt us.  That is the message of this Psalm.