One Year Bible: I Kings 20:1-21:29, Acts 12:23-13:12; Psalm 137:1-9; Proverbs 17:16
The Complete Appropriateness Of A Downright Nasty Little Prayer
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us.
If you are going to enjoy the psalms, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with a psalm like this. This is a downright nasty little psalm that calls for the violent destruction of the Babylonian people—akin to the call for a Jewish Jihad! This is what we call an imprecatory psalm—the calling down of a divine curse; a prayer for violent vengeance.
So the question is, what place does such an angry psalm have in a loving God’s book?
First, this isn’t simply a religious rant. Psalm 137 should not be isolated from the others psalms—or from the rest of Scripture, for that matter. It makes sense only in context of both theological and historical context. The writer wasn’t just calling down vengeance because he didn’t like someone. The Babylonians had perpetrated great violence against God’s people, so the psalmist was only calling on God to do what God had promised to do.
Second, this is not a call to take vengeance into human hands. The psalmist sees God as judge, jury and executioner, and upon that basis makes his plea for the proper execution of Divine justice.
Third, though it isn’t acknowledged within this psalm, other Scripture shows that before the Jews had called down judgment on their captors, they had first thoroughly repented before God for the very things that had brought them under the iron-fist of Babylon to begin with. (Daniel 9:1-19) They had, as Jesus later called us to do, taken the beam out of their own eye before they bothered with judgment for their tormentors. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Finally, this prayer, and others like it, is aligned with God’s prophetic indictment of Israel’s enemies. They are praying what the Scripture has already declared, calling into fulfillment God’s judgment against some extremely evil people.
For the most part, our prayers should be along the lines that Jesus taught: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NLT) But when evil goes beyond the pale, it is certainly appropriate to pray for what is at the core of God’s being: Justice.
However, there is just one caveat: If you are going to unleash an imprecatory prayer, just remember that Divine justice is blind; it cuts both ways. So make sure your own evil has been covered by the blood of Christ, which comes only by grace through faith through the acknowledement and repentance of sin.
“I tell you, brethren, if mercies and if judgments do not convert you,
God has no other arrows in His quiver.”
~Robert Murray M’Cheyne