Sermon – July 15, 2018


Psalm 137 – The Prayer of Recompense (mp3)

Our culture, largely spurred on, even without notice, by Christian ethics, largely supports the idea of love conquering all. We are all sure, no matter what else separates us, including what “love” is supposed to be, that it is the thing that should define us. After all, as we have recently heard, it is the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of Christians. Yet, today, we read of a passage that appears to drip with violence, vengeance, and vitriol. Should we pray like this? Why are such passages even in the Bible, if God is a God of love?

1. The setting of the imprecation
Before we look at the wrath called down upon the Babylonians, it is important to understand the historical situation in which that prayer was made. The Jews had suffered severely at the hands of the Babylonians, having been removed from their land, which was destroyed, and brought into captivity where they were mocked and dehumanized. Further, given the nature of warfare, the viciousness of the Babylonians, and the plead of “repayment” in verse 8, it is likely that the Jews saw their own children bashed to death. Before we so strongly react to such a sentiment with horror and condemnation, we should realize the pain and suffering the Babylonians subjected the Jews to, and to sympathize with them.

2. The softening of the imprecation
Even given that consideration, however, many have tried to soften the language that is used here. Many believe that it is simply a declaration of pain and frustration, which God allows but does not condone. Given, however, God’s judgment of the unjust, it is hard to maintain such a position. Others appeal to the OT nature of the prayer, and argue that like many other OT practices, these types of prayer have been superseded in the NT. But such sentiments fall short, primarily in that they misunderstand the severity of the NT judgment, and fail to see the same types of prayers uttered in the NT.

3. The standards of the imprecation
How then should we pray these things? First, when we explicitly give voice to such prayers, we must keep mercy and grace as our first responses, and understand the nature of biblical justice. Further, when we ask for justice from God, we must understand that we are explicitly asking for God to bring judgment on all those who would otherwise deny justice to the innocent. What’s more, we need to understand that this type of judgment underlies every true preaching of the gospel. Those who stand against Christ, who refuse to repent and find life in him, will have their heads crushed with their father, Satan. Indeed, Christ is both the Rock that brings salvation and the Rock that crushes the guilty; a sanctuary and a stone of offense. Run to him, that you might be saved!

But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

Isaiah 8:13-15 (ESV)