Psalms 137–139: Grief & Praise

Read the Bible in 2011Week 48: Wednesday

“By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
Psalm 137:1–6

Wednesday’s Bible reading is Psalms 137–139.

Leslie M’Caw and J. A. Motyer consider Psalm 137 to be the “latest psalm in the Psalter, dating it within the Exile.”1 It opens with the poignant grief of those who have been devastated by loss and taken from all that was familiar and dear. It is an imprecatory psalm and although at the bottom of an earlier post on Psalms 69–71, I quoted some comments of Leslie M’Caw and J. A. Motyer on imprecatory psalms, I wanted to give you additional insight from them because of the stark prayer that closes Psalm 137. If you missed that earlier post, you might want to go back and read it as well.

“It is essential to recall that when the NT quoted another of the imprecatory psalms (69:5), is described it as a scripture which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas . . . (Acts 1:16). That is to say, there is such a thing as the wrath of God (here voiced by the Holy Spirit), there are people who rightly deserve to be the targets of that wrath (Judas or, in Ps. 137, Edom and Babylon), and there are people raised up by God to give expression in words to that wrath (David, the psalmist of Ps. 137, etc.). We, whose anger ever trembles on the brink of sinfulness, do well to admit that we could not guiltlessly voice these sentiments. But in doing so we admit, not a great sanctity nor a more enlightened conscience than the men of old, but a duller moral perception of the eternal significance of right and wrong, a less clear-cut devotion to God and good, and a failure to include in our portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ the NT insistence on the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16).”2

The next two psalms were both written by David some 500 years earlier and so have a far different mood. They are both very personal. Psalm 138 is a song of praise for God’s deliverance and trust in His care. Psalm 139 speaks of David’s wonder at God’s personal knowledge and understanding of him.

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:1–3

As David marvels at God’s creation of him within his mother’s womb in verses 13–16, this psalm bears witness that God creates and gives life to each unborn child. This is why abortion is such an abhorrent evil.

Interwoven within his praise in this psalm, David’s words also teach us about God. M’Caw and Motyer write:

“It is characteristic of the Bible to express its great truths in the context of personal experience. Partly, this is because God is never proposed as a subject for man’s intellectual, speculative enquiry (cf. Jb. 11:7, 8), but for his devotion, worship and obedience. It is also because the Bible never considers a truth ‘known’ until it controls the life of the learner. Of all this view of things Ps. 139 is a classic instance. This psalm could be said to teach God’s omniscience (vv. 1–6), omnipresence (vv. 7–12), sovereignty (vv. 13–16), and holiness (vv. 17–24), yet in the truest sense nothing could less exactly express the psalmist’s mind than these four abstractions. To the psalmist, omniscience is ‘God’s complete knowledge of me’, omnipresence is that ‘God is with me no matter where I am’, and so forth. The ‘I—Thou’ relationship is basic to the poem.”3

These psalms are psalms of life. From the very beginning of our days throughout all of our life, the psalms reach to us in our circumstances and need, teaching us to turn to God—to cry out to Him in our grief and to praise Him for His lovingkindness and truth, and in the midst of everything to trust Him for His judgment and deliverance.

The LORD will accomplish what concerns me;
Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
Psalm 138:8

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23–24

As my family continues to go through our own griefs and anxious days, please pray for us—that we will trust in God and that He will hear and deliver us. Remember to walk with those in need—especially your brothers and sisters in Christ whom you know, whom God has placed in your life.

_________
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1, 2, 3Leslie S. M’Caw, J. A. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., pp. 536, 536, 537.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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This entry was posted in Adversity, Children, Christian Life, Doctrine, Evil, God, Grace, Judgment, Love, Mercy, Perilous Times, Personal Distress, Pro-Life, Read the Bible in 2011, Suffering, Trumpets and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Psalms 137–139: Grief & Praise

  1. manoahswife says:

    “These psalms are psalms of life. From the very beginning of our days throughout all of our life, the psalms reach to us in our circumstances and need, teaching us to turn to God—to cry out to Him in our grief and to praise Him for His lovingkindness and truth, and in the midst of everything to trust Him for His judgment and deliverance.”

    You have our prayers. We have walked through some of these valleys as well. He has always upheld us with “His righteous right Hand.”

  2. INC says:

    Thank you so much!

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