Psalm 137:8

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 8. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. Or the destroyer: let us accept the word either way, or both ways: the destroyer would be destroyed, and the Psalmist in vision saw her as already destroyed. It is usual to speak of a city as a virgin daughter. Babylon was in her prime and beauty, but she was already doomed for her crimes. Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. The avenger would be fulfilling an honourable calling in overthrowing a power so brutal, so inhuman. Assyrian and Chaldean armies had been boastfully brutal in their conquests; it was meet that their conduct should be measured back into their own bosoms. No awards of punishment can be more unanswerably just than those which closely follow the lex talionis, even to the letter. Babylon must fall, as she caused Jerusalem to fall; and her sack and slaughter must be such as she appointed for other cities. The patriot poet sitting sorrowfully in his exile, finds a solace in the prospect of the overthrow of the empress city which holds him in bondage, and he accounts Cyrus right happy to be ordained to such a righteous work. The whole earth would bless the conqueror for ridding the nations of a tyrant; future generations would call him blessed for enabling men to breathe again, and for once more making liberty possible upon the earth.

We may rest assured that every unrighteous power is doomed to destruction, and that from the throne of God justice will be measured out to all whose law is force, whose rule is selfishness, and whose policy is oppression. Happy is the man who shall help in the overthrow of the spiritual Babylon, which, despite its riches and power, is "to be destroyed." Happier still shall he be who shall see it sink like a millstone in the flood, never to rise again. What that spiritual Babylon is none need enquire. There is but one city upon earth which can answer to the name.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 8. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. In the beginning of the fifth year of Darius happened the revolt of the Babylonians which cost him the trouble of a tedious siege again to reduce them ... he besieged the city with all his forces ... As soon as the Babylonians saw themselves be girt by such an army as they could not cope with in the field, they turned their thoughts wholly to the supporting of themselves in the siege; in order whereto they took a resolution, the most desperate and barbarous that ever any nation practised. For to make their provisions last the longer, they agreed to cut off all unnecessary mouths among them, and therefore drawing together all the women and children, they strangled them all, whether wives, sisters, daughters, or young children useless for the wars, excepting only that every man was allowed to save one of his wives, which he best loved, and a maid servant to do the work of the house. -- Humphrey Prideaux.

Verse 8. Who art to be destroyed. hdwdfh has been explained in a variety of ways. Seventy: h talaipwroj; Vulg. misera: others, destroyer, powerful, violent, or fierce. Perhaps it best suits the context to regard it as expressing what is already accomplished: it is so certain, in the view of the Psalmist, that the ruin will come, that he uses the past participle, as if the work were now completed. "O daughter of Babylon, the destroyed!" --"Bibliotheca Sacra and Theological Review."

Verse 8. He that sows evil shall reap evil; he that soweth the evil of sin, shall reap the evil of punishment. So Eliphaz told Job that he had seen ( Job 4:8 ), "they that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same." And that either in kind or quality, proportion or quantity. In kind, the very same that he did to others shall be done to him; or in proportion, a measure answerable to it. So he shall reap what he hath sown, in quality or in quantity; either in portion the same, or in proportion the like. The prophet cursing Edom and Babel saith thus, "O daughter of Zion, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us." The original is, "that recompenses to thee thy deed which thou didst to us." ... Thus is wickedness recompensed suo genere, in its own kind. So often the transgressor is against the transgressor, the thief robs the thief, proditoros proditor; as in Rome many unchristened emperors, and many christened popes, by blood and treason got the sovereignty, and by blood and treason lost it. Evil men drink of their own brewing, are scourged with their own rod, drowned in the pit which they digged for others, as Haman was hanged on his own gallows, Perillus tormented in his own engine! --Thomas Adams.

Verse 8-9. The subject of these two verses is the same with that of many chapters in Isaiah and Jeremiah; namely, the vengeance of heaven executed upon Babylon by Cyrus, raised up to be king of the Medes and Persians, united under him for that purpose. The meaning of the words, "Happy shall he be," is, He shall go on and prosper, for the Lord of hosts shall go with him, and fight his battles against the enemy and oppressor of his people, empowering him to recompense upon the Chaldeans the works of their hands, and to reward them as they served Israel. --George Horne.

Verse 8-9. It needs no record to tell us that, in the siege and carrying away of Jerusalem, great atrocities were committed by the conquerors. We may be sure that

"Many a chiding mother then
And newborn baby died,"

for the wars of the old world were always attended by such barbarous cruelties. The apostrophe of Psalms 137:8-9 , consequently merely proclaims the certainty of a just retribution -- of the same retribution that the prophets had foretold ( Isaiah 13:16 47:1-15 Jeremiah 50:46 ; compare, "who art to be destroyed", Psalms 137:8 ), and the happiness of those who should be its ministers; who should mete out to her what she had measured to the conquered Jew. It was the decree of Heaven that their "children" should "be dashed to pieces before their eyes." The Psalmist simply recognizes the decree as just and salutary; he pronounces the terrible vengeance to have been deserved. To charge him with vindictiveness, therefore, is to impugn the justice and mercy of the Most High. And there is nothing to sustain the charge, for his words are simply a prediction, like that of the prophet. "As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee; thy reward shall return upon thine own head": Obadiah 1:15 . -- Joseph Hammond, in "The Expositor," 1876.

Verse 9. Happy shall he be that taketh, etc. That is, so oppressive hast thou been to all under thy domination, as to become universally hated and detested; so that those who may have the last hand in thy destruction, and the total extermination of thy inhabitants, shall be reputed "happy" -- shall be celebrated and extolled as those who have rid the world of a curse so grievous. These prophetic declarations contain no excitement to any person or persons to commit acts of cruelty and barbarity; but are simply declarative of what would take place in the order of the retributive providence and justice of God, and the general opinion that should in consequence be expressed on the subject; therefore praying for the destruction of our enemies is totally out of the question. --Adam Clarke.

Verse 9. Happy shall he be, etc. With all possible might and speed oppose the very first risings and movings of the heart to sin; for these are the buds that produce the bitter fruit; and if sin be not nipped in the very bud, it is not imaginable how quickly it will shoot forth ... Now these sins, though they may seem small in themselves, yet are exceedingly pernicious in their effects. These little foxes destroy the grapes as much or more than the greater, and therefore are to be diligently sought out, hunted, and killed by us, if we would keep our hearts fruitful. We should deal with these first streamings out of sin as the Psalmist would have the people of God deal with the brats of Babylon: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. And without doubt most happy and successful will that man prove in his spiritual welfare, who puts on no bowels of pity even to his infant corruptions, but slays the small as well as the great; and so not only conquers his enemies by opposing their present force, but also by extinguishing their future race. The smallest children, if they live, will be grown men; and the first motions of sin, if they are let alone, will spread into great, open, and audacious presumptions. -- Robert South, 1633-1716.

Verse 9. Against the stones. That [l~ signifies a rock, is undubitable, from the concurrent testimony of all the best Hebrew lexicographers. Hence it follows, because there is no rock, nor mountain, nor hill, either in tim city or in the province of ancient Babylonia, that the locality against which the malediction of this Psalm is hurled cannot be the metropolis of the ancient Assyrian empire, but must be apocalyptic Babylon, or Papal Rome, built upon seven hills, one of which is the celebrated Tarpeian Rock. But the eighth verse emphatically declares that the retributive justice of God will visit upon apocalyptic Babylon the same infliction which Assyrian Babylon, and also Pagan Rome, inflicted upon Jerusalem. As therefore Nebuchadnezzar as well as Titus "burnt the house of the Lord, and tim king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire" ( 2 Kings 25:9 ), so "the ten horns shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire; and she shall be utterly burned with fire" ( Revelation 17:16 18:8). When the Canaanites had filled up the measure of their iniquity, Israel received a divine commission to exterminate the guilty nation. When Papal Rome shall have filled up the measure of her iniquity, then "a mighty angel will take up a stone, like a great millstone, and will cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down": "For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double" ( Revelation 18:5-6 ). Then shall issue the divine proclamation: "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her" ( Revelation 18:20 ). --John Noble Coleman, in "The Book of Psalms, with Notes," 1863.

Verse 9. He that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

My heroes slain, my bridal bed o'erturned,
My daughters ravished, and my city burn'd,
My bleeding infants dashed against the floor;
These have I yet to see, perhaps yet more. Homer's Iliad, Pope's Translation, Book 22, 89-91.