Dashing The Little Ones: Osgood

                        Princeton Theological Review 1.1 (1903) 23-37.

                                                   Public Domain.





                                               Howard Osgood


            THE historical setting of the 137th Psalm is its complete

vindication from the mistaken interpretation of believers in

the Bible and from the severe charges brought against the Psalm

by unsympathetic writers. Many a tender-hearted believer read-

ing, " Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served

us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones

against the rock" (cliff), is at a loss for an interpretation that shall

speak without malice, revenge and delight in the sufferings of

others. The refined tenderness of the first verses, the love of

Jehovah and His worship, the appeal to Him to whom alone ven-

geance belongs (Dent. xxxii. 39, 41; Ps. xciv. 1) cannot be

harmonized with the often supposed brutal revenge of the last

verses. Did the sufferings of the captives, who knew that they

suffered for the sins of their own nation, bring forth no better fruit

in them than prayer to Jehovah for and gloating over expected cruel-

ties to little children who had never injured there? Did they bless

God and curse men in the same breath of prayer? If they thus

cursed men their sorrow for Jerusalem was divorced from all love

and reverence for God. Ezekiel tells us that the captive Jews

looked upon Jerusalem as "their stronghold, the joy of their

glory, the desire of their eyes, on which they set their heart"

(xxiv. 25); but this was only human patriotism, love of their

homeland, for these same captives were idolaters in heart and deed

in Judah and in Babylonia, and mocked at God's Word. Is Ps.

cxxxvii only a patriotic song without a spark of true love and

reverence for Jehovah, the song of these idolaters, rebels against

God and Babylon? If so, it is the only song of idolaters among

the Psalms. Unless we consider the Psalms as a mere helter-

skelter collection of songs without regard to their meaning, which

is disproved by all the other Psalms and by their careful arrange-

ment, it is impossible to account for the preservation, by the

prophets Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and men of like minds, of this

song of the idolatrous captives in Babylonia. It is equally impos-

sible to account for this song of the idolaters being placed between





the preeminent song of the grace of God that endures for ever

(Ps. cxxxvi and the song of thanksgiving for Jehovah's presence

with his servant and for the coming day when all shall glorify

Him (Ps. cxxxviii).

            But on the other side, Ps. cxxxvii is as mere literature far from

the songs of idolaters through ignorance, as any one may see by

comparing it with the Babylonian songs. And it is still farther

from the songs of apostate Jewish idolaters, whose hearts were

hardened against Jehovah and all spiritual truth. For this Psalm

is of melting tenderness and of the finest literary quality. Even

translated into English its exquisite flavor is not wholly lost. Its

unknown author had cherished in Babylonia, afar from the land of

the Hebrew, his loved tongue in its best models, and has poured

through its simple words a flood of grief that still moves to sin-

cere sympathy those who read it. The whole picture of their lot,

their surroundings, the heart-agony, the intense longing, the self-

respect of the captives in the midst of mocking Babylonians, lies

there embedded in its simple phrases. Whatever may be the

correct interpretation of his words, there can be no doubt that

the author was a poet in the first rank of those who can make the

simplest words palpitate with the deepest grief of the heart as

well as roll out the thunders of the storm against sin. Coming

out from the shadows of the captivity by an unknown singer it

has strong affinities with the greatest of all Christian hymns, the

Dies Irae, that arose in exquisite truth and sublime power and mel-

ody during the captivity of the truth in the Middle Ages. The

same tenderness of heart toward God, the same absolute reliance

on His promises of grace, the same conviction of the certain

terrors of His judgment against the wicked mark both of them.

They are of the first flow of pure oil from God's olive trees

hidden in His house.

In the righteous judgment of the Judge of the whole earth

there come times when the poison, the corruption of sin reaches

such a height that He must sweep oft from the earth those who

defy Him. Such a time was the era of the Flood. Another

time was from 700-500 B.C., when He swept off Assyria, Judah,

Babylon, Edom; another was at the overthrow of Jerusalem by

the Romans, and another was the crushing out of the Roman

Empire by the hordes from Asia. With the exception of the

Flood, God has used one wicked nation to punish another wicked

nation. The nations pursue their own plans without any regard

to, in defiance of God, and yet they work out God's will. So did

Assyria and Babylon in their pride and lust of conquest over

Israel and Judah. The day of their own punishment for their




corruption and defiance of God, was surely coming from the hand

of the righteous Judge of all nations, over whose judgments of

salvation and of destruction both heaven and earth sing (Jer. li.

48; Rev. xix. 1-7).

God was to punish the ten tribes of Israel for their three hundred

years of turning from all His calls of grace, from all his bounties,

to the worship of idols and to the iniquities beyond name and

number they delighted in before their dead gods. And Jehovah

let loose upon them the tiger lord of Assyria, whom they had

loved better than Jehovah, but whose one desire was the conquest

of Israel's land. When Assyria had finished the dread work in

which it delighted, then came its own time of destruction from

the presence of Jehovah (Isa. x. 12), and the Medes and Baby-

lonians, long oppressed by the cruel Assyrians, rose up and made

a desert where Assyria's cities and palaces had stood thick on the


There was no nation where all that God hates and must destroy

rose to greater heights and sank to lower depths than Judah. A

hundred years previously the ten tribes had been carried into

captivity and their land given to others, but even this did not

stay Judah's plunge into deeper crimes. The Philistines had ever

been the enemies of God and Israel, but the Philistines had never

sunk as low as Judah (Ezek. xvi. 27). Sodom had been burned

out of the earth by fire and brimstone from Jehovah in heaven

because her sins cried to God for vengeance, and her name is left

as a mark of the fire of God's wrath. And yet Sodom never trod

in the depths Judah sought and loved (Ezek. xvi. 48f.).

In Judah God had set His earthly throne. In His temple He

poured forth the evidences of His love and grace, that He might

walk among and dwell with His chosen people (Ex. xxix. 45, 46;

Lev. xxvi. 11, 12). The spiritual among His people saw in the

symbol; of His house "His honor and majesty, His strength and

beauty,'' and loved to go there and meditate on His word. For

over Jerusalem, the earthly type, hung the abounding promises of

that better city- where Jehovah eternally dwells (Ps. x1viii. 8), to

which every pilgrim here through the valley of weeping, the valley

of the shadow of death, whose strength is in God, shall at last come

and appear before his Redeemer in joy unspeakable and full of glory

(Ps. l xxiv. 7). There no want is known (Ps. lxv. 4), there all tears

are wiped away by the tender hand that led His host (Isa, xxv.

8), there the river of God’s pleasure flows bankfull (Ps. xxxvi.

8, xlvi. 4), there no enemy is ever seen (Isa. lii. 1, liv. 14, 15),

and peace and joy and light and gladness find their everlasting

abode  (Ps. xvi. 11, xxxvi.9) and thanksgiving with praise is




the breath of all its inhabitants Ps. l. 14, 23 ). But Judah's

kings and false prophets and people set themselves to make this

earth their heaven, to do the desires of their wicked hearts, to

cast out all thought of God and to fill Jerusalem with idols and all

that idol worship means. So even while the beautiful temple of

Solomon was still standing, and the appointed worship was regu-

larly performed, and priests in white walked its courts and served

the altar, Jerusalem was a closer approach to hell on earth than

the world had ever seen (Jer. xxiii. 14; Ezek. xvi. 48). God

compresses into the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, de-

scribing Jerusalem from B. C. 740 to 580, all the anguish and wrath

of love and holiness and justice. Few were left who cared for Jeho-

vah. The multitude of wicked priests and false prophets sneered

and laughed at God and followed their sins. "The priest and the

prophet reel with strong drink, they stagger with strong drink.

they err in vision, they stumble in judgment." "A wonderful.

and a horrible thing is come to pass in the land; the prophets

prophesy a lie and the priests bear rule by their means, and my

people love to have it so." "Ye trust in lying words that cannot

profit. Will ye steal, murder and commit adultery, and swear to

a lie, and burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye

have not known, and come and stand before me in this house that

is called by my name, and say, We have been saved that we may

do all these abominations?" "In the prophets of Jerusalem I

have seen a horrible thing; they commit adultery and walk in

lies . . . . they are all of them become to me as Sodom." The

temple itself had become the abode of vile priests who called

themselves the priests of Jehovah, but sought the recesses of the

temple to commit their unspeakable iniquities and turned their

backs to the temple while they worshiped the sun. In the temple

porticos degraded, licentious women sang the foul songs of Tam-

muz (Ezek. viii. 1-18). It was "the bloody city full of abomina-

tions," "infamous and full of tumult." Father, mother and

children, they were all filled with hatred to God and mad upon

their idols. They wrung from God the intense, piteous appeal,

"Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate. Wherefore com-

mit ye this great evil against your own souls, to cut off from you

man and woman, infant and suckling, out of the midst of Judah,

to leave you none remaining?" (Jer. xliv. 4, 7.) And at last,

when He could no longer bear it (Jer. xliv. 22), God let loose

upon them the Babylonians. "Slay utterly the old man, the

young man and maiden, and little children and women" (Ezek.

ix. 6). "Pour out wrath upon the children in the street, and upon

the assembly of young men together, for even the husband with



the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days''

(Jer. vi. 11). " I will dash them one against another, even the

fathers and the sons together, saith Jehovah. I will not pity nor

spare nor have compassion, that I should not destroy them."

These terrible prophecies did not change the people. They only

blasphemed God the more, and at last the century-long prophecies

were fulfilled in the streets of Jerusalem. "Her young children

are gone into captivity before the adversary." "The young

children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city."

"My virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou

hast slain them in the day of thine anger, thou hast slaughtered

and not pitied " (Lam. i. 5, ii. 11, 21).

So Jehovah slew in Judah and Jerusalem parents and children,

as Jesus says He will slay the unfaithful parents and children of

His Churches (Rev. ii. 23).

Esau, the firstborn of Isaac, sold to Jacob his birthright for a

single meal because he valued all the promises of God at less than

that price. This bad bargain rankled in the minds of his descend-

ants, the Edomites, and for a thousand years they were the bitter

enemies of Israel, determined, with no more regard than Esau to

Jehovah and His promises, to take Israel's land and destroy them

from the face of the earth. They were ever in collusion with all

the enemies of Israel, with the Philistines, with Tyre. When

the Babylonians came to raze Jerusalem down to its foundations,

then in glee and hope Edom rushed to help them in the slaughter.

They beset the roads to cut off every fugitive. They carried

away the spoils, and in assurance of speedy possession they cast

lots for the ground and gloated over Zion's calamity (Obad.

11-14 ; Ezek. xxxv. 1-15, xxxvi. 1-5).

Jehovah's reply to Edom's defiance begins at the Exodus (Num.

xxiv. 18), and continues increasing until it rolls in thunder tones

for three hundred years before her ruin. In the great day of

Jehovah's wrath upon all nations His sword shall come down upon

Edom and be filled with blood (Isa. xxxiv. 5, 6). When He

who "speaks in righteousness, mighty to save," treads the wine-

press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty and

stains all His raiment with blood, it is in Edom that God sets the

winepress (Isa. ixiii. 1-6; Rev. xiv. 20. xix. 13-16. The vio-

lence done to Jehovah, His land. His people, shall be exactly

returned to Edom, for it shall be desolate, destroyed forever by

Jehovah thrust down to Sheol with the slain of Jehovah (Obad.

8-10; Joel iii. 19 . Amos i. 11, 12; Jer. xxv. 17-21; xxvii.3.

xlix. 13-22; Ezek. xxv. 12-14, xxxii. 29; Mal. i.4). After

that destruction of the “perpetual enmity” Jehovah will restore

His land and people and give them peace.



These were the battles of Edom against Jehovah. These were

the prophecies of Jehovah concerning Edom and concerning the

fair prospect when Edom, the enemy of God and His people.

should be blotted out by the hand of Jehovah.

The day of Babylon was coming. Both in the Old and New

Testaments Babylon is the synonym of every sin that exalts itself

against God--of boundless wealth, of limitless pride, of hatred to

God written in the blood of prophets and saints, of every blas-

phemous thought, of all the foulnesses of the crimes of the flesh.

For two hundred years before her overthrow God had foretold it

with all plainness. The terrible picture of that ruin by the hand

of Jehovah includes the work of the heartless Medes, whose

"bows shall clash the young men in pieces; and they shall have

no pity on the fruit of the womb, their eye shall not spare chil-

dren." "Prepare ye slaughter for his (evil-doer's) children for

the iniquity of their fathers, that they rise not up and possess the

earth and fill the face of the world with cities. And I will rise

up against them, saith Jehovah of hosts, and cut off from Babylon

name and remnant, and son and son's son, saith Jehovah  

I will sweep it with the sweep of destruction, saith Jehovah of

hosts " (Isa. xiii. 1-xiv. 23. Comp. xxi. 1-10, xliii. 14, 15, xlvi.

1, 2, xlvii. 1-15).

A hundred years pass away and the world-quaking roll of

Isaiah's thunder peals out again in Jeremiah with the vivid

lightning strokes of the final catastrophe. Again it is the Medes,

gathering many nations under their banner, who are to deluge her

with the waves of her own blood. The words of Jehovah, the

supreme though unrecognized commander of the mighty host of

the Medes, are paralleled by God's commands at the final destruc-

tion of the world's Babylon in the Book of Revelation. "Do

according to all that I have commanded." "Destroy her utterly,

let nothing of her be left." "Recompense her according to her

work, according to all that she bath done do unto her, for she hath

been proud against Jehovah, against the holy one of Israel."

"Surely they shall drag them away, even the little ones of the

flock. Surely he shall make their habitation desolate."

There was something far more than Israel's deliverance con-

cerned in Babylon's fall. From its first building (Gen xi. 1-9),

when for daring defiance of God He scattered her builders over the

face of the earth, until its fall it ever remained the sorceress of

the world, of kings and all peoples. And now He, who had borne

with her for thousands of years, to whom alone vengeance

belongs, arose to smite His implacable, unyielding foe. “It is

the vengeance of Jehovah, take vengeance upon her, as she hath



done do unto her”; “the vengeance of Jehovah our God, the

vengeance of his temple." "It is the time of Jehovah's ven-

geance, he will render unto her a recompense." "For Jehovah

hath both devised and done that which he spoke concerning the

inhabitants of Babylon." "I will render unto Babylon, and to

all the inhabitants of Chaldea, all their evil that they have done

in Zion in your sight, saith Jehovah." "Behold, I am against

thee, 0 corrupting mountain, saith Jehovah, that corruptest all

the earth, and I will stretch out my hand upon thee and roll thee

down from the cliffs and make thee a mountain burned up"

(comp. Rev. viii, 8, xviii, 21).

In that day Jehovah will put into the mouth of Zion and Jeru-

salem these words, "The violence done to me and to my flesh be

upon Babylon, shall the inhabitant of Zion say; and my blood be

upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say. Therefore

thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will plead thy cause, and take ven-

geance for thee" (Jer. li. 35, 36). And out of the roar, the

tumult, the crash of the assault on Babylon He calls His people

to flee from her and save themselves from the fierce anger of

Jehovah, and, fleeing fast from her, "remember Jehovah from

afar and let Jerusalem come into your mind," over which hung the

promises of redemption, of favor, of the power of God to purify

His people and make them dwell with Him in plenty and peace.

All these prophecies were written out in Jerusalem by Jeremiah

in the early years of the exile, and about 594 B.C. a special copy

of them was made and given to Seraiah, one of the high court

officers, the brother of Baruch, the faithful scribe and follower of

Jeremiah. Seraiah was going in the train of Zedekiah, the vas-

sal kin, who went to pay vassal's duty to the proud monarch of

Babylon. "And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to

Babylon, then see that thou read all these words and say, 0

Jehovah, thou hast spoken concerning this place to cut it off, that

none shall dwell therein, neither man nor beast, but that it shall

be desolate forever. And it shall be, when thou hast made an end

of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it and cast it

into the midst of the Euphrates: and thou shalt say, Thus shall

Babylon sink, and shall not rise again because of the evil that I

will bring-upon her.”

These things were known in Jerusalem by the believers, who

knew Jeremiah to be God's prophet, seven years before the de-

struction of Solomon’s temple and more than forty years before

the fall of Babylon. They were known and treasured by the

small number of the true servants of God in Babylonia, by Eze-

kiel the prophet, the younger contemporary of Jeremiah, who



was well acquainted with all Jeremiah's prophecies.  They were

known by Daniel, who studied Jeremiah’s words and foretold to

Nebuchadnezzar and Belshzzar the destruction of the kingdom,

and knew by Jeremiah's words the length of the captivity.

They were known by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the

faithful companions of Daniel; and also by all those who, like

them, wept over their own sin and the sin of their people, and the

ruins of Jerusalem, and sought Jehovah their God and inquired.

"Concerning Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come ye,

and join yourselves to Jehovah in an everlasting covenant that

shall not be forgotten."

All this is the background of the picture in the Psalm. Of the

multitudes who were carried into captivity the majority changed

their sky but not their mind. They had loved idolatry in the

temple of Jerusalem, and they were at home and contented and

growing rich in Babylonia. It was difficult, when the way was

open to return, to find even four of the twenty-four courses of

priests willing to go back. These Babylonian Israelites tripped

lightly up to Ezekiel the prophet in the captivity, laughing and

saying to each other, "Come and hear what is the word that

cometh forth from Jehovah." "And they come unto thee as the

people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they

hear thy words, but do them not. For with their mouth they

show much love, but their heart goeth after their gain. And lo,

thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that path a pleas-

ant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy

words, but they do them not " (Ezek. xxxiii. 30-32).

But there was a small number sent from Jehovah into captivity

whom God loved and who loved God. Over them God promised

to watch and to bless and to bring back some of Israel to His

land (Jer. xxiv. 5-7). Among these faithful few were Ezekiel

and Daniel and their companions. Neither captivity nor high

office during captivity turned their hearts from the deep conviction

of their own sin and the sin of their people, which brought on

and continued the captivity. Righteousness belonged to Jeho-

vah, but to them confusion of face. Yet Jehovah was the God

of grace and pardon. And they prayed, "0 Lord, according to

all thy righteousness, let thine anger and thy wrath be turned away

from thy city Jerusalem, because for our sins and for the iniquities

of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to

all that are round about us. Now, therefore, 0 our God, hearken

unto the prayer of thy servant and to his supplications, and cause

thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the

Lord's sake. 0 my God, incline thine ear and bear; open thine



eyes and behold our desolations, and the city that is called by thy

name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our

righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. 0 Lord, hear; 0 Lord,

forgive ; 0 Lord, hearken and do; defer not for thine own sake,

0 my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy

name'' (Dan. ix. 16-19). The hearts of these few faithful were

set for God, His pardon, His promises bound up with the city and

people called by His name. This is the part of the Israelites in

Babylonia from whom alone the Psalm could have come. The

others were far from the thoughts and the feelings that find intense

expression there. These were the only ones, from Daniel beside

the throne to the day laborer in the fields, who saw through the

glamor of the captivity, its opportunities of wealth, of comfort,

of respect, of high office and power. They remembered what

brought about their captivity and continued it, and what was to

be its end. Like Nehemiah in later days, all the splendor of

luxury and high office were naught to them and not worth a

moment's possession when Jerusalem lay in ruins and God was

reproached for the captivity of His city and people. To them, as

to prophets and psalmists before them, as well as to all who after

them have known and loved God, a reproach cast upon God, His

word, His grace, was a more bitter trial, a more intolerable bur-

den, than reproach of themselves.

Henry Martin, the saint and missionary, near the ground where

the 137th Psalm arose, could bear any reproach against him-

self, but when God was blasphemed by one of his hearers he burst

into tears and left them. To reproach the spiritual-minded exiles

was to reproach men who knew and confessed to God more of

their own sins than any others knew of them. To reproach God

was to stab their dearest friend, to crucify and blaspheme Him

who was all their salvation and all their desire. It is this reproach

of God that lies heavy upon the hearts of the singers of the 44th,

69th, 74th, 79th, 83d, 89th, 102d, 119th Psalms. It is this re-

proach. that weighed down Ezekiel among the captives, that was

the swelling burden of Daniel's prayer, that in the midst of pros-

perity and peace in Babylon made them hang their harps upon the

willows and weep, for when God was reproached all joy was dead.

With gay light-mindedness, ignorant deep sorrow that

dwelt in the bosom of these captives, men around them asked

them to make merry with a song of their city Zion, as the Baby-

lonians made merry with their songs of Babylon. The desolation

of Zion was the gaping, festering wound of the sin of Israel, the

reporach of His recreant people. Till that wound was healed

there could be no joy over Zion for those who knew God. Their



captivty was the sign that “his anger was not turned away, but

his hand was stretched out still." The day of redemption surely

promised had not yet dawned, when “they shall come and sing on

the height of Zion, and they shall flow together to the goodness O

Jehovah, to the grain and to the new wine and to the oil, and to

the young of the flock and of the herd. And their souls shall be

as a watered harden and they shall not sorrow any more at all.

Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and

old together, for I will turn their mourning into joy and will com-

fort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow " (Jer. xxxi.

12, 13). Knowing all this, it would have been a sin against Jeho-

vah and hypocrisy to sing Jehovah's song of gladness and delight

in His worship in Zion while Zion was in ruins, the temple burned

up and no worship could be celebrated there, and they were

captives in a foreign land because of the sin of Israel. But

though Zion, Jerusalem, was in ruins, yet with her were insepar-

ably interwoven the glowing promises of redemption, return and

peace. "Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion." "Thy

servants take pleasure in her stones and have pity upon her

dust." For the time shall come when Zion shall hear the voice

of her God, saying, "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, 0

Zion ; put on thy beautiful garments, 0 Jerusalem, the holy city;

for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncir-

cumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise,

sit enthroned, 0 Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bonds of thy

neck, 0 captive daughter of Zion." The day of the enthrone-

ment of Zion is also the day when Babylon, "the mistress of

kingdoms," shall be stripped for the meanest slavery. "Come

down and sit in the dust, 0 virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on

the ground without a throne, 0 slaughter of the Chaldeans           

I will take vengeance, I will spare no man. "For these captives

to forget that Zion should yet be enthroned above all nations, and

the house of God be the fountain of life for Israel and for all

nations, would be to forget God himself and the living water that

was their life in captivity. That were living death, when the

hand loses the chords of God's harp and the tongue withers from

all thanks and praise. They had known the time when God sent

out His light and truth, and these led His glad worshipers to His

holy hill and to His tabernacles, and they went to the altar of

God, to God their exceeding joy (Ps. xliii. 3, 4). To that exceed-

ing joy, that chief joy, found only in Zion, they hoped again to

come. But it was impossible to hope for that promise without

also hoping for the promise, always joined by God with it, of the

overthrow of their bitterest enemies. And so, true to God's words,



they recall His own prophecies that He would remember Edom,

and return to her as she had done to Jerusalem and put away for-

ever "the perpetual enmity." Not the Jews or the Medes or any

human hands were to direct the requital of Edom, but Jehovah,

the righteous Judge, who shall "come to judge earth; he shall

judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity."

What no human foresight could imagine under the reigning

world-power, this singer grasps with absolute faith, that the long-

heralded prophecies of God would be fulfilled by the coming fall

of Babylon. Jehovah, his God, would bring Babylon to the

ground. It was Jehovah's promise. It would be Jehovah's

work. And as sure as Jehovah lived He would fulfill His word.

The psalmist uses the very words of God, "Daughter of Baby-

lon" (Isa, xlvii. 1 ; Jer. l. 42, li. 33); "that art to be de-

stroyed " (Jer. li. 48, 53, 55, 56, Am. Rev.). The Hebrew is

stronger than the translation. As Jeremiah long before it came

to pass saw the destruction of Babylon as though it were passing

before his eyes, and speaks of it in the present and past tenses, so

this singer sees God's word bound to her. She is now marked by

God as " The destroyed." Her destruction is as sure as though

it were already accomplished.

"Happy" is the rendering of a Hebrew word that occurs

twenty-six times in the Psalms and in nineteen instances is trans-

lated "blessed" and seven times it is translated "happy."

There is no good reason for the change, because the word in all

the Old Testament is used only of men who trust God, whose

strength, delight, hope are in God, whom God instructs by chas-

tening, who do His will, and are supremely blessed by God.

Blessed shall he be who is called by God to bring Babylon to the

dust, fulfilling Jehovah's promise and command to do to her as

she in despite of God has done to Zion.

"Blessed (by God) shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy

little ones against the rock." This is the verse that is said to be

so contrary to the teachings of the New Testament that it could

not occur there. But the learned men who have made this charge

have made it without examining the clearest proof to the con-

trary. Jesus quotes this very verse, the very words "dash thy

little ones," in His lament over Jerusalem. Only in Luke xix. 44

does the Greek verb found in Ps. cxxxvii. 9 (Septuagint) occur in

the New Testament. The New Testament Greek and English "chil-

dren" it a better translation of the Hebrew than the Old Testa-

ment English "little ones," The Saviour says "thine enemies

. . . shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within

thee." Be found no more difficulty in quoting this Psalm than



in quoting the other most imprecatorv Psalms (lxix and cix), of

which the Holy Spirit was the author (Acts i. 16, 20). They are

not foreign to Christ's spirit.  But Christ goes further. He

bestows upon him who shall overcome by keeping and doing His

will ”authority over the nations,” “to rule them with a rod of

iron as the vessels of the potter are dashed to pieces," quoting

Ps. ii (Rev. 11. 26, 27); as the Saviour Himself is to dash in

pieces with a rod of iron His enemies (Rev. xii. 5, xix. 15). Does

any intelligent reader interpret literally these sayings by the

Saviour and of the Saviour? Is he to take men and dash them

in pieces with a rod of iron and find delight in that work? Are

not His words expressive of the terrible results of men's own sin,

precisely as Jeremiah's breaking the earthen jar before men was a

visible type of the ruin sin would bring? If no intelligent reader

interprets literally the words quoted by the Saviour, why should

these same words be interpreted literally in the passages of the

Old Testament from which they are quoted?  But more than this.

God has through the ages been "dashing in pieces" His enemies

and the enemies of His people. He began at the Red Sea (Ex.

xv. 6), and "dashed in pieces" Pharaoh and his host when He

destroyed them by the waters. Within the bounds of His chosen

people He dashed in pieces Ephraim, the ten tribes of Israel,

"the mother was dashed in pieces with her children," because of

their unbridled hatred of God and preference of idols (Hos. x. 14,

xiii. 16). He placed in Zion itself the firm rock of His word,

that those who stumble at it may be broken to pieces (Isa. viii.

9, 15).  He alone summons the Medes against Babylon, whose

bows shall dash the young men in pieces. They shall have no

pity upon the fruit of the womb. Their eye shall not spare chil-

dren (Isa. xiii. 16, 18). For Babylon is to be God's threshing-

floor, wholly trampled to the ground (Isa. xxi. 9, 10; Jer. li. 33).

And Judah and Jerusalem, the last of His chosen people, for sins

that rent the heavens with cries of defiance and agony, He will

break as a potter's vessel, breaking it in pieces without sparing

(Isa. xxx. 14).

God also uses the same expression respecting the course of His

redeemed and purified people who do His will. They are to

thresh," "beat in pieces" many peoples; they are to "thresh

and beat small" the mountains, all opposing difficulties (Mic. iv.

13; Isa. xli. 15, 16). They are to be Jehovah's "battle axe

and weapons of war," and with them Jehovah would "break in

pieces" kingdoms, "man and woman," "the old man and the

youth, the young man and the maid" (Jer. li. 20-23), though

redeemed Israel never had a hand in the destruction of Babylon



and never is to have a hand in the destruction of others except by

testifying the word of God, “the sword of the Spirit."

There is one instance mentioned in the history of Judah when

the idolatrous Amaziah conquered Edom, a country of high moun-

tains, and threw down from the top of a high cliff ten thousand

of the people and they were broken to pieces (2 Chron. xxv. 12).

Since that time war in all lands, even to the last century, has

signalized its victory by similar atrocities. To "dash down by

the cliff" is a metaphor that has not imagination but a terrible

fact for its basis. But that it is used metaphorically by the author

of our Psalm, long resident by Babylon's myriad willow-bordered

canals, is proved by the fact that Babylonia is a perfectly flat

alluvial country where no hill, nor stone, nor rock, nor cliff is to be

found. If the children of Babylon were literally to be thrown

down from the cliff, they must have been carried hundreds of

miles out of their own country to Elam or Media or down into

Arabia to reach the place of execution. Babylon, the city, was

built on the low alluvial plain on both sides of the muddy

Euphrates. Yet God says, "I will stretch out my hand upon

thee and roll thee down from the cliffs " (Jer. li. 25). No intel-

ligent dweller in Babylonia, heathen or servant of Jehovah, could

fail to understand the metaphor of Babylon's being hurled from

her exaltation in pride and power, for the literal interpretation is

ridiculous, no cliffs or rocks or mountains being anywhere near.

And close by Ps. cxxxvii, in Ps. cxli. 6, is another plain proof

of the metaphorical use of the same phrase. "Their judges are

thrown down beside the cliff, and they shall hear my words for

they are sweet. “If the judges were to be literally dashed to

pieces from the cliff, it is folly to add that they are then to hear

sweet words. But if these leaders who led the people astray

were to be brought down by God from their high office and taught

their sin and their dependence on God alone for the sweet tidings

of pardon and right judgment (Ps. ii. 10-12), then we can see that

the psalmist speaks in accord with many a word of God elsewhere

(Job ix. 24, xii. 17 ; Isa. i. 26, xl. 23, Dan, ix. 12).

The choice of interpretations of Ps. cxii. 6, as in Ps. cxxxvii. 9,

lies between the impossible literal and the clear metaphorical, just

as it does in hundreds of places in the Old and New Testament.

The Hebrew word used in this verse means child, children; it

may mean a very young child or one grown up.  It does not

specify the age, as any one familiar with Hebrew knows.*  The

children to be dashed to pieces in Babylon, as the children, the


*Ollel in Hebrew, like nepios and teknon in Greek, does not specify the age

but the relation.



Saviour says, were to be clashed to pieces in Jerusalem, are the

progeny of the viper, those who choose their fathers' sins and are

worse than their fathers. “Children” and “seed” are often

used in the Old and New Testaments for those similar in mind and

deed. For instance, the 37th Psalm tells us, "I have not

seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread." And

Littlethought replies, I have, for I know many sons of good

men who are beggars. And again, in Ps. xxxvii. 28, we are told

“The seed of the wicked shall be cut off," and again Little-

thought says, All experience is against this, for the Psalms,

themselves assure us that it is the wicked who inherit this world

and leave their abundance to their children. But the Psalm has

no reference to "the children of the flesh" at all. The seed of

the righteous are all who have the same spirit.* The seed of the

wicked are all who are wicked. For the law that impressed itself

deeply on all who sought God, and is over and over insisted upon

by the very prophets of the captivity, is that "The fathers shall

not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be

put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for

his own sin" (Dent. xxiv. 16; 1 Kings. xiv. 6; 2 Chron. xxv. 4;

Jer. xxxi. 29, 30; Ezek. xviii. 1-32). When the Old or New

Testament speaks of visiting the sins of the fathers upon the chil-

dren, we must always remember that no child was ever punished

by God simply for his father's sin, but because he chose his

father's sins rather than the grace of God and increased in the

depravity of his father. This is the reiterated testimony of Old and

New Testaments. When the Saviour says "that the blood of all

the prophets shed from the foundation of the world" would be

required of that generation, it was because they consented to the

works of their fathers, and would not turn to God.

In the destruction of Babylon related in the Old Testament, as

well as in the New, all who sought God are warned to flee from

her before she was dashed in pieces. All who chose Babylon, its,

pride and power, rather than God, were dashed to pieces with her.

Just as Jerusalem's children, turning from Christ, were dashed to

pieces with her, while those who turned to Christ escaped from

her coming ruin.

What, then, does "Blessed shall he be that taketh and dasheth

thy children by the cliff" mean? Since it was God who was to

dash Babylon and her progeny to pieces, and this verse is part of

a prayer to God, it means blessed shall every one be whom God

shall use to destroy to the uttermost Babylon and her children


   * Comp. Ps. xxii. 30, 1xix. 36, cii. 28, cv. 6, cxii. 2; Isa. vi. 13, xliv. 3-5; Rom.

ix. 8 ; Gal. iii. 29, etc.



that chose and followed in her sins. She was the mountain-high

corrupting power of the world, defiant of God and the oppressor

of all who loved God and righteousness and holiness. In her was

found the blood of the saints and the prophets, Rev. xvii. 6,

xviii. 24.

While the author of Ps. cxxxvii is unknown, we know well the

circle of lofty, faithful souls to which he belonged. Were Ezekiel

or Daniel a poet, this Psalm might well have come from the pen

of either, for they were in full accord with its words and spirit.

But this is sure, that out of those few in captivity whose faith

in and love for Jehovah and His words were victorious over every

trial, this pure song of God's own words arose, and found its echo

in the tenderest heart and holiest mind this world has ever known,

as he wept over Jerusalem and pronounced her doom.






Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu