May My Fingers Lose Their Skill...

It's been a few weeks since I've had the privilege of helping to lead the congregation in worship, and I will once again be doing so this Sunday. Every Sunday we read a psalm responsively, and we're almost done with the entire Psalter. Interestingly enough, with my first week back, Psalm 137 is the psaume du jour. Psalm 137 is the psalm that ends with

"Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones

and dashes them against the rock!"
Some congregations might be equipped to take that verse in stride sans hiccup, but certainly here at Faith we'll need a little teachin' and remindin'. Below is the text of my homilia for your perusal. Pastor Clark has commended me on the great wisdom of quickly appealing to another authority ("don't blame me, blame Calvin"). Can we call that a dodge?

Our responsive reading for today is Psalm 137. It is a psalm about which we are wont to say, as Jesus’ disciples did on another occasion, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

The reason for the hard-to-swallow character of this psalm lies in the last verses. The psalm begins as a lament for exile and the disruption of Israel’s worship of God by her conquerors. The psalm ends declaring blessing to those to slay the children of Israel’s conquerors. A hard teaching, and I’d like to read to you from Calvin’s commentary to address some of it:

‘As God had determined to punish Babylon, he pronounced a blessing upon Cyrus and Darius [in Isaiah], while on the other hand Jeremiah declares those cursed who should do the work of the Lord negligently, that is, fail in strenuously carrying out the work of desolation and destruction, to which God had called them as his hired executioners [they were God’s tools]. It may seem to savor of cruelty, that he should wish the tender and innocent infants to be dashed and mangled upon the stones, but he does not speak under the impulse of personal feeling…[but] employs words which God himself authorized, so that this is but the declaration of a just judgment, as when our Lord [Jesus] says, “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2)’

What measure was that? From Isaiah 13:

1The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. 17Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. 18Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. 19And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

This chapter in Isaiah also uses the phrase that we find in Psalm 137, that their infants will be dashed to pieces. And whenever we consider God’s judgment of man, WE MUST REMEMBER THIS: “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

We believe that God is a just God. God’s terrible judgments ought to remind us that God is a terrible and great God. He is our Father, and he protects us terribly. We are reminded of many things by this:

We remember that the Lord Jesus took our judgment upon himself, and that that judgment was terrible.

We remember that the enemies of God’s people will never triumph.

And perhaps the visceral, the very real, description of God’s judgment in this psalm will remind us of something that is very easy to forget. We say that we believe in hell, but it is easy to abstract away. The judgment described in this psalm is not as terrible as the final judgment to come, which we routinely affirm, but routinely put off to the side. The judgment of God against his enemies is a terrible thing. We should all the more appreciate, and proclaim to the world, his mercy toward his people.