ďBy The Rivers Of BabylonĒ†††††††††††† Psalm 137†††††† March 6, 2011

 

SI:Please open your Bibles to Psalm 137.

What did you think of that Psalm we just sang?

†† Itís not a very good translation.Itís a little hard to understand.

 

But did you understand what you were singing in that last line?

†† ďWho takes and breaks your little ones Against the mighty rock.Ē

Itís about babies and little children being killed in waró

†† being grabbed by an enemy solider by their legs

†† and then beaten on the ground or against a wall until they are dead.

 

The person who wrote this Psalm saw that happen when his city was overthrown.

†† This is his remembrance and his prayer.


 

INTRO:When I was a sophomore in college my parents moved to South Florida.

One thing I quickly learned is that people drive differently down there.

†† Itís not like driving in Alabama.

†† I could give you a bunch of examples, but let me just give you one.

 

You know how it is in parking lots here:

†† If you see somebody waiting for a car pull out of a parking spot,

†† you say to yourselfóthatís their spot, theyíre waiting for it.

Sometimes people will turn their blinker on, thatís a way of saying,

†† Iím about to pull into this spot as soon as this car pulls out.We respect that.

 

But down there, waiting for a spot means nothing.

†† Because if someone realizes that you are going to be blocked for just a moment

†† by the car that is pulling out, and if they can come from the other direction and

†† pull in before you, then they will do it.

 

And in addition to that, if you think that you do have a chance to get into the spot

†† and you decide to wait while that person is starting their car and backing out,

†† the person behind you will lay on the horn and throw up their hands in frustration.

They do that because they want to intimidate you into moving on so that they

†† can get that spot.It happened me a few times before I caught on.

 

An old couple in a Lincoln Continental would be honking and waving his hands

†† and I would think, he must really need to get by.Must be an emergency.

Iíll move on and find another spot.But then looked back and heís

†† stopped right where I was, and then pulls in and gets the spot.

In order to deal with that aggressive driving style,

†† you have to develop some negative disciplinesó

†† like absolute insensitivity to horns and rude gestures.

 

As a believer you have to develop some negative spiritual disciplines.

What I mean by that is that you have to learn how to face forces

†† that put pressure on you and have to power to disorient you and pull you down.

Thatís what this Psalm is about.

†† Itís about a believer exercising a negative spiritual discipline.

†† Heís dealing with his anger.

 

What do you do with your anger when you see and experience cruelty,

†† meanness, and injustice?Do you stuff it?Do you vent it?Do you feed off it?

You probably learned a particular way of dealing with anger from your

†† upbringing and family pattern.

But what is the right way for a Christian to deal with anger?

†† You have to know or it can mess you up.This Psalm shows you how.

 

There are some Psalms that are full of peaceful, calming imagesó

†† Like the 23rd PsalmóThe Lord is my shepherd.He makes me lie down . . .

But not this Psalm.There are no peaceful images here.

†† Itís full of pain and a cry of anger to God about something horrible.

 

What was it?The context of this Psalm is a specific incident in history.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

†† The Israelite who wrote this Psalm was an eyewitness of the eventsó

†† and he weaves those eyewitness memories into the Psalm.

There were two things in particular that he never forgot.

 

The first was something the Edomites did.Edom was a neighboring country.

†† The Edomites were kin to the Israelites.They were descendants of Esau.

But when the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem, they came and cheered.

†† ďTear it down,Ē they cried.ďTear it down to its foundations!Ē

†† He never forgot their glee at Jerusalemís destruction.

The second memory was Babylonian soldiers grabbing Jewish babies and little

†† children from their moms and dads and dashing their brains out on ground.

 

The memories of those cruelties were seared into his mind and made him

†† very angry.This Psalm is a godly expression of his anger.

It shows us, in a very practical way, how believers are to deal with anger.

 

Three points:

1.You must own your anger

2.You must pray your anger

3.You must use your anger

 

I want to give credit where credit is dueóa sermon by Tim Keller on this Psalm.


 

MP#1First, you must own your anger.

The Israelite who wrote this Psalm was a singer and musician.

When he was taken into exile to Babylon his captors said:Sing us a song.

†† Sing us one of those happy Zion songs.

†† Sing us one of your songs about how Jerusalem is the city of your God

†† and the joy of the whole earth.

The were not just mocking him on a human level, they were also saying:

†† Whereís your great God now?

†† Our gods, the gods of Babylon are greater.

 

So what did the Psalmist do?He refused to play and sing.He hung up his harp.

He said to himself:Iím not going to conform.Iím not going to bow.

†† And Iím not going to get cynical and sayóWhatís the use.

Iím going to remember Jerusalem.

†† Iím going to remember and stay angry about what was done to her.

†† And then, as weíve already seen, he recounts two memories

†† that made him particularly angry.

He was saying:I own this anger.Iím not going to deny it or suppress it.

 

The Bibleís teaching about anger is surprising.

†† We tend to think of anger as a purely negative response.

†† Maybe an emotion that mature believers should never have.

But the Bible teaches that anger in itself is good.

†† Anger is the right response when you see something bad threatening

†† or ruining something good.

 

Anger is one of Godís qualities.

††† The Bible says God is angry with the wicked every day.

The Lord Jesus got angry at times.

†† Mark 3 tells us about the time he went to synagogue on the Sabbath and

†† saw there a man with a withered hand.The Pharisees were watching him to

†† see if he would heal on the Sabbath.That way they could denounce him.

 

When Jesus saw that they cared more about scoring points against him

†† than about this fellow Jewish man with the withered hand Mark tells us

†† that he was filled with anger.

Whenever something good is under attack and you donít get angryó

†† you arenít like Jesus.

 

Thereís an important teaching on anger in Ephesians 4.Paul says:

†† ďBe angry and do not sin.Ē

Not:Donít be angry because anger is sin.But, be angry and do not sin.

†† There is a warning in that sentence that even righteous anger can become an

†† occasion for sin.You can get angry for the right reasons, and that can turn to sin.

†† And of course there are stupid things you shouldnít get angry about at all.

But those are other points that weíll leave for another time.

†† The point Iím making is that anger is sometimes rightó

†† ďBe angry and do not sin.Ē

 

Just after that Paul says:ďDo not let the sun go down on your anger.Ē

How does that fit with Psalm 137.

†† Here was a man who is saying:I will never forget Jerusalemís pain.

†† How does that fit with Paul saying:Do not let the sun go down on your anger.

 

Some have interpreted Paul as simply saying:Donít go to bed mad.

†† Deal with your anger quickly.Thatís certainly good advice.

I once heard a couple who had been married 50 years say they had never

†† gone to bed mad at each other.They had always made up.

†† And thatís good advice if youíre just talking about ruffling each others feathers.

 

But I think Paul is saying something much deeper than that.

Heís saying:Donít bury or deny your anger.

†† I think this is the same warning in Hebrews 12 about a root of bitterness.

Itís when you say:Iím not angry.And refuse to admit your anger.

†† Because you donít like the feeling of the negative emotion.

†† Or because itís embarrassing to you, it seems like bad form.

†† Or because it doesnít seem spiritual.

†† Or, this is a big one, because you know if you make your anger known

†† then you are going to have to deal with something big and painful.

 

So you say to other people, Iím not angry.Or you put on a front.

†† You stuff it.You bury it.And it becomes something that eats you up.

If the writer of Psalm 137 had looked at those menacing Babylonian soldiers,

†† and just picked up his harp and sung a song, conformed to what they wanted

†† him to do, he would have let the sun go down on his anger.

If he had said:This is just my life now, I might as well get on with it.

†† He would have buried his anger and it would have become a root of bitterness.

 

But instead he owned it:He said:That was wrong.That was evil.

†† The gloating, the cruelty.The pain and suffering of Godís people.

†† And it makes me angry.

Itís right to be angry about evil.

†† Youíre out of touch with reality if you see something good attacked

†† and donít get angry.

 

Itís not biblical to tell yourself or another person that all anger is wrong.

†† Some anger is certainly wrong.And you can sin in your anger.

But when you are moved to anger over something that is truly wrongó

†† especially when something good is being attacked and ruined,

†† then you are imitating God and Jesus Christ.

 

Let me be a little more specific here.

Youíre dealing with a Christian friend who has been sinned against in some way.

†† Maybe heís been betrayed or cheated.

†† Maybe someone has been cruel to his children.

He say:Iím so angry at the person who did this.

†† Donít say:You shouldnít be angry.

†† Donít say:Youíve got to get over that as soon as you can.

Noóhe has to own his anger so that he can do the right thing with it.

 

Brings us to the next point.

 


 

MP#2You must pray your anger.

The Psalmist didnít deny his anger.He owned it.

†† But then what did he do with it?He didnít vent.He prayed.

†† He prayed his anger.

He didnít try to get rid of his anger before he prayed.

†† No, he came to God and he prayed his anger.

 

Weíre going to explore this, but just let this sink in for a moment.

†† Think how different this is from the way people naturally handle anger.

The two natural responses to anger are to stuff it or to spew it.

Some of you tend to stuff your anger or deny it so that it goes in deep

†† and becomes bitterness and all sorts of other pathologies.

†† Psalm 137 says.You canít stuff it.You have to own it.Admit it.

And some of you tend to spew your anger.It comes out like a volcano

†† and the ugly stuff that comes out damages you in many ways.

†† But the Psalm says.You canít vent it.You have to pray your anger.

 

What does he pray.Itís very interesting.The heart of his prayer is verse 7.

†† ďRemember, O Lord.Ē

†† Remember what the Edomites did.Remember what the Babylonian soldiers did.

When the Old Testament uses the word remember, it doesnít mean to recollect.

†† It means to do something about it.When God said, I will remember my promise

†† to Abraham, God is not saying:O yeah, I forgot that promise, now I remember.

Itís a way of saying:I will now act on that promise.

 

So the Psalmist is praying:Lord, youíve seen these terrible thingsóRemember.

†† Act on them in your time.Iím going to trust you Lord to deal with in your time.

The last line of this Psalm has troubles some people.Where he says:

†† ďHappy is he who repays you for what you have done to us,

†† he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.Ē

How does that fit into this prayer?

 

Hereís the answer:Itís a poetic appeal to Godís justice.

First, itís poetry and you have to read it as such.Poetry is vivid and intense.

†† Plus this is Middle Eastern poetry.The people of the Middle East have always

†† been given to colorful and strong expressions of emotion.

Look at news stories from Libya.Dramatic expressions of disdain for Kadaffi.

†† How they like to hit pictures of him with their shoes.

†† A Westerner would never do that, but Semitic people more dramatic.

And second, and most important, itís an appeal to Godís justice.

†† The Psalmist is simply saying:Lord, let the punishment fit the crime.

Thatís so important for understanding the spirit of this prayer.

†† He doesnít pray:Lord, give me the strength to revenge my enemies tenfold.

†† Lord, help me one day to dash their children to the ground as they dashed mine.

†† May I never eat or drink until I have avenged myself and my city.

 

No, he goes before the Lord and says:

†† Iím very angry God, at this terrible cruelty and injustice.

†† You remember, O Lord.You are the judge.

†† You execute justice.Iím leaving it in your hand.

What happens when you pray that way?

 

It limits your anger.You may still be angry, but it doesnít possess you.

When you go before God with your anger and give it to him,

†† then certain truths will start to sink in deep.

You will be increasingly assured that God can judgeóhe has the power.

†† And he will judgeóbecause he has promised to do so.

†† And he will get it rightóbecause he has all knowledge.

 

One more important thing to understand.Even though it sounds like he

†† wants justice and nothing else, the Bible always takes into account

†† the possibility of repentance and conversion.

In the background of all demands for Godís justice is his mercy when

†† people and nations repent.††

 

Let me give you two examples of this kind of prayer:From Bible, from Cullman.

The first example is the prayer meeting in Acts 4.

†† Christians in Jerusalem were under a lot of pressure and persecution.

They prayed, in prayer named two names:Herod and Pontius Pilate.

†† Christians quoted Psalm 2 which talks about how Lord frustrates plans of

†† kings and rulers who oppose Him.ďO Lord, consider their threats.Ē

 

Interesting to see how prayer answered.

†† Acts tells us later that God struck down Herod with a terrible disease and he died.

What happened to Pilate?Bible doesnít tell usóRoman history does.

†† He made some political blunders, recalled to Rome in humiliation, sent to exile.

There is a tradition he became a Christian.We wonít know till we get to heaven.

 

The Cullman example is one Iíve mentioned a couple times.

It was a letter I got years ago from a man in a church in the county,

†† informing us that he and his church were starting a ministry to people

†† addicted to crystal meth.He was angered by what the drug doing to people.

He was asking for our prayer and support.He basically had two prayer requests.

 

Pray that drug addicts that came to program would be delivered from addiction,

†† and saved body and soul by Jesus Christ.

Pray that the meth makers and pushers and sellers would be brought to justice.

†† Basically, O Lord, remember what they have done and bring them down.

Manís Christian love and his Christian anger was evident in letter.

†† Would rejoice if every meth maker was saved and shut labs of own free will.

†† But barring that, he wanted God to bring them down.

 

Pray your anger.Bring it to the Lord, trusting his justice and mercy.

 

 

 


 

MP#3You must use your anger.

Donít waste it on self-pity or fantasies of revenge.

†† Use it to do good to other people and to examine yourself.

 

Just look at what this man didóhe didnít withdraw into self-pity,

†† he put his song-writing talents to use and wrote this powerful Psalm.

He did it, not just to get it off his chest, but because he wanted to share with other

†† people how they too could turn to the Lord in times like this.

Psalm 137 has become a favorite of oppressed believers.

†† We will never fully understand this Psalm because havenít been persecuted.

†† But for those who have, this is deep comfort.

 

You may have heard the news story that the only Christian official in the Pakistani

†† government was assassinated this weekóshot 20 times on way to visit mother.

His name was Shahbaz Bhatti.

He was committed to fighting the blasphemy laws in Pakistan that allow

†† people to be arrested and killed for saying anything against Islam.

Mr. Bhatti knew that his days were numbered so a few weeks ago he recorded a

†† statement to be released at his death.Listen and you will hear his righteous anger.

 

ďThe sources of violence, militant, banned organizations, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan, and whoever stands against their radical philosophy they threaten.When Iím leading this campaign against the Sharia laws for the abolishment of blasphemy laws and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten.But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us.I know the meaning of the Cross and I follow him on the Cross and Iím ready to die for a cause.Iím living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights, so these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.I will prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than compromise on these threats.Ē

 

Isnít that humbling?He was an educated man.He could have moved to America.

†† Are we willing to suffer like that for our faith?

His anger at this injustice and his love for Christ motivated him to fight for others.

†† Thereís a pattern hereóin Psalm 137, Mr. Bhattiís example.

†† That believers who are angry at wrongs, use that to help those suffering.

 

Itís hard for me to be specific about this in application,

†† but let me give you a simple example that might get you thinking:

 

There have been times when we thought our children were mistreated

†† by other children or even by a teacher.

Now, Iím not talking about serious things.Just little slights and meanness.

†† But even so, as a parent, that makes you mad.

We used that anger, not to go after the mean children or their parents,

†† or even the teacher who we thought had gone too faróbut to encourage our kids.

 

We all know parents who use that anger to go after the mean children or parents,

†† or to go after teachers they think have stepped over a line and cause a big stir.

And then their energy is expended and they miss the incredible opportunity

†† to point their children to Jesus and help them cope with life in a fallen world.

 

Work this out for yourself.

If you are angry at something, ask who has been hurt by this wrong,

†† or who has suffered a similar hurt and how you can help them.

Donít waste your anger on self-pity or revenge.

 

And mostly, use your anger to examine yourself.Where is your heart?

†† You know you want Godís justice, but do you also desire his mercy?

In Luke 19, which we read earlier, Jesus was coming into Jerusalem.

†† The triumphal entry.The crowds were singing his praises.

†† But he knew that by the end of the week the crowd would demand his crucifixion.

And he knew, that though some would believe, the vast majority would reject

†† him and reject Godís salvation.And that because of their sin, would be judged.

 

He began to prophesy their judgment.

†† Did you notice the words he used to describe what would happen to them?

†† They come right out of Psalm 137.

He said that enemies would come against Jerusalem and dash the children

†† to the ground and not leave one stone on another.

†† This was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.

 

But as Jesus spoke these words of judgment he wept.

†† He wept over the city that was about to kill him.

As I said earlier, even though Psalm 137 sounds absolute in its demand for justice,

†† there is always in the Bible the opportunity for grace.

Thatís where you need to examine yourself when you are angry.

†† In your anger, as just as your cause may be, as right as it may be for you to pray

†† to God for justiceódo you have the heart of Jesus Christ?

Do you grieve for people ruined by sin and do you desire their salvation?

†† Do you desire that even for the people who have wronged you?

†† Do you see them as people made in the image of God, yet bound by sin?

The only way you can get there is to even go deeper.

 

Do you know that you have offended God by your sins?

†† You deserved to be torn down and dashed by his justice.

†† You deserve the judgments of Psalm 137.

But God gave his Son to be dashed for you.

†† And Jesus went to the cross willingly and was torn thereó

†† so that you would not have to be.

 

And when your anger at the injustice and meanness youíve suffered comes full

†† circle and brings you to Jesusóthen you can be assured that the Lord has

†† heard you.