Psalm 137


Surviving The Tough Times


How do you survive tough times? How do you handle the scars (physical or emotional) from tough times?


We all have to survive tough times, whether we like it or not. Sometimes the tough times are communal (like 9-11); we have the support of others to sustain us. Sometimes the tough times are personal; the support of others is not guaranteed to help us through divorce, illness, loss of job, etc. Tough times present us with choices. We can wallow in self pity and lash out at others, or we can use these times to grow spiritually. (Personally, I’ve experienced the results of both choices).


1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down.
Yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows in its midst,
we hung up our harps.
3 For there, those who led us captive asked us for songs.
Those who tormented us demanded songs of joy:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the song of YHWH in a foreign land?


World English Bible


Psalm 137 presented the exiles in Babylon with the choices of tough times. Physically and spiritually, they were in a foreign environment. In 137:1-4, the people were so depressed they would not sing national songs before their captors (despite the fact they might sing this psalm in private). Of course, their lament was also mixed with their opposition to the Babylonians. They refused to give their jailers the satisfaction of belittling them.


5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you;
if I don’t prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy.


In 137:5-6, the lament turned inward. The author spoke an implicit curse. If he or his audience ever forgot the City of David (and its Temple that represented the dwelling place of God), may that person be crippled (withered hand) or stuck speechless (tongue to pallet). In the eyes of the author, the one who forgot their roots and the land of their people (i.e., assimilated into the foreign culture) was not a full human being.


7 Remember, YHWH, against the children of Edom,
the day of Jerusalem;
who said, “Raze it!
Raze it even to its foundation!”
8 Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
he will be happy who rewards you,
as you have served us.
9 Happy shall he be,
who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.


Finally, in 137:7-9, national pride won out over the minimal sense of compassion for their enemies. The author cursed the Edomites, who plundered the city after the Babylonians. He cursed the Babylonians, as he declared a beatitude on those who would end the line of the enemy with the present generation.


In the heat of tough times, it’s easy to curse instead of bless, cling to pride despite all else is lost, and treat the critic as the hated enemy. Those reactions are natural. However, grace might cause the person to think twice. After all, Jesus told us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.


When the tough times are over, we still might be tempted to indulge in some sort of “payback.” These “scars” are also natural. But we should also remember that, after the resurrection, Jesus still had the scars to his wounds. We, too, will suffer the after affects of our tough times. The question remains: in the end, do tough times hinder us or transform us?


List your tough times on a piece of paper. Offer these times to the Lord. If you feel you can, burn the list as a sign that those times are history.