Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Psalms 137:9

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Happy shall he be that taketh … - Margin, as in Hebrew, rock. This refers to what was not uncommon in ancient warfare, as it is now among savage tribes - the indiscriminate slaughter of those of all ages, and of both sexes, in war. It was expressly foretold of Babylon that this would occur (see Isaiah 13:16, and the notes at that place), and there may be a reference here to that prediction, and the psalmist may mean to say that the man would be accounted happy, or would be happy, who wreaked vengeance on Babylon in carrying out that prophecy. The idea is, “This will certainly occur, for it is foretold, and happy or fortunate will he be who is the instrument in fulfilling it.” Compare 2 Kings 8:12; Nahum 3:10; Hosea 13:16. See also Homer, II xxii. 63,373, following It is impossible to reconcile such barbarous customs with the idex of “honorable war,” or with the principles of war as carried on among “civilized” nations now.

It should be added, however, that there is much - very much - that is practiced in war by “civilized” nations still, which it is equally impossible to reconcile with any just notions of morality or humanity, and which in coming ages, and when people shall come to view things aright, will seem to the people of those times to be not less monstrous, strange, and barbarous. In regard to this passage, we are not necessarily to suppose that the author of the psalm approved of this, or desired it, or prayed for it. He looked forward to the fulfillment of a prediction; he saw that a just and terrible judgment would certainly come upon Babylon; he expressed that in the common language of the times, and states the manner in which it would occur; he described the feelings - the gratification - of those who would execute the divine purpose in the overthrow of Babylon; he referred to the estimate in which the conqueror would be held by people, and the glory of the achievement as giving him fame among people.

It must be admitted that the feelings of the author of the psalm appear to accord with this; that he considers it proper that the city should be destroyed; and that he regards its overthrow as a righteous judgment, and as a thing to be desired in the divine administration. It is true that he might approve of such an overthrow, and see it to be right - he might describe the feelings of those by whom it would be done, their joy, their exultation, and even their barbarity, without himself approving of their barbarity, or sympathizing with their feelings, or partaking of their spirit; but still it cannot in fairness be denied that there is an apparent approval of the act here referred to, which savors more of imprecation than forgiveness, and which is apparently prompted more by the spirit of revenge than by a desire of just punishment. On this subject, however, see the General Introduction, Section 6 (4); and the notes at Psalm 109:10. A correct record may be made, whether of facts or of feelings, without any design of expressing either approbation or disapprobation on the part of the historian, the prophet, or the poet.

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