Find out how you can read Psalms that appear to glorify violence

As the Psalms often present beautiful images of a soul united to God, they can as well relate some disturbing images. For instance, in Psalm 137 which says, “Blessed the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock” (Psalm 137:9).

Wait! For a second! Did the Bible just condone the killing of innocent human children?

Out of context, that particular verse is very disturbing and it appears to contradict the entire Christian faith! But how is a Christian to read this and other passages like it?

First and foremost, it must be stated that the Psalms are to be read according to their literary genre. As a result of that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this out plainly when it talks about the author’s intention.

In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must ensure the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that particular time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current.

Catechism of  the Catholic Church (CCC 110) states, “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”

Meanwhile, Psalms were not supposed to be a historical retelling of events, nor were they designed to be a theological treatise.

Although most times, the Psalms commonly highlight the struggles of the human heart, as the Catechism(CCC 2588) further explains: “The Psalter’s many forms of prayer take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart. Whether hymns or prayers of lamentation or thanksgiving, whether individual or communal, whether royal chants, songs of pilgrimage or wisdom meditations, the Psalms are a mirror of God’s marvelous deeds in the history of his people, as well as reflections of the human experiences of the Psalmist. Though a given psalm may reflect an event of the past, it still possesses such direct simplicity that it can be prayed in truth by men of all times and conditions”.

Bearing the above in mind, the Psalmist is openly expressing his fierce anger at an injustice he received.

In this case, the psalmist feels dejected and defeated, wishing that his enemy would be completely conquered. This is actually a common feeling that many of us experience when suffering an injustice.

So in this manner, we can identify with the Psalmist and understand the anger he holds.

At the same time also, this particular Psalm should also be read in context. Though, Immediately before this verse the Psalmist writes, ( Psalm 137:8) “Desolate Daughter Babylon, you shall be destroyed, blessed the one who pays you back what you have done to us!”.

Historically, while this is referred to Babylon and the undying hatred of Jews for the nation that enslaved them, spiritually it contains a secondary meaning, which portrays one reason why it was included in the Bible.

Truly, God does not “delight in the death of a sinner,” but he does fiercely wish the death of sin. So, this can help wind-up the above passage when you see in the verse before how the “little ones” as the what the Psalmist is talking about is referring to the “daughter of Babylon.”

And Babylon is often associated with Satan and evil in the Bible, as the book of Revelation spills out in (Revelation 17:5) “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth”.

As a result of this, Babylon has a secondary spiritual meaning which refers to evil and can rightly believe that God needs the destruction of the influence of Satan on us.

If there is any enemy in this world that we should desire to see get destroyed, it should be the devil and his demonic children.

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