Be Hatin’ (Part One)
9Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (Psalm 137:9 ESV)
A Closer Look at the Text
What a monstrous thing to say. What a heartless curse. And yet there it is, in the Bible, an imprecatory Psalm that seems to offer easy pickings for any Bible critic (or “new atheist”).
Lex Talionis. Of course, it is a little too easy to pick out a sentence or two without taking into account the context. Psalm 137 as a whole is a lament about how the Hebrews, who were in captivity, wanted to “sing the LORD‘s song” as a song of praise. Instead they were forced to sign for entertainment of, and taunting by, their captors. The lament ends with the observation that God will have His vengeance, and those who fulfill this prophecy — this administration of God’s justice — will be blessed. Eventually the Babylonians and Edomites would be repaid for what they had done to the Hebrews. They who violently killed little ones — even as they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem — could expect the same (2 Thessalonians 1:6).
God’s Vengeance. Notice that the vengeance described in Psalm 137 is God’s, not the Hebrew captives’. David, who wrote most of the imprecations contained in the Psalms, had a high view God’s justice. This is obvious even from some of David’s last words: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. 2 Samuel 23:3b-4. And God’s perfect justice requires His perfect vengeance (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).
The administration of God’s justice, including God’s vengeance, is honorable. Blessed be he or she who, like David, is called into such service.
Some Observations about the Text
The Holiness Gap. Some people have a “little” idea of God. They superimpose their own template over what they want from God, or what they want God to be.
People who have these little gods usually self-identify. They usually start out their theological explications with such words as, “my god would never…” or “my god is a loving God who would…” The little gods described by these folks are the creations of little minds, and are not referential. That is, the definitions and descriptions of these little gods did not refer to any external reality or truth. They are mere imaginations.
This is very convenient because little gods need only have a little holiness.
The Bible of course does not describe a little God. The Bible describes a huge God. An awesome God. A God so large that He is able to create a universe, and it is a universal truth that the universe is huge! If, as the scientists claim today, the universe started with the Big Bang then we can think of God as the Big Banger. He is not little; neither is his holiness.
The Intolerance Gap. A small god with small holiness would have a small problem with sin and rebellion. The Bible, however, does not waste our time with small gods and puny righteousness. Instead the Bible presents us with a God whose righteousness has zero tolerance for sin and wickedness. This is a God that makes sense, one that has His own perfect template for righteousness. As far as the God of the Bible is concerned, the wicked are like the chaff that is blown away by the wind (Psalm 1:4). Those who rebel against God deserve nothing less than to be struck on the jaw, and to have their teeth broken (Psalm 3:7). Those who would rise up against the God of the Bible can expect to be completely destroyed, and can also expect their posterity to be cut off (Psalm 37:38). God cannot tolerate evil, and in the end evil will be crushed (Revelation 19:11-21).
So the language of Psalm 137:9 is not personal or puny. But it is entirely consistent with the high view of justice that characterizes a high and holy God.
A high and holy God hates sin (Psalm 5:6). A follower of Christ, who understands that God is so high and holy that only through Christ can we ever expect to survive His perfect justice, also hates sin. The Christian disciple doesn’t want anyone to perish, but does want everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). As Christians grow in faith their hatred of and toward sin increases. As their love for Christ becomes more genuine, they come to hold more securely to that which is good, while abhorring (hating) evil (Romans 12:9). In other words, there cannot be genuine love without hatred of sin and evil (Psalm 139:17-24).
don’t … be hatin’!
When Richard Dawkins offers his litany of shortcomings of the Old Testament God in The God Delusion , he presumes that he was somehow able to superimpose his own template over God and thereby declare God to be “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (2006, p.31). Fair enough … assuming that Dawkins is in the position to judge God. But what would God say of Richard Dawkins (or me, for that matter)? If God superimposed His template (and let’s say for argument sake that His template is the Bible), how would Dawkins (or I) fare? (The answer to this question has already been described above.)
By the way, Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker, 2011) is a thoughtful, articulate and Biblically-based response to Dawkins’ characterization of Yahweh.
Meanwhile, the real question is not whether God is just. The real question is, who is God? And is He big or little?
If He is big (indeed, if He is the Creator), the Bible makes perfect sense. Faith and the condemnation of those who reject faith in Jesus Christ also make perfect sense (Mark 16:16). And hating sin — truly hating sin, not just disliking it a little — makes perfect sense.
If God is not big and holy and righteous and just, then why are we even having this discussion?
Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.