No one can deny the relentless pain brought on by enduring the consequences of wrong actions. It may be as quick and simple as the sting following a swat from a parent’s paddle or as lingering and severe as a prison sentence. Either one, however, is hard to bear. The person who cheats on a mate and later leaves the marriage must ultimately endure the consequences. The child who runs away from home in a fit of rebellious rage must live with the painful ramifications. The politician who assures his voters of unrealistic and unachievable promises if elected must face his critics after election. The minister who compromises in the realm of ethics or morals must live with the private shame and loss of public respect. The list goes on and on.
Even though our day is characterized by an erosion of personal responsibility and attempts to soft-pedal or cover up the consequences of wrong, those very difficult days in the backwash of disobedience are nevertheless haunting realities. Sin still bears bitter fruit. Devastating consequences still await the transgressor. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7) is still in the Book. Few souls live more somber lives than those who have disobeyed and must now endure the grind of lingering consequences.
Psalm 137 is the mournful song of a people enduring the grind of lingering consequences after a long history of bad decisions. The composer gives voice to the anguish of God’s covenant people, removed from their Promised Land, cut off from their birthright. As a band of Jewish POWs, they have been taken by the Babylonians into a foreign land. The first lines set the scene.
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion. (137:1)
You can skim through the next eight verses and quickly detect other terms that reveal a prisonlike experience:
Verse 3: “our captors . . . our tormentors”
Verse 4: “a foreign land”
Verse 7: “Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom”
Verse 8: “O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one”
Why was a Hebrew writer in Babylon? What were the events that led to his and others’ becoming captives of this foreign power? Believe me, it was no accident. It came to pass exactly as God had spoken through His prophet Jeremiah:
Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, “Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,” declares the LORD, “and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about . . . . This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”(Jeremiah 25:8–9, 11)
For centuries, the Lord sent prophets to warn the people of Judah that continued idolatry and disobedience would lead to their exile. But they had persisted in their disobedience for more than three hundred years since the last days of Solomon’s reign. The united kingdom of the Jewish nation had split after Solomon’s death. A civil war followed. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel settled in the north under King Jeroboam’s leadership. Two settled in the south under King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.
The northern kingdom is called “Israel” in Scripture; the southern kingdom is called “Judah.” Israel had nineteen kings during her two-hundred-plus years before she fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Judah had twenty kings—only eight of whom were righteous. For many years, Judah walked a fine line between obedience and rebellion until the Lord allowed the Babylonians (also called Chaldeans) to capture the nation and hold them in bondage for seventy years, exactly as Jeremiah predicted. Psalm 137 was written during (or shortly after) Judah’s captivity in Babylon.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind (Brentwood, Tenn.: Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved. Used by permission.