Pain, loss, grief, humiliation, anger, rage, revenge are some emotions in this Psalm. The final verse shocks, even repulses us. What brokenness and experience leads anyone to write something like this?
Most of us cannot truly imagine what it must be like to be forced to leave our homeland. Whatever the reason for leaving, it is a wrenching, emotional experience.
The theme of being a refugee runs through the whole Bible like the lettering through a stick of sea-side rock! Even Jesus’ and His own earthly parents were refugees when they fled to Egypt from King Herod.
The UN estimates 70million refugees worldwide: if we kept just one second silence for each, we would be in silence for 2¼ years. Consider the fate of ancient Israel: the Northern Kingdom whose people disappeared into history (732BCE), and the exile of Judah (597-587BCE). Maybe we can understand, even if we cannot condone the Psalm’s call for violent revenge.
Human-beings can be cruel, and maybe one of the worst forms of cruelty is mocking and taunting, as the exiles experienced at the hands of their captors (vv.1-3).
The central part of the Psalm (vv.4-6) is a call to remembrance, never to forget their identity. Remembering is important. We do this so as not to lose sight of what made us who we are.
The Psalm ends with that shocking verse inciting revenge on innocent children. Just like the refugees of ancient Israel, when terrible things happen, there comes a point when we must make a choice: either to follow a dark path and allow that to become all-consuming, or to take the opportunity to create a new future.
Loving God, in the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset, at a moment in my life when the night is due. And the question I shall ask only I can answer: was I brave and strong and true? Did I fill the world with love my whole life through? Amen.
(from the song by Petula Clark “To Fill The World With Love”, YouTube link)
Walt Johnson, NSM Ordinand at Northern College and Member at Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC (Chorlton, Manchester)
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