Why does the Psalmist speak about killing children?

by Matt Slick

"How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock," (Psalm 137:9).

Critics often bring up this verse as an attack on the validity of the Bible, but does the Bible teach that it is okay to kill children?  The answer, of course, is no it doesn't.  We must ask what the Psalmist was saying and why he was saying it.

The context of Psalm 137 is the Babylonian captivity.  The Psalmist speaks of the captors tormenting the people of God (vv. 1-3), a promise to remember Jerusalem (vv. 5-6), and a curse against the captors (vv. 7-9).

The Psalmist is in exile and had probably witnessed the atrocities committed against his people, babies included.  In the revenge-style that was so common at the time, he wishes the same upon his enemy as a description of their utter destruction.  Nowhere does it say that God approves of the Psalmist’s request or that he fulfilled it.  Just because it is recorded that the Psalmist wrote the imprecation, doesn’t mean it was approved by God.

It is worth noting that the Old Testament records many atrocities.  The fact is that God allowed people their sinful desires, and he worked within their culture even as he does now as he permits all kinds of bad things to happen.  Nevertheless, God introduced what is called the Apoditic Law (Exodus 21:24): an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  The Apoditic Law was instituted to prevent the increase of blood revenge--a practice where revenge would escalate out of control between two parties.  Since the hearts of the fallen are so wicked and the harsh environment and culture produced difficulties for survival, God has a few options to counter their proclivity towards evil.  He can run roughshod over their free will and force everyone to obey him, or he could wipe them all out (he had already done this with Noah's flood), or he could work within the situation at hand.  In the case of this psalm and its Babylonian captivity context, God chose to work with people and through them instead of violating the freedom he had given them and forcing them to act in a manner that he instructs. Therefore, the Psalmist is expressing his curse against Babylon -  a natural response to what his people have already suffered.

Also, the critics need to provide an acceptable, objective moral standard by which they can criticize biblical morality.  It is one thing to complain.  It is another to offer a justification for the validity of the complaint.  By what right and by what objective ethical standard do the critics offer moral condemnation against Biblical morals?  This is a serious question that if not answered by the critics, renders the critics’ complaints moot.  After all, you must first have a standard against which to measure good and bad; and without a standard, no complaints can be legitimately offered.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.