Minor Prophets: Obadiah, Companion to Psalm 137


Obadiah perhaps can be best remembered as the eagle with which he opened his book. Though lofty in its flight, God would bring the soaring eagle of Edom down.

Obadiah was a prophet to the broken-hearted people in exile. God sent word through Obadiah that though their current circumstances were sorrowful, it would only last for a time. God would both restore and repay.

In this conclusion to Obadiah’s work is the inclusion of Psalm 137, written during the Babylonian Exile.


Summary

The Psalmist speaks from the Judean perspective, first in concert with fellow Judeans, then alone, as the Psalmist, then finally as a prayer from Judeans to God, going through each of the five stages of grief over the loss of Jerusalem, and the betrayal of Edom.

[In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler Ross identified five basic stages in the process of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. She wrote about this process in her groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying.” Since that time, she has added a sixth stage: Finding meaning.]

Outline

Summary

By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willowsthere
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

Psalm 137:1-3 (NRSV)

The first strophe depicts the exiles as depressed, downcast, weak with sorrow, sitting and weeping in memory of lost Zion. Famed for their music, and their songs, the Judeans can no longer make music.

Their heart is gone, so they hang up their harps on the willow trees, which lined the river banks—in one’s imagination, the wind plays through the strings, as they hang there, a soft, eerie, melancholy sound of sorrowful moaning.

Their captors torment them by demanding mirthful songs, the ones they were famous for, when they were full of themselves in Zion.

In the stages of grief, these verses would represent: depression and a sense of isolation.

How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.

Psalm 137:4-6 (NRSV)

If the first strophe was a chorus, the second strophe is a mournful solo, perhaps given as a dramatic monologue, without accompaniment. No musician will make music in a foreign land, to a foreign audience, divine or earthly. Strong oaths, for a musician, preferring a withered hand and a cloven tongue, to forgetting Jerusalem, the highest joy. There is a tacit understanding Zion and Jerusalem are gone, but never forgotten.

In the stages of grief, these verses would represent: bargaining and a hint of acceptance.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
    Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
    Happy shall they be who pay you back
    what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
    and dash them against the rock!

Psalm 137:7-9 (NRSV)

The final strophe is an angry invective, once again a chorus, where grief and loss culminate in rage against Edom for being a vassal of Babylon (“Daughter of Babylon”, v8), and joining with their captors to tear Jerusalem down.

In an imagined battle, the Psalmist pictures unnamed aggressors “paying back” all the horrors Edom visited upon Judah. Of particular note is the excruciating pain of remembered savagery—Edom had brutally slaughtered the little ones of those in Jerusalem, evidently in unspeakably cruel ways. Now the Psalmist imagines Edom’s little ones being dashed against the rock of their signature mountain city, Petra.

If Denial is the only protective aspect of grief, simply shutting out the reality that cannot be absorbed, the shock that will decimate, then Anger is the only empowering emotion. Righteous umbrage would keep the exiles from losing all sense of themselves, and their relationship with God.

In the stages of grief, these verses would represent: anger and a hint of denial.

God offered hope and some sense of meaning to the people through the Prophet Obadiah, who reminded them of the long view God takes in the sweeping matters of history, nations, judgment, and the restoration of all earth in the Last Day.

God will ultimately establish Shalom, righting all wrongs, once all wrongs have played themselves out to their natural ends.


[Rivers of Babylon | Gebhard Fugel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

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