Challenge #1 response

From: J Burgeson (
Date: Mon Jul 01 2002 - 15:05:35 EDT

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    Herewith is my response to part 1 of the challenge. I have not yet read
    Terry's recent long post so no references to it are included.

    I appreciate the dialog.

    Hoss (aka Burgy)
    The point at issue is what meanings and interpretations to put on the
    specific verses in scripture which read:

    PS 137:8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
         happy is he who repays you
         for what you have done to us--

    PS 137:9 he who seizes your infants
         and dashes them against the rocks.

    Robert Rogland, David Campbell and George Murphy have seen fit to comment on
    my recent observation that -- at the least -- these two specific verses
    indicate an ethical stance that is inconsistent with the character of God.
    BTW, I append the full NIV text of all scripture references to the end of
    this note.

    I continue, after more thought, to hold this view. The psalmist who wrote
    (and presumably sang) those words certainly felt them; nonetheless in so
    doing he (or she) perceived the mind of God in an inadequate fashion.

    I am sometimes struck, as I suspect many of us are, by the words uttered in
    a TV interview of a grieving parent whose child has been brutally murdered
    when the topic is about the fate of the murderer. Sometimes words of revenge
    are uttered; sometimes, however, words of concern and empathy for the
    murderer are uttered. In such cases I can see the love of Christ coming
    through the second speaker. Not the first, even though I can sympathize with

    The question of biblical inerrancy does not apply in this case, so full
    inerrancy can be assumed.. The words exist in the text -- what then do we do
    with them?

    There are many places in scripture where characters C1, C2,... perform
    actions A1, A2, ... . It is my contention that the existence of such
    character-actions in scripture, alone, is not a warrant for thinking such
    actions are commanded by God for us. I will cite three examples of this.

    1. The casting of lots (dice?) to make decisions. This is a common biblical
    practice, performed by many different characters over a long span of time.
    Sometimes it seems to make a little sense, as in Joshua 18:6 where chance
    seems to be as good a way as any to divide the land. At another time it
    seems to assume the gods will direct the casting, as in Jonah 1:7. But, of
    course, this is a parable-story and perhaps we can accept it as such.

    In Luke 23:24 the clothing of Jesus is divided this way -- again, a chance
    division makes sense. But in Acts 1:26, the eleven remaining disciples are
    deciding a serious question. They decide they need a twelfth; they choose
    Mathias by casting lots. Here, it makes no sense to do this by chance, and,
    indeed, I have heard a sermon suggesting that the action was out of God's
    will, as Paul was to be the twelfth disciple.

    So what do we do in the 21st century? Well, we still cast lots for some
    decisions, but on most decisions we study, argue, and ultimately vote. In
    other words, we do not follow the disciples' lead in Acts 1:6. Not even the
    biblical inerrantist.

    2. In Genesis 19:6 Lot, who was a "good man," offers up his two virgin
    daughters to the rabble outside his door to protect his guests. Now I admit
    that this was a terrible situation, one which all of us sincerely hope we
    will never approach. My guess is that Lot, in terror, made the offer because
    he hoped to be able to continue the arguments through closed doors and that
    he had no intention of a follow through. But whatever Lot's intentions, I
    think none of us would ever consider such an action to be moral or ethical.

    3. My last example is Genesis 30:37-39, in which it is reported that Jacob
    was successful in producing spotted lambs by having the sheep look at peeled
    sticks during mating. Is there any rancher, regardless how pious, who
    follows this practice in raising his flock?

    OK. Three examples are enough. My thesis is, of course, that the ending of
    Psalm 137 represents NOT God's command to us as to how we OUGHT to feel, but
    simply the recorded response to the psalmist who DID feel this way. Its
    inclusion in scripture (for the inerrantist) can be taken simply as an
    expression that God does not get bent out of shape when we get really really

    Robert Rogland comments that the verse is a declaration that the sins of the
    Babylonians were so great that the pious could rejoice. The operative word
    there is "could." I do not think substituting the word "should," for
    example, would be correct.

    Robert also had much to say about the wrath of God, etc. which I think is
    off the subject and so I will not comment.

    George's post does not address Ps 137 directly, but he does suggest (points
    G and H) that there is ethical advances within scripture. I grant this
    observation; I am less comfortable with the concept that God's ethics are
    also evolving.

    David Campbell observes that for me to hold the position above requires the
    assumption that my own perceived view of right and wrong is superior to that
    of the author. I think David is correct. I do hold this assumption; I do not
    see how it can be avoided. We all operate from this kind of perspective.
    None of us perfectly, of course. We all these days cheerfully deplore the
    killing of innocents by suicide bombers, but (perhaps) have a different view
    of Hiroshima, and probably no view at all of Dresden's Fire bombing (unless
    we've read Vonegout's "Slaughterhouse Five."

    David's response to my "pick and choose" argument I find unpersuasive, but
    this post being too long already I'll pass on that subject.

    David's response to my question "Tell me what message in Ps 139:9 is rather
    good. He makes five separate points and I think they would stand up in any
    sermon on the Psalm.

    At this point, I will ring off. I very much appreciate the dialog, on this
    and other topics here on the list. I learn from it. Sometimes perhaps more
    slowly than I ought to. <G>

    Burgy (relevant scriptures follow)

    PS 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
         when we remembered Zion.

       PS 137:2 There on the poplars
         we hung our harps,

       PS 137:3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
         our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
         they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

       PS 137:4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
         while in a foreign land?

       PS 137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
         may my right hand forget its skill.

       PS 137:6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
         if I do not remember you,
       if I do not consider Jerusalem
         my highest joy.

       PS 137:7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
         on the day Jerusalem fell.
       "Tear it down," they cried,
         "tear it down to its foundations!"

       PS 137:8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
         happy is he who repays you
         for what you have done to us--

       PS 137:9 he who seizes your infants
         and dashes them against the rocks.

    JOS 18:3 So Joshua said to the Israelites: "How long will you wait before
    you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your
    fathers, has given you? 4 Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send
    them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it,
    according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. 5 You are
    to divide the land into seven parts. Judah is to remain in its territory on
    the south and the house of Joseph in its territory on the north. 6 After you
    have written descriptions of the seven parts of the land, bring them here to
    me and I will cast lots for you in the presence of the LORD our God.

    JNH 1:7 Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find
    out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell
    on Jonah.

    AC 1:23 So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as
    Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart.
    Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic
    ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." 26 Then they cast lots,
    and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

    LK 23:34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
    are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

    GE 19:6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him
    7 and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing.
    8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man.
    Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.
    But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection
    of my roof."

    GE 30:37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and
    plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing
    the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches
    in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the
    flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to
    drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were
    streaked or speckled or spotted.

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