Three articles appear below:

1   An Examination of Psalm 137:9
2   Children, The Bible, and Psalm 137
3   Psalm 137:9 - A Reply to Anonymous

An Examination of Psalm 137:9

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 211, 2023 July)

"Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock." (Psalm 137:9, Revised Standard Version).

This passage of scripture, which expresses joy at the murder of children would be quite shocking to most people due to its disturbing nature. How can this desire for atrocity possibly be justified? Below is one such apologetic attempt.

1. First of all, Psalms is a collection of prayers (as songs) of people praying to God. It records the human response of people in a relationship with the living God. It is therefore brutally honest about what people felt and experienced. That encourages me in believing the Bible.

2. The context of Ps.137 is that the things that are described (i.e. babies being smashed) and worse (just read Lamentations!) has been done by the Babylonians to Jerusalem. It is therefore a cry for fair vengeance. "May the same thing be done to you as you have done to others." The idea of the LORD as the God who takes vengeance on behalf of the weak and oppressed is found throughout Scripture.

3. It is not the people who pray Ps.137 that would take vengeance, but they leave it to God. This is the same attitude we are told to have even in the New Testament (and not commonly found in the world).

4. The prayer for this punishment was not answered. When the Medes and Persians finally broke the power of Babel, they did not smash their children against the rocks like the Babylonians had done in Jerusalem, but were still considered blessed, with Cyrus even called a Messiah in the book of Isaiah.

All of this tells me something about God revealed in the Bible. (1)

Has the apologist managed to successfully explain away the difficulties? I shall now examine the attempt with the numbering of my comments corresponding to the numbering of the apologist.

1. A brutally honest prayer expressing the desire for revenge is simply a brutally honest prayer expressing the desire for revenge. I really can't see how people could be encouraged to believe in the Bible by this example, which essentially asks God to orchestrate the commission of an atrocity.

2. The apologist's claim that this is a "cry for fair vengeance" is unconvincing. Vengeance is never fair because it is never impartial. If the children of one nation are murdered by the enemy does this justify murdering the enemy’s children, either directly or by praying to God to do so on behalf of those seeking revenge?

3. To ask God to take revenge on your behalf does not solve the problem. It is like employing a hit-man to eliminate an enemy and then claiming to be innocent of murder because the hit-man did the killing on your behalf.

4. The fact that the prayer wasn't answered doesn't solve the problem. The desire for this kind of revenge is an example of the worst aspects of human nature. We must rise above such savagery rather than promote these ideas by praying to God in the erroneous belief that a being (assuming it exists) with the power and intelligence to create the universe in all its splendor and complexity would stoop to arranging the murder of children.

In conclusion: Psalm 137:9 is simply a base expression of the desire for revenge and the delusional idea that God will commit atrocities on behalf of the faithful.




"Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" (Psalm 137:9)

(Investigator #213, November 2023)


Straughen (Investigator #211) used Psalm 137 to claim that God "would stoop to arranging the murder of children".

The Bible, however, teaches that children are gifts from God. (Psalm 127:3)

Consistent with children as God's gifts we find that that no system of ethics, no religion and no book has been more helpful to children than the Bible.


My article The Bible on Orphans (Investigator #191) contrasted the Jewish-Christian concern for orphans with worldly exploitation which at its worst mutilated orphans so they'd attract pity and be more effective as beggars:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

The Bible on Poverty (Investigator #205) examined biblical/Jewish/Christian  provision for the poor:

Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:9)

Children must not be punished for parents' crimes:

The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. (Ezekiel 18; Proverbs17:15)  (#153 Barbarity Is Unbiblical )

Punishing children instead of, or along with, parents still occurred in 20th-century dictatorships. In parts of India children are still put to work to pay their parents' debts. But the biblical standard, generally, is nowadays adopted.

Child Sacrifice:
For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the LORD ... And they go on building the high place of Topheth ... to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire–-which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. (Jeremiah 7:30-31; Deuteronomy 12:29-31;   Ezekiel 20:31; Psalm 106:37)

As biblical knowledge spread, the worship of idols, including sacrificing of children which often accompanied idol-worship, progressively declined.

In the Roman Empire alone an estimated 200,000 unwanted children were killed annually.  (Investigator #41; #76; #118)

Castle (1961) writes:

...there is a marked difference between the Jews and their Graeco-Roman masters: Hebrew law recognized the right of the child to his own life centuries before such a right was recognized by the rulers of the Roman Empire, where infanticide was not made a capital crime until the sixth century of our era, largely owing to the consistent pressure of Christians. As Nathan Morris remarks, 'This is all the more remarkable when one remembers that in Palestine itself, during the Roman period, abandonment of children was quite common amongst the non-Jewish elements of the mixed population.' It was this Hebrew view of the sanctity of human life, passing through the medium of Christianity into the Roman world, that finally destroyed the monstrous evil of infanticide.

Sexual abuse: 
The Bible opposes "fornication" which refers to sexual activities between people not married to each other. (I Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 21:8) Fornication therefore includes adultery, sexual slavery, prostitution, rape, and child sexual abuse. Child victims in the 20th century numbered more than 10% of children (Rush 1980) — about 1000 million!

In ancient times "sacred sex", "temple prostitution", raping one's slaves, and adult males shacking up with adolescent boys, were all legal. Today men in the fourth category would be imprisoned as homosexual pedophiles! The Bible, in opposing immorality, was thousands of years ahead of the times — and secular law today has somewhat conformed!
AIDS-related causes still kill 100,000 youngsters yearly. AIDS was originally spread by homosexual sex, then by immoral heterosexuals and users of illegal drugs — and children became collateral damage.

Modern medical care:
Vaccinations, pain control, clean hospitals, antiseptic surgery, antibiotics, modern professional nursing, and modern agriculture arose largely in Christianity and benefit billions of children! (See Investigator #212)

The Bible teaches charity and generosity (The Bible On Kindness #188) and these are life-saving principles as implied in this news report: 

Cash would have saved 17m. babies

NEW YORK, Friday—Seventeen million babies died this year because no-one would finance ways of saving them — and a similar number will die next year.

According to a United Nations report issued yesterday, each child in poor countries could be immunized against six common dangerous diseases for $A4.40, but 5m. of them would die for want of this protection... (The Advertiser, December 19, 1981)

Santosham (2016) reported that rotavirus vaccines, to control deadly diarrhea in children, were being introduced in India, but worldwide rotavirus still killed 200,000 children annually. More biblical kindness and generosity is needed!

If by "children" we include babies not-yet-born, that's 60 million "children" aborted, killed, every year! Most Christian denominations believe abortion is contrary to biblical teaching. (Psalm 139:13-17)

Twentieth-century famines, deliberately orchestrated in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, etc, killed tens of millions of people, including children, as also did the racial genocides inflicted by the Nazis across Europe in the 1940s and Turks in 1915. These events were permeated with lies, hypocrisy, theft and racism — character flaws and standards condemned in the Bible.


Does the book purporting to be "inspired of God", which has brought benefit to children in billions, teach that God "would stoop to arranging the murder of children?" No. It's the ungodly world that rejects the Bible  and misrepresents it that "stoops" like that.

The setting of Psalm 137 is "the rivers of Babylon" where Jewish survivors were held captive, transported there when Babylon inflicted five "devastations" on Jerusalem between 605 BCE and 581 BCE.

We need to distinguish:
•    An imperative (or command) from a statement of fact;
•    The doer of an action from an observer;
•    War situations from peace.

Psalm 137:9 is not a command but a statement of fact which repeats an earlier prophecy:

Their [Babylon's] infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished... And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. (Isaiah 13:15-19)

The exiled Jews were not doers of Babylon's decline but perhaps observed some or it. That is a big difference! When President Truman warned of a "rain of ruin" on Japan, or when history books mention the atomic bombs, it’s a statement of fact. It's not a command on everyone to make atomic bombs and detonate them. That's a big difference which children understand but which critics of the Bible often deliberately ignore. There is, however, a command that the Bible did give to the Jews, from the "LORD", regarding Babylon:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)


When humans invented war, it involved children, probably unavoidably, because if one side declares "we will not kill children" the other side would exploit that decree  to their advantage.

Genghis Khan (13th century CE) exterminated entire cities that did not immediately surrender, including the children. In WWII the bombing of cities, and genocide by bullets and gas, killed millions of children. When Hitler Youth, some not yet teenagers, defended Pichelsdorf Bridge in West Berlin in 1945 the Soviets slaughtered hundreds. Hope briefly resurged in Berlin, prior to Hitler's suicide, when boys aged 11 were called up.

After WWII recruitment of children into armies continued — millions across Africa, South America, Iran, Burma, Cambodia, etc. The youngest soldier was reportedly a 5-year-old in Uganda! Child recruits can be as ruthless as  adults — Time magazine once published a photo of a girl, 13, minus both hands, cut off by a juvenile soldier. Children can shoot guns, detonate grenades, act as decoys, throw rocks, join human-wave attacks, and become suicide bombers. Even if not recruited, children may die during war from starvation — 85,000 in Yemen 2015-2018. 

In ancient times boys often entered military training soon after infancy. They could act as spies, use slingshots, shoot arrows, stab with spears and, in the end-stage of a siege, fight alongside their parents or try to defend them. With the battle almost over the victors had reason to feel "happy". Killing of boys was common strategy in war also because dead boys don't grow older and then seek vengeance. Furthermore, any surviving children might die miserably from starvation, thirst or wild animals — which made swift killing comparatively merciful.

When the Assyrians destroyed Thebes (Egypt's capital city): "...even her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street". (Nahum 2:10) Various nations killed Israel's children and also "ripped open" pregnant women. (Hosea 13:16;  II Kings 8:12)

The Bible acknowledges the facts but is against war. We see this because the Bible begins with humans at peace (Genesis 2), finishes with universal peace when pain and death are gone (Revelation 21:4), and predicts:

He [God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)


My opening claim "no book has been more helpful to children than the Bible" should now be self-evident.

The improvements introduced worldwide under biblical influence in medicine, law, ethics and agriculture are amazing considering that most people throughout the centuries ignored "God's Word" or openly opposed it!

Psalm 137:9 is a matter-of-fact statement of what happened in ancient war. It does not express joy in the "murder" of children but is an indictment of humans who create the circumstances wherein such "joy" occurs.


Castle, E.B. 1961 Ancient Education and Today, Penguin, p. 169

Mathuram Santosham, 09 March 2016

Rush, F. 1980 The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children, Prentice-hall

White, M. 2012 The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, Norton & Company–present)


(Investigator # 214, January 2024)

Two corrections to my article Children, The Bible, and Psalm 137 in Investigator 213.

First: In the opening sentence the reference #111 should be #211.

Second: Page 34 says "Time magazine once published a photo of a girl, 13, minus both hands, cut off by a juvenile soldier." I've now rediscovered the original article (September 13, 1999); the child soldier merely carried the axe, an adult did the cutting. He cut five people in half an hour.


Psalm 137:9 - A Reply to Anonymous

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 214, January 2024)

I have considered Anonymous’ reply (Inv. 213, page 30) and am unable to agree with his conclusion that Psalm 137 is, to paraphrase it, not an expression of joy at the murder of children.

A straightforward reading of the text does not allow this conclusion. There is no indication that the author of the psalm is being sarcastic, that the writer means the exact opposite of what has been said. Nor is there any condemnation of the brutal act. Indeed, as previously stated, it is an expression of the desire for barbarous revenge, and is completely unjustifiable.

Anonymous attempts to resolve the issue by claiming that the psalm states a fact rather than a command - that the author is repeating an earlier prophecy rather than expressing joy at the murder of children, or the hope that this will occur. However, having read the psalm in its entirety I do not think that his explanation is tenable. The Jews may not have committed this war crime, but it is clear from the tone of the psalm that the author looks forward to what he hopes will happen. He wants the Babylonians to suffer as payback for the cruelty inflicted upon his people, and petitions God to orchestrate the massacre. This is partially admitted by another apologist (underlining mine):

The expression of dashing infants on rocks has been misunderstood as the psalmist's thirst for revenge or cruelty but this is not the case. In ancient warfare, it was common for victorious armies to kill the children of their conquered enemies. The expression of dashing infants on rocks implies proportionate divine retribution for the terrible wrong that the Babylonians had done and for which they should be punished. (1)

This attempt to exonerate the psalm also fails. Firstly, it goes against Matthew 5:44 (But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you). Secondly, it is in violation of Deuteronomy 24:16 (The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin). Thirdly, the murder of innocent children is not proportionate divine retribution but instead brutal revenge.

If people love their enemies then they wouldn’t want their foe’s children to be brutally murdered by asking god to arrange the atrocity. Clearly, there is hatred and the desire for savage revenge permeating Psalm 137. This conclusion is further bolstered by the fact that the punishment (read revenge) is unjust as is shown by Deuteronomy 24:16.

The Bible is a mixed bag when it comes to ethics. It expresses some ideas that most people can agree with, but there are others that no decent person could agree to. That this is so is simply a result of different parts of scripture being written at different times by different authors. Indeed, many of the passages of scripture extolling violence may have been written by people with authoritarian personalities.

For those who would like to know more about the traits of authoritarian personalities I refer the interested reader to the article below published in Psychology Today, which contains further details on this mental aberration:

What You Can Expect From an Authoritarian:


(1) A comprehensive reading of Psalm 137:,destroyed%20Jerusalem%20in%20587%20BCE

Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version)