8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
Happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

KJV  Psalm 137:8-9

8 O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

NASBu  Psalm 137:8-9

Contradicting God’s character

This text seems to contradict God’s holy and good character. How can the Bible contain such terrible judgements? It seems as if people are praised for killing children in a horrible way: by smashing them against the rocks. How dreadful, the illustrated event as well as the apparent divine approval for such bestial behaviour. However, this text is actually concerned with the reverse. As result of the bestial behaviour of the Babylonians, their bestiality would return on their own heads. Life pays back, that is the law of life and not particularly the law of the Old Testament.

Inadequate translation

The translation of the Hebrew ‘Ashre’ as ‘Happy’ or ‘Blessed’ is completely inadequate. Even the color ‘prosperous, successful’ (as the meaning is in Proverbs 3:13, 28:14, 29:18 etc.) is not to the point. M. Jastrow in his still monumental dictionary gives two basic ideas about the root ‘Achar’: be strong, be happy. The translation here should be: Strong! Unstoppable! The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah had predicted the destruction of Babylon long before. So the Psalmist doesn’t express in these verses a wish, but an irreversible future state of affairs.

Correct translation

8 O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
STRONG will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
9 STRONG will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

According to NASBu  Psalm 137:8-9

Jesus blessed the children

Is this in contradiction with the Bible? No, Jesus blessed the children. In doing so he revealed God’s loving character for children, wherever they may be. This was still God’s character in Old Testament times. This verse of Psalm 137 is not a wish about Babylon’s future destruction; it’s a prediction about it and it is also an expression of total pain into which the human race has fallen.

Prophetical or formalistic

Old-Hebrew texts are invariably prophetical texts. The consequence is that the words and expressions bear the meaning of the subject under debate. Consequently the words always have specific colorings. The root of a word has a chameleon-like faculty to allow nuances in meaning.

Old translators have taken insufficient account of this aspect of the Hebrew language. In their zeal to preserve the divine meaning of the texts, they used to take one single equivalent for a Hebrew word. In doing so they not infrequently reached the opposite of their intentions and very often produced wooden or even incorrect translations of which our text is a striking example.

Paul and the Septuagint

The apostle Paul already wrestled with translation problems. Nearly no quotation of the Old Testament in his letters is an exact reproduction of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible at his time. He has always introduced adaptations in his quotes. His free use of the Hebrew text should be an example to us to translate the Old Testament freely to get more carefully balanced results.


Current translations may create the impression that the ethics of this text is contradictory to God’s goodness and humanity, but THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Many translations are very limited and traditionally submitted to simply follow older translations.

No Bible Contradiction