By the Rivers of Babylon
The Israelites sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon. Their Babylonian captors mocked them and taunted them to sing nostalgic songs of Zion to drive home the loss of their beloved Jerusalem, seen at the top right of the painting.
The lyrical Psalm 137 is a prayer of lament for the loss of Eden because of Adam’s first sin; for our exile because of our own sins. It is a warning that we live in a world that will ridicule us so as to forget our heavenly destination.
The last sentence of Psalm 137 is perhaps the most troubling verse in scripture. It states that the children of the enemy should be smashed against a rock. The primary intent of the author is that if the next generation — the children of the enemy — were killed, then the enemy itself would be annihilated.
But the literal sense in scripture is not the only sense by which to understand scripture. There is also the spiritual sense which itself is divided into the allegorical sense, the moral sense and the anagogical sense.
The allegorical interpretation deals with faith, the moral with how to act on what we read, while the anagogical sense refers to our destiny in the afterlife.
How do these three biblical senses apply to the last disturbing verse of Psalm 137?
Allegorically, the children are our vices, the sins we give birth to under the influence of the enemy — the father of lies — and for which we should hold no compassion in routing out.
Morally, we are to act decisively and not tolerate our sins. We are to curtail our vices while they are still in the infant state.
Anagogically, we cannot enter heaven, the New Jerusalem, until we have purged our attachment to sin. We must dash our sins against the rock, the rock which Christ founded His Church upon, specifically through confession.
May our vices die in their infancy and our virtues grow to full maturity.