Original Research - Special Collection: African Hermeneutics

Memories of Zion in Exile: A contextual reading of the Ironical ‘Bitter Beatitudes’ of Psalm 137

Blessing O. Boloje
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 45, No 1 | a3028 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v45i1.3028 | © 2024 Blessing O. Boloje | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 October 2023 | Published: 31 May 2024

About the author(s)

Blessing O. Boloje, Department of Biblical Studies, Faculty of Theology, Baptist Theological Seminary, Eku, Nigeria; and Department of Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


While one’s memory might not always be flawless, possibly because of forgetfulness, memory loss, or selective recall, there are certain memories that demand to be remembered. These memories can flow through people’s lives like rivers. Psalm 137 depicts a compelling backdrop and scenario that closely mirrors the actual experiences of individuals and their recollections. This Psalm is regarded as the most direct and poignant recollection of the Babylonian exile in the entire Psalter. Although some may find the desires expressed in the Psalm troubling and unsuitable for New Testament believers, it aligns with Israel’s theological and liturgical response to undeserved or unavoidable suffering. It serves as an entreaty to Yahweh (YHWH), the ultimate source of strength amid powerlessness and hope amid hopelessness. Consequently, Psalm 137 represents a substantial theological statement with contemporary relevance. This article draws a parallel between the emotional anguish experienced by the psalmist, stemming from their unfavourable socioeconomic circumstances, and the similarly oppressive socioeconomic, and psychological conditions faced by many in contemporary times.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article employs the principle of contemporaneity while engaging with the biblical, literary, and exegetical scope of Psalm 137 to establish a theological rationale and contextual adaptation for this retaliatory Psalm attributed to David. The theological assertion is that in a society marked by violence and abuse, where there exists a sinister conspiracy of brutality, invoking YHWH’s intervention by breaking the silence indeed has the potential to effect change. This theological datum makes Psalms 137 resonates in the memory of many today.


Psalm 137; memory; retributive Psalm; theological and liturgical; contextual realities; unmerited suffering

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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