“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land”
This Psalm emanates the emotional strain of God’s people during an incredibly difficult transition. Sitting by the rivers of Babylon with tear stained eyes, reminiscing about God’s Holy city. Remembering the beautiful festivities of the temple ceremonies, hearing the sounds of praise and worship belting from the soul of God’s children, the almost euphoric state of existence knowing God was on their side.
Now the only sounds they hear are the rattle of Babylonian chains and the cry of scared children. Babylonian guards yelling obscenities towards them, mocking them for what they stand for. How could this have happened? How could our perfect world be so completely upside down? In a show of defeat these Israeli captives “hang their harps upon the willows“.
When we understand the belief structure of these people we can get a better understanding of their mindset as they walk by these rivers in Babylon. They had been raised to believe that God’s providence only stretched as far as Israel’s borders. They had confined God to a geographical location. As these Babylonian guards drug them across the borders of their Promised Land, I’m sure in their minds, they had just left God’s domain.
I can only imagine the hopeless feeling as they thought to themselves, There’s nothing God can do for us here! If only we were still in Israel! If only God could still hear us when we prayed! If only we could visit the temple again maybe God could help us, but we’re not in Jerusalem any longer, we’re in a strange land now! I don’t know if God can help us here!
As I read this chapter, I could sense the the same emotions these Jews felt. No, maybe not to the extreme of being captive and shipped to a strange land, but I think we all have experienced traumatic transitions! Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a life altering or life changing illness… Perhaps financial calamity has dramatically altered the way you live… Maybe a traumatic loss has derailed your future… Regardless of the venue or the avenue of this transition one thing remains the same; God’s people are weeping by rivers in a strange land.
I’m afraid the modern mentality of Christians reflects the mentality of the precious Jewish people. We have isolated God’s power to spiritual geographical locations. We have placed God in a box and we have a hard time believing God can work in this place. Maybe if I had more to offer God could help me. Maybe if I was a better person, a more dedicated Christian; maybe if I had done more for my church in the past then God could help me, but now I’m stuck out here in a strange land and I feel like I’ll never find peace or joy in this place!
Psalm 137 says that the Babylonians were requiring a song. The Bible also say they required mirth as well as a song. Mirth was a resin that was used as a pain reliever. This text could easily be understood as, “sing us a song of mirth; a song of joy.” These Israeli captives were bewildered by such an outrageous request! “Sing the Lord’s song here? Sing songs of joy in this place?” I don’t believe these Babylonian guards were mockingly asking for a song, I believe that they wanted to know if the God of Israel was real or not and if the request for this song was a sincere request to find some solace for the souls.
As wicked and corrupt as our world is, I believe that same plea is coming from the spirit of man. Sing us a song of mirth! Sing us a song from Zion! This world, as twisted as it may be, is still searching for understanding, they want to know if God is real! It’s not time to stay by the rivers of Babylon weeping over what could’ve been. It’s time the church started singing the Lord’s song in a strange land!
We may not have everything we need, but at least we have Jesus! We may not have everything the world has, but at least we have Jesus! We may be weak, weary and wounded, but at least we have Jesus! This world needs to hear our song! This world needs to know, that God is not just the God of our sanctuaries, but heaven is His throne, and earth is His foot stool! Even in a strange land, God can still give me a song!
Psalm 95:1, 3
“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.”
“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”