Psalm 137 has forever been immortalised in the words of a famous 1970s pop song – “by the rivers of Babylon.” God’s ancient people found themselves in this rather pleasant location having been exiled there by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15 v 29 & 24 v 14.)
At the time of its writing the anonymous author is now back in his homeland and is reflecting on the events of the exile from a safe distance, in particular the role of the Edomites (Genesis 36 v 9) and the prophesied defeat of the Assyrian Empire (Isaiah 13 v 19.) He also recalls the cry from captivity that arose from such an alien and strange land – “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
Presently, we too find ourselves in a “strange land” of lockdown, social distancing, self-isolating and shielding. So, we too like God’s ancient people need to discover an answer to the same question.
Israel posed the question in a defeatist and pessimistic way, offering two reasons for their distinct lack of singing: –
1 – Homesickness for Jerusalem (v 1 & 5 – 6.)
Every time they remembered Jerusalem and its temple, they wept bitterly because it was their “highest joy.” Accompanying such memories was a crushing and acute sense of homesickness, coupled with a desperate longing to be back there, rendering then unable to sing the “Lord’s song.”
Challenge – Are you currently experiencing a homesickness for the church and its people that is preventing you from singing “the Lords song” in this strange land?
2 – Holding out for Jerusalem (v 2 – 3.)
When asked by their captors to sing the joyful songs that they sang back home in Jerusalem, they refused. They downed tools by hanging their harps on the poplar trees, and instead they held out for a return to Jerusalem, when they would once again sing. But in the meantime, what was the point of singing the “Lord’s song” in a strange land?
Challenge – Are you currently holding out on singing the “Lord’s song,” waiting instead for things to return to normal before you resume singing?
So, we are left with a somewhat distressing picture of God’s ancient people, homesick and holding out, crying from captivity – “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
But having said that, it is possible to read this question in an upbeat tone of voice and to regard it as a challenge. Instead of wallowing in homesickness for the good old days; instead of holding out and doing nothing until normality returns; we need to be seizing the moment as churches and as individuals by finding new ways of singing the “Lord’s Song” in this strange land of lockdown. So, are you up for such a challenge in such a time as this?
- By the rivers of Babylon (Bony M!)
- Great is theLord, and most worthy of praise
- Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
- I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live
Theme: The cry from Captivity
Reading: Psalm 137
Preacher: Chris Hughes