1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
Sometimes, I don’t want to sing a Christian song.
Sometimes, I feel like singing anything but a Christian song.
Isn’t it funny, how the very same statement, said in two different contexts can invoke drastically different responses?
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion,” they said!
It’s easy to sympathize with the Psalmist’s response:
“You want a Zion song? I’ll give you a Zion song!
‘Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!‘ (Ps. 137.8)
How’s that for a Zion song?!”
I can relate to that. Not that I’ve ever wanted to dash anyone’s kids against a rock, but such an impassioned longing for vindication, vengeance, or justice… Trying to reign in our vindictive imaginations, but at the same time equally angry at our utter helplessness in current circumstances.
The first words coming off my lips in these moments of grief, betrayal, or loss often are not, “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.” (Ps. 138.2)
In Psalm 137, though not marked with an author’s name or historical event, it is clear that the unnamed Psalmist is reflecting on the captivity and enslavement of the Jews in the Babylonian Exile.
They have been humiliated and marched out of their beloved city, Jerusalem, which after being sieged by the Babylonians is only a shell of its former glory.
“Jerusalem, our happy home.”
Now they are in a foreign land where, though oft warned by the prophets, they never intended to be. And while they would have been delighted to sing the songs of Zion in Jerusalem, now among foreign jeers and taunts, they despise the provocation to sing the songs about the place they love and the God who resides there.
“How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (v. 4)
We, too, live in foreign territory. We call this “The Land of the Living”, but in reality it is:
The Land of the Dying,
The Land of the Broken,
The Land of the Ruined,
The Land of the Desparate,
The Land of the Desolate,
The Land of the Barren.
We live in this foreign land, but our home is in Jerusalem, the “Jerusalem Above” (Gal. 4.21-27), the True Zion.
In this foreign land,
we are afflicted in every way…
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus…
For we who live are always being given over to death… (2 Cor. 4.8-11)
I don’t know about you, but these things don’t evoke in me a desire to sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” or “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever“!
After losing your job, not knowing if you can keep your home…
After that argument with your spouse that makes you want to give up…
After trying month after month to conceive…
After the death of one whom you were supposed to precede into death…
You want a song?! I’ll sing you a song! (Ps. 137.8)
But the Psalmist, reflecting on the temptation to despair, forces himself to recall hope—the hope of Jerusalem—the hope of a better Jerusalem—the city that is to come (Heb. 11.10, 16).
Like Jeremiah, facing the same temptation to despair over the same Babylonian exile, he forces Himself to remember—not to contrive—but to remember (Lam. 3.21).
Sometimes we just don’t feel like singing those Christian songs, but we must.
We must sing because there is hope. We walk in The Land of the Dying… The Broken… The Ruined… The Desparate… The Desolate… The Barren for only a short time. Soon we shall join The Land of the Living—Zion.
“We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.”
… here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13.14
we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4.8-11