By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, (Psalm 137:1).
On our recent trip to the Holy Land we visited the Archeological Museum in Istanbul. One of the artifacts contained in the museum is the artwork that adorned the ancient gates of Babylon (see picture). I hate to break the news to you, but most of the Bible is a story of how life rarely turns out the way we think it should. I love today’s text because it was the inspiration for one of the great songs in the musical “Godspell”. It is a psalm about being a stranger in a strange land.
The remaining two and a half tribes of the nation of Israel (called the Southern Kingdom or Judah) were living in exile when it was written. The city of Jerusalem has been torn to the ground and the Temple of Solomon has been destroyed. The enemy who did this was Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. The rivers of Babylon would have been the Euphrates and the various canals built off the river to irrigate the ancient city. The exiles sat and wept as they thought about the fate of their beloved nation and city.
I can’t imagine that any of them, except perhaps Daniel and Ezekiel, could see the hand of God in their circumstances. This seems to be a consistent message that permeates the Bible. From the captivity and exile in Babylon to the letters of John in Revelation, things rarely turn out the way we would script them. In today’s text, the Babylonian captors torment their captives by asking them to “sing one of those songs of Zion”. They want the Jews to sing songs of joy in the midst of their misery. It was like rubbing salt in the proverbial wound. In response, the Jews hung up their harps. They couldn’t sing the Lord’s songs while in a foreign land.
This historic situation seems like a good metaphor for the things that happen in our lives when we attempt to live a biblically-based life. We have times when everything seems to go south. We have times when we are so out of fellowship with the Lord that it is as if we are living in a strange land where there is not joy. But unlike the Babylonian exiles, even in the midst of tough times, we have Jesus.
We can simultaneously be in a foreign land and still in the hand of God. And when we have drifted from God, we can turn back and get back in the flow of the Spirit. So here is a little encouragement today: if you are feeling like an exile in this world, don’t hang up your harp. Take it down and play it loudly! And sing some praise in the midst of a nutty world!