I was supposed to write a devotional this morning if for no other reason than that I consider it an act of worship and something I enjoy. Today, I just could not put my heart into it. My wife and I are facing some real hardship right now. I won’t go into detail, but our present circumstances are forcing us to make some hard choices regarding our future: Where will we live? How will we make ends meet? I’m not saying all that for your sympathy. I’m just letting you know what’s on my heart. As I considered our prospects on my way home today, I was reminded of Psalm 137.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion” (v. 1).
Once again, we see Israel in captivity and I know a lot of the devotionals I have written lately center on that period in Israel’s history, but they spent a lot of time there. Truth be told, most of us spend more time in trouble than out of it, too.
Now as these people of Judah sat by the riverside, they contemplated, and they wept. Zion was gone to them, a fading memory. The glory days of Israel had vanished long before that, and the promise of future restoration seemed more like a dream than a reality. They wept, I think in part, over what should have been because their predicament was entirely avoidable. They had only to listen to the prophets God had sent them. Our predicament was also avoidable. The handwriting was on the wall long before our current turn of events. I could have prepared. I did not.
That kind of realization cuts very deep.
Our circumstances are not nearly as bad as those in this psalm, but I can understand their heartache. They were consumed with grief and now their captors wanted to hear one of those hymns for which Israel was famous. “Sing us one of the songs of Zion,” they said (v. 3b). Whether they did this to mock them or out of curiosity, or maybe as some thoughtless means of cheering them up, is not clear. It may have been all three. Whatever the reason, the musicians had no heart for it until one of them asked a question.
“How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land” (v. 4)?
And then he answered it.
“If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” (v. 5). For the Jews of the Old Testament, the Land of Promise was everything. It was their assurance, not just of God’s blessing, but of His salvation as well. The Land was part of the promise to Abraham, second only to the promise of many offspring. It was his faith in those promises that God counted as Abraham’s claim to righteousness (Genesis 15:6). The sorrow of the musicians in this psalm cut them to their soul. It was remembering God that brought them back from the depths. Remembering God’s promise moved them to remember God and call out to Him. True, their song was bittersweet, but it was still a song of Zion.
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