It’s a pretty moving psalm, but in some ways, it’s also not all that relatable.
Hovering over Psalm 137 this morning. A psalm remembering a time when the psalmist remembered a time. A post-exilic songwriter thinking back to the days when he had sat by the rivers of Babylon, weeping and mourning for the days when he was worshiping in Zion. Determined not to forget Jerusalem. Determined to hold always in his heart the place where God’s glory dwelt on the earth. To let nothing supplant her from being his highest joy (v.5-7).
His captors would torment his people, as if to rub salt in an open wound, sneering at them, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (v.3) But they had determined to hang up their musical instruments (v.2). Apart from being on that majestic mount, knowing that the holy hill had been wholly razed, they saw no reason to sing. What’s more, they feared that to sing in a pagan land would diminish their heart’s affection for the courts of the LORD. Thus their question — the question which, while stirring my heart, doesn’t fully connect with my head.
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
(Psalm 137:4 ESV)
Singing the LORD’s song in a foreign land. What’s the big deal? Today we do it all the time.
We acknowledge freely and frequently that, as children of God and followers of Christ, we are pilgrims in a foreign land. That the home we’re looking forward to is “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). That we live in a world that we’re not of. A world hostile toward us. A world which often mocks us. A world trying to assimilate us even as it seeks to compromise our consecrated altars of worship. And we sing the LORD’s song here all the time!
Songs of worship are playing in my house constantly. Songs of praise “bluetoothed” in my vehicle when I’m traveling. Every week I’m gathering with others who are primed to sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land. Instruments playing, bodies swaying (well, some of them), hands waving (again, some hands), and we’re belting out melodies in obedience to another verse in my bible which says:
. . . be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”
(Ephesians 5:18b-19 ESV)
So what’s the deal with the ancient songwriter?
Here’s the difference, I’m thinking. We’re filled with the Spirit.
My ancient psalm-writer friend was in a foreign land AWAY from the place where the glory dwelt. Physically distanced from the presence of God. But today, we are never far from God. We are His temple (1Cor. 3:16). The church is His spiritual house (1Pet. 2:5). A dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). Where 2 or 3 are gathered, He’s there in the midst (Matt. 18:20).
In a foreign land? For sure. Apart from the presence of God? Uh-uh!
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? Indwelt by Him. Abiding in Him. In union with Him. That’s how.
By His grace. For His glory.