“Beside the rivers of Babylon,
we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.
We put away our harps,
hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a pagan land?”
Psalms 137:1-2, 4 NLT
This is a dreadfully sad Psalm, written by the Jewish exiles while in Babylon, a place where they didn’t want to be. A place of idolatry, of customs and laws foreign to the Jews, a place where they were separated from their God and His home in Jerusalem. And it ends with the gruesome thoughts of what they would like to do to the Edomites, who were apparently instrumental in the demise of their beloved city. Before we condemn them for their thoughts, though, I suppose we should think through what they had experienced, walking mentally in their shoes for a bit. The barbaric and cruel Babylonian soldiers had performed unspeakable atrocities on them, their families and their cities, and those that had survived had been force-marched for miles, away to a foreign land. Away from their homes, their homeland. And now, once they were there, their captors were taunting them, ridiculing them for their religion. They were at rock bottom.
But there was one ray of light shining out in this Psalm. In verse 6, the Psalmist’s memory of Jerusalem couldn’t be destroyed. Only death would take that away. Today, we mustn’t forget that there are many Christians in the world who are exiled. Dear brothers and sisters forced away from their homes into an exile in a place where they don’t want to be. A place with a different language, or dialect. A place where they are resented as refugees, treated as third class citizens. The Middle East has numerous examples of what is happening to our Christian brothers and sisters. Persecuted, they have little option other than move away. And in Western societies today, Christians are increasingly being marginalised. Thankfully not to a place where exile, forced or otherwise, is required, but if the current trend continues, one day this will perhaps happen.
But one thing is for sure. We cannot be exiled from our relationship with God. We cannot be exiled from the Kingdom of Heaven, our home. The Jews in Babylon seemed to think that they could only find God in Jerusalem, so taking them away from their beloved city was in effect removing them from God’s presence. Thankfully we can find God anywhere we live. In Acts 17:28 we read, “For in Him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’” Paul was explaining to the people around him how close God is and, more, that we are His children. No exile will ever prove that verse wrong. Our loving Heavenly Father is always with us. We will always be His children. So with a lightness in our spirits, we can “sing the songs of the Lord”. Wherever we find ourselves.