Singing On The Riverbank
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.” – Psalm 137:1-6
A few years ago, I heard a sermon from Dr. David Uth, Pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando Florida. He preached on Psalm 137. I would like to share some of the things that He said that really spoke to me.
Psalm 137 is a raw, emotional, and powerful Psalm. In fact it is so emotionally hard to read, the Anglican Church in 1980 even declared that portions of this psalm could be removed from their liturgy. It is a passage that describes a point in the life of God’s people when their queen city of Jerusalem was gone, and they had been deported to a foreign land known as Babylon. They were in a state of shock and disbelief because of the events that had unfolded. Everything they have known had changed, and was gone. How could it happen? Moreover, how could God allow it to happen? These are the thoughts of God’s people as they sat down by the river and wept. And while they were weeping, their tormentors mocked them by saying, “Hey, why don’t you sing us one of those songs that you used to sing on your way up to your temple.” “Sing us one of your songs.” And their adversaries taunting led to the psalmist asking this question, “How do you sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land (V 4)? In other words, how were they going to be able to sing praises to the Lord when everything looked so bleak? After posing such a question, the Psalmist turns around and answers it. In verses 5 and 6, the Psalmist explains that He will always sing praises to the Lord, no matter the circumstance he is in, and he will do so by remembering the goodness of God. He says, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill.” That was a Hebrew way of saying, “may my body have a stroke. If I am not going to use my hand to give you praise, may I never use it again at all.” He also says, “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you.” In other words, he was saying, “may my mouth never open again if I do not praise you.”
We all, sooner or later, will find ourselves feeling like we have been exiled to a foreign land. There are times in our life that we feel we have entered unchartered, foreign territory. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have some exemption clause, for it will happen to everyone. It could be some unexpected bad news. It could be a bad doctor’s report. It could be a phone call from the police. It could be the loss of a job. It might be when you move to a new town. It might be the death of a spouse or a child. Whatever it may be, it is in those moments that you will find yourself more susceptible to losing your “song” to the Lord. But you must be careful about this; for it is a sad and dangerous thing when one of God’s children quit singing His praises. You see, we are not to only praise God when things are going well, but even when things are not going well. We are to sing praises to the Lord even when we feel like life has thrown us a curve as if we have been exiled to a foreign land. But know what the psalmist knew…we are not to praise and worship God because life is good. Rather we are to praise and worship God because God is good. Take time out this week and ponder upon these spiritual truths out of Psalm 137. I pray this passage impacts your life as much as it has mine.