Hold On To Your Harp for a Better Day
“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion! How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” – Psalm 137:1-4
Throughout the centuries, Psalm 137 has been prayed, recited, and memorized within both the Jewish and Christian religious communities. Because of its raw and authentic tone on the subjects of captivity and despair, the passage has been especially embraced by those facing seasons of difficulty and despair. Penned during the Babylonian exile, the Psalmist emotionally pulls back the curtain on the hearts of God’s people, and exposes the emotions felt by the Israelites during one of their darkest hours. As God’s people sat on the riverbank, they wept over their current circumstance, overwhelmed by the heavy hand of their Babylonian oppressors.
As they tearfully gathered at the riverbank, God’s people reflected upon better days. They hung their harps in the branches of the willows located on the riverbank, symbolizing their current season of despair. The Psalmist expresses the overwhelming pressure the people of God felt in that moment, as their captors required them to break out in song; songs about Zion. But singing simply to appease their pagan captives would be an expression of dishonor to the Lord. Besides, they felt as if there was very little to sing about. The joy usually associated with singing was absent from their hearts, making it impossible to sing with sincerity. In essence, the people of God had lost their song. Their passion was held captive as they themselves experienced captivity. They had lost their song because they had lost their joy. For them, singing to the Lord was not to be some perfunctory act void of emotions. Rather, it was to be a joyous act of worship marked by praise, exaltation, and sincerity of heart. Making matters worse, the songs of Zion were some of the deepest expressions of joy found in their songbook. It was ludicrous to imagine the possibility of singing the songs of Zion with joy. Discouragement weighed heavy upon the hearts of God’s people during their season of exile.
Yet no matter how devastating their circumstances were, they still held on to a glimmer of hope. This is expressed in Psalm 137:5-6 as the Psalmist passionately lamented and cried out to the Lord. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” It would be easy in such unprecedented circumstances to abandon all thoughts of a future hope and forget God, yet there would be devastating repercussions in doing so. Because of this, the Psalmist did not want to be guilty of forgetting the Lord and his past provision, and was determined to express his faith in the Lord and keep his thoughts upon Him. Because of their current circumstances, the Israelites felt forgotten by God, yet they were determined not to forget Him. I think James Montgomery Boice got it right when he said, “they…did not break their harps in pieces or throw them in the stream. Instead they hung them in the poplars, presumably saving them for what would surely be a better day.”
It would be easy in your season of despair to lose all hope and give up. But God’s people in their darkest hour did not forfeit their hope and despairingly trash their musical instruments. Instead, they only hung them in the willow branches; for they always held on to the hope that their season of darkness would one day end and their joyful song restored.
How about you? How do you respond when you lose your song? You can be rest assured there will be seasons in your life when you feel you have. But even in those moments, respond as God’s people did. Hold on to your harp and hope for a better day.
– Pastor Eric