Read Psalm 137
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
7 Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
The most important thing to note while reading this psalm is that it is a psalm of exile. This chapter is written after the Hebrew people have been taken from their land and brought into captivity by the Babylonians. In the Old Testament, the exile took place after God was so exhausted by the Israelites’ sin that He handed them over to those who do not know Him. These Israelites had grown comfortable with their sin, and God used exile to wake them up to the dangers of their rebellion.
When we think of exile, we cannot just assume the Israelites were carried off peacefully into a foreign land. What really happened was that the temple was destroyed, fellow Israelites were killed, and their homes were taken from them. This traumatic experience filled the Israelites with so much anger towards their captors that they would even say here in verse 9, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” This was likely written because this is precisely what happened to the Israelite families (Isaiah 13:16). Since they had lived through this incredibly painful experience, the people of God were without hope. While their captors mocked them and asked them to sing, they responded by saying, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (v. 4). In other words, “How can we sing songs of hope when our situation is hopeless?”
While we are not currently held captive by our enemies, we too, are in a state of exile. As believers, we aren’t living in our true home. We are made to be at home in heaven with our Lord as king. As we are in a state of exile while on earth, there will be much that will bring us discouragement. There will be times of pain, exhaustion, and despair. But because of Jesus, we can respond differently than the writer of this psalm. While they are driven to anger and dejection, we can be driven to peace and confidence. Our hope does not need to be in the future destruction of our enemies because we know that Christ has defeated Satan and death, our true enemies. Today, we can sing songs of hope while in exile because we have a faithful God who will one day bring us home.
- What most stands out to you about this passage?
- How is our time on earth similar to the Israelites’ time in exile? How might you have grown too comfortable here?
- What promises of God give you hope in times of pain?
By the Way
In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul gives us a helpful passage to remember when it comes to living as people of hope in the midst of affliction:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
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