Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Hope Even in Despair
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:1-4)
This song was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the children of Israel were carried to Babylon as captives, probably around 565 BC, based on the most recent archaeological discoveries in Babylon. When he moved the Tabernacle to Jerusalem, David had started developing a group of musicians to serve in the Temple when it was built, some five hundred years before, and the temple choir was known throughout the region.
When the people were transported to Babylon, the Babylonians wanted to hear that famed choir. The musicians had no interest in singing the old songs about how God blessed Israel. Instead they went out and hid their instruments in the bushes along the river banks to stop the Babylonians from asking them to play. They felt like God had broken all his promises and didn’t want to sing just to entertain the Babylonians. It seemed somewhat sacrilegious to do so.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Psalm 137:5-6)
They remembered their history and would prefer to lose their ability to play their instruments rather than forget their history or make it just a novelty to the Babylonians. They’d rather have their tongue stick in their mouth so they couldn’t sing than to defile their memories of Jerusalem. Their stories and songs were sacred to them, and they did not want others to treat them as just amusing stories and songs.
“Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.” (Psalm 137:7)
The people of Edom were Esau’s descendants, and close relatives of Israel, but they were some of her bitterest enemies. When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, the Edomites had pushed to have Jerusalem completely destroyed and every trace removed. Though the Babylonians did destroy the city, they left the ruins behind. The Psalmist prays that the Lord would destroy Edom as completely as they had called for Jerusalem to be destroyed.
“O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”(Psalm 137:8-9)
Over a hundred fifty years before, Isaiah had prophesied that Israel would be taken by Babylon. He also prophesied that one day Babylon would be destroyed and never rebuilt, in Isaiah 47-48. The Psalmist says that the people who destroy it will be blessed to completely destroy even the babies and little children. Though he was in despair, the Psalmist still had hope.