Our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land? Psalm 137:3-4
This is an agonising psalm. The people are in exile far from their homes. Sitting by the rivers of Babylon, they were about 1,000 miles from their beloved Jerusalem. In their misery, they couldn’t bring themselves to make music, so they hung their harps on the branches of poplar trees.
However, the local people were insistent: they wanted to hear a happy song. But the exiles could think of nothing worse. In despair they cried out: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?”
The pain and awkwardness of living in exile is the experience of every Christian. We are here on earth on a very temporary basis. As the apostle Paul put it: “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives” (Philippians 3:20).
In his first letter, Peter told his readers that this should shape the way in which they lived. He wrote: “Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11).
It is very easy to understand the despair and sadness of exiles, but it is possible to sing the Lord’s songs in a hostile environment. Christians have proved for centuries that it can be done.
The exiles were encouraged by Jeremiah to accept that they would be in Babylon for a while. He encouraged them to get on with their lives and to continue to seek the Lord for, amid the indignities and challenges of exile, he told them that God had “plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). As hard as our circumstances may be at times, there is always much to sing about.
To what extent do you feel like an exile?
Loving God, help me to learn what it means to be a citizen of heaven. Amen