Read: Psalm 137 Text: v4
How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?
This Psalm is one of the later Psalms in the Psalter. According to Calvin, some thought that it was written by David in a spirit of prophecy i.e. predicting the 70 year captivity that would take place hundreds of years after his death – but he rightly dismisses such a view as being somewhat strained.
It is more natural to suppose that it was written by one who was there and who was moved by the Holy Spirit to record these words. It does not matter who the human pen man was as long as we see the greater Hand/Mind of the Lord behind the writer.
The Psalm is easily outlined for us:
We have the LOCATION of the Psalm (v1)
We have the GRIEF of the Psalm (v1-2)
We have the PROTEST of the Psalm (v3-4)
We have the ALLEGIANCE of the Psalm (v5-6)
We have the PROPHECY of the Psalm (v7-8)
We want to draw our encouragement in this message from the protest of the Psalm (the words in v4 given in response to v3)
We have a number of points which we must consider here:
1) THE LORD’S CAUSE DID NOT CEASE TO BE VIABLE EVEN THOUGH THE LORD’S PEOPLE WERE CAPTIVE IN BABYLON:
A/ I think that this is one of the great encouragement’s that we can draw from this verse.
The Lord’s songs had not been made redundant.
True: Many of them were written in happier times & expressed happier themes like the faithfulness of God etc., yet they had not been denuded/circumstances in which the people were now found.
B/ God’s cause cannot be judged by its outward circumstances.
Sometimes the sun goes behind some very dark clouds & can hardly be seen - but be assured that it is still there & shining as bright as ever.
Sometimes God’s cause takes an apparent backward step.
Here the COI had been badly misbehaving (i.e. deeply sinning) over a long period/time & so they were sold into slavery and exiled from the Promised Land.
Ultimately: Sold themselves into slavery by choosing to follow their lusts.
If they maintained an obedient walk/God – then would not have been/captive.
We must always put the blame where it firmly belongs – on the sinne.r
Judicially, they were sold by God into this slavery.
What happened did not happen by chance or outside the just will of God.
His hand is on the reins here – He has determined the period/detention.
He has determined how far the wicked, gloating Babylonians can go.
This does not excuse the Babylonians who were goaded on only by what they could gain out of the whole exercise.
When God uses the wicked – it neither excuses their wickedness nor does it impinge on God’s holy character.
Indeed, it glorifies God’s holy character that He can so do and remain pure.
C/ The cause of God was not in abeyance because of this exile.
Ultimately God is building Himself a great church of all the Redeemed.
This has been taking place since the Garden/Eden & will continue, unabated, right through to the last day on this earth.
This is why we must ever be evangelising and winning lost souls.
That is our Great Commission and we must ever be busy in its execution.
Some days this work will be done in the brightest circumstances.
Days of great Reformation & Revival.
Other times – in the worst imaginable circumstances: text
But the work is going on.
The Lord’s song of His sovereign purposes is never made redundant.
2) THE REFUSAL IN OUR TEXT CAME AS AN ANSWER TO A TAUNTING REQUEST:
A/ The Babylonians, drunk with military success, mocked the poor Israelite captives as they were being sold into slavery.
They were probably aware of many of the lyrics of these songs.
Equating outward prosperity with godliness – they supposed that God was either dead or defeated or longer interested in pursuing this particular line of His will.
Therefore it would raise another ungodly laugh to have these long lines of helpless/naked captives to sing the great victory songs/Zion.
B/ Let us never forget that the mockers haven’t gone away.
Read the Letters Page & the online comments/Belfast Telegraph.
Listen to the overpaid and immensely popular TV/Radio interviewers.
Some of them are like Rottweilers!
They never given Sodomites a hard time or the Islam crowd.
But with what vehemence do they deliver their scathing comments to the Lord’s people about their Christian faith.
C/ Satan has always been a mocker of God’s word.
(Remember; These songs/Zion were inspired: Psalms etc.,)
Satan’s first recorded words/Bible: “Yea…hath God said?” (Gen 3:1)
We normally take this to be a word of doubt.
May well be a sense/mockery too: “You’re not serious! Did God say…?”
D/ If we are aware that this is going to happen, then it will greatly ease the blows when they come upon us.
Let us not be ignorant of Satan’s devices.
Let us face them head on because by so doing we will win.
Here/text the attack came in a very crude form.
Probably drunken soldiers shouting/hollering etc.
Often it comes cloaked even in evangelical language.
Some once respected publishing houses refined it a bit.
But the result was the same: Undermine faith in God.
Undermine the word/God and therefore undermine God Himself.
E/ I think it shows how vital it is that we keep ourselves absolutely soaked in the doctrine/God’s Invincibility even in the light of apparent defeat.
Let us not merely hold it as an obscure article among many in our creed.
Sometimes we store our doctrines as we do the things we put into the attic!
We are loathe to throw them out – see their potential use and advantages.
But they’re practically lost in the attic & we forget they’re there even when they are needed and therefore do not benefit us any.
Please remember: God works all things out after the counsel of His own will.
Please remember: Works all things together for His glory & our good.
Please remember: God cannot know any defeat.
We need to walk by faith and not by sight.
This will help us put those stinging jeers/ungodly into some sort/perspective.
Will help us see them for what they are – the death rattles in the throat of a another failed Satanic attack upon the throne/God.
3) THERE WAS A SPIRITUAL QUALITY ATTACHED TO THE LORD’S SONG THAT PRECLUDED IT FROM BEING SUNG IN A STRANGE LAND:
A/ Please note that they did regard Babylon as a strange land.
Not all of the COI would have done so – but the spiritual would have.
Would have done so for a number of reasons:
[i] They knew that they had been given the Promised Land (Canaan)
“Babylon ain’t Canaan”
[ii] They knew (from Jeremiah 25:11-12) captivity would only last 70 years.
If still alive – they intended to be in the next bus home.
[iii] They did not intend to integrate with the heathen around them.
Even the nice ones who didn’t mock their pure religion.
They would always been strangers because the gospel demanded it.
We need to put this observation into some kind of perspective.
God is not calling us to be odd balls or live a hermit kind experience.
We have, in these last days (post NT), a mandate/evangelise the lost.
The OT saints had strict laws that kept them totally separate from the ungodly – there does not seem to be any great efforts to win them to Christ.
Not so in these days for us: Mark 16:15 Preach the gospel to every creature
But let it not be that the world is winning us.
Sometimes it can be very hard to see who is who in this matter.
Indeed it is the world who seems to be winning at this time!
We need to evangelise without conceding ground to the world.
We are pilgrims/strangers here – this world is a strange land.
Don’t get to attached to a strange place.
I wonder is there link between the 70 years of captivity as foretold by Jeremiah & the 20x3+10 spoken of by Moses in Psalm 90?
It wouldn’t be that strong a link because not all see 70 years & some see the 20x4 and even more
But it is thought – Christians are strangers in this passing world.
The worldly man is not a stranger here.
He foolishly settles down nicely and forgets about eternity.
He goes for the passing rather than the permanent.
He goes for the riches that corrodes with rust or is stolen/thieves.
Christian goes for the safe and glorious riches in Heaven.
We can only do that by treating this world as a strange place.
B/ There might have many advantages in adhering to their command.
[i] Captors usually get pretty angry when their demands aren’t met.
[ii] Such singing might even win them for the Lord!
[iii] Such singing might have encouraged the Lord’s own people – esp. those who were wavering in their faith.
But they didn’t sing on demand.
Ans:- They worked on a principle that was later articulated by the Lord Jesus:
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. (Matthew 7:6)
There are many applications that flow from this discerning action:
[i] The glory/purity of the message/God is above every other consideration.
Our chief end here is not to win souls (Not against soul winning/evangelism & actively encourage it)
But our chief end is to glorify God first/foremost & let nothing (no matter how noble) take us away from doing that.
These requests weren’t coming from sincere seekers.
They were coming from mockers – Babylonian devil worshippers.
Therefore silence was the best rule to abide by.
Just the way that the Lord Jesus refused entertain Herod when the latter demanded a miracle (Luke 23:8)
If we would be burdened for the lost – and even for the mockers (which we should) – then there is another and a better way to win them.
That is with the preaching of the word.
God had already addressed these Babylonians through the prophets.
Isaiah and Jeremiah had somewhat to say unto them.
God spoke of their impending doom, even if they were apparently triumphant.
Even a message of doom can be used to bring souls to Christ.
Jonah took the message/doom to Ninevah and they repented.
[ii] Another application: Let us preserve the purity of the worship of God.
I accept that sometimes a matter of taste can be involved, but there are also parameters set down which should not be crossed over – no matter what.
The words of the hymn should be sound doctrinally.
Let not our hymn book be a Trojan Horse for heresy!
The tune should be suitable also.
Neither honky tonk on one hand nor a dirge on the other.
(They are a lot of good words chained to awful tunes)
The medium used to convey it ought to be Scriptural.
Is it simple? Or is it the world with pious edges to it?
Do we think more of the presentation than the thing presented?
Just as we would not want our services to be all worship/no preaching.
Neither should we be content with good preaching but have little care re: the hymns.
It is not either/or – it is both & both ought to be blend together.
4) THIS POSITION WHICH THE COI TOOK STOOD EXAMINATION:
It is put into question form.
A/ Questioner well knew that his position was sound.
Anything that God commands can stand the utmost test.
There are two types of questioning we can engage in:
[i] The questioning of doubt – which is obviously wrong.
This is the questioning of the modernists and others who want to endlessly debate something so that they can whittle away at it and eventually deny it & so the Bible warns:
But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable & vain. (Titus 3:9)
[ii] But then there is the questioning of faith.
This is the questioning that is articulated in the prayer/Psalmist:
Open thou mine eyes…I might behold wondrous things out of thy law.
This is when we question to find out more so that we can worship more and love God more and serve better.
If this reply was given to the Babylonian mockers- then it would be a rebuke.
If it was worded for among themselves – it would be a rallying point.
B/ It was not a mere personal opinion of one man – “we” (plural)
5) THE LORD’S SONG WOULD BE SUNG AGAIN IN MORE FAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES:
A/ As indicated earlier – captivity lasted for 70 years.
Then God raised up men (inc. heathens) who would let the people return/land.
One good thing that came out of this captivity is that the Jews never returned to idolatry again – whatever other faults they had.
B/ Noticeable that those who were used to bring the Jews back to their own land again i.e. Nehemiah and Ezra both maintained a very strong separatist position based on the stand that was taken here - a worthwhile stand.
Both these gallant leaders of the post captivity church refused the co-operation of the heathens round about them in building the walls/temple:
But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. (Ezra 4:3)
C/ The greatest fulfilment of these words lie in the exhortation of Paul:
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Eph 5:19)
6) THOSE WHO MOCKED THIS SONG WOULD SOON TO BE HEARD TO UTTER THE DEEPEST WAILS AND LAMENTS FOR ALL ETERNITY:
A/ God is not mocked – whatsoever a man soweth etc.,
B/ It is worth taking the flak now if we are standing with God/word.
The man who opposes God is ultimately the loser.
Child/God! Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free!
Hang your harps/willows if needs be to maintain it (v3)
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