By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. 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. – Psalm 137:1-6
This Psalm is a great remembering of the time of exile in Babylon. The scene described is vivid and moving. The Jews in exile are sitting beside the river, probably the Tigris or Euphrates, in what is now Iraq. They are weeping, shedding tears to God. They are missing something or someone.
They have been asked by their captors to sing songs. I am not sure why but this scene reminds me of stories I have read, seen, or heard about the Nazis during WWII. The Nazis seemed to have no trouble enjoying the musical talent of the Jews they were exterminating like vermin. They saw neither the person blessed with the musical talent or the God who blessed them. Understandably, many Jews felt abandoned by God and had difficulty seeing Him in the midst of their persecution. Both the Jews during WWII and the Jewish exiles in Babylon were asking themselves “where is our God?”
It is interesting that the Jews being persecuted in Babylon also feel distant and abandoned by God. They are weeping not to mourn their spiritual distance from God, but their physical distance from Zion and Jerusalem. What they seem to be missing is a place rather than a person…”Jerusalem my highest joy”. I think followers of Christ (the Church) sometimes have the same problem. We replace the person of God with a place — the location we gather to worship God.
When we gather on Sunday to worship are we gathering because we miss God or because we miss our friends and the comfortable traditions we share? There is great value in meeting together as a community of God followers, but it seems like our priority must remain meeting God — the One River that is always by our side.
Prayer: God thank You for meeting us when we gather together to seek after You. Help us to make meeting You our highest priority.