"By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'
How can we sing the Lord's song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy."
This is perhaps a strange Psalm to begin Advent. But as I march through the Psalms, this is where I have arrived, and truth is truth. Remember, the Bible tells it like it is, without the icing. What this Psalm does is to set the scene for the need of a Saviour. It shows the vacuum the sorrowful silence of song leaves that will be filled with angelic hosts upon the birth of our Lord, whether the captives in Babylon, or any captive to sin.
The Babylonian Captivity happened about 600 B.C. Jerusalem was razed. The Jews were taken captive to Babylon where they were mercilessly enslaved in chains and mocked." (The temple was razed again by the Romans as Jesus prophesied in 70 A.D. as well.)
But as this Psalm asks, "Can we in this state of slavery,--we, exiles from our country--we, stripped of all our property,--we, reduced to contempt by our strong enemy,--we, deprived of our religious privileges,--we, insulted by our oppressors,--we, in the land of heathens,--we sing, or be mirthful in these circumstances? No...It is base in our enemies to require it." (Adam Clarke)
"Perhaps resting themselves after toil, and wishing to spend their rime religiously, they took their harps, and were about to sing one of the songs of Zion; but, reflecting on their own country, they became so filled with distress, that they unstrung their harps with one consent, and hung them on the willow bushes, and gave a general loose to their grief. Some of the Babylonians, who probably attended such meetings...desired them to sing one of Zion's songs." (Adam Clarke)
Do you see the picture this paints? A people, the worship leaders, the singers, the harpists who would lead them in the singing of David's own Psalms, just could not do it. Harps hanging from willows by the river with people on its banks giving way to their sorrow is a very vivid image of a lost and bound people. Enslaved people throughout history understand this grief of loss and cruel oppression. So too, it is only when one who is a slave to sin becomes sick enough of it to cry out to God, can be redeemed and given back a song.
"Grief can steal one's song. "Who does not hear the deep sigh in the strongly guttural sound of the original (Hebrew)! Wrung as it were from the bottom of the heart?...Such conduct would be, in effect, a renunciation of our land; a tacit acknowledgment that we were reconciled to our bondage; a concession that we were pleased with our captivity, and could profane holy ordinances by using them as sport or pastime to the heathens. No...Let me lose my skill in management of my harp, if I ever prostitute it to please the ungodly multitude, or the enemies of my Creator. Let me lose my voice and all its powers of melody; my tongue, and all its faculty of speech...if I do not prefer my country, my people, and the ordinances of my God, beyond all these, and whatever may constitute the chiefest joy I can possess in aught else beside." (Adam Clarke)
We were made to worship God, our minds to overflow with lyrics, hands skilled to play, and lips to sing it. It is a sad state of affairs when the music stops. Have you had that experience were the music stopped in your heart? It is like the miners going into the deeps of the earth carrying the canary in its cage. As long as the little bird sang, they were safe. If it died, they soon would too unless they hurriedly escaped the poisonous gases that first stole the tiny yellow bird's song from its breast. The song is everything. I've been there. Have you? The good news is that God can give you your song back. What better time than Christmas? Some say the greatest music ever written is Handel's "Messiah," (1740's), a miracle in its composition. (We listened to it last night!)
Under Roman rule, the oppressed Jewish people were ordered about to be taxed and told where to go to do so. Such an engaged couple took the journey that led them to a stable in Bethlehem where Christ was born. The angels broke out in heavenly proclamation on the hillsides announcing the great event, first to the shepherds, then to the rest of the world. Harps were taken up. Songs from up in the heavenlies floated down from around the throne where they sang, "Holy, holy, holy," holy music drifting down surrounding this "holy thing begotten."
Join in singing the carols. It is holy music.
Grinchies not allowed.
Grinchies not allowed.