Recently I was seeking council from a Brother in Christ, and he directed to me to a few passages of scripture, including one of the Psalms. I went directly to the Psalm and read it quickly, trying to figure out why he had recommended that particular one in such a circumstance. Turns out, I was reading Psalm 137, not 139, as I had been told.
I didn’t immediately leave 137 though it was the wrong Psalm, and at first blush it seemed to be totally inappropriate for my particular circumstance, but I read it again, and again. I started to see that this was the right Psalm for me at that particular moment. Since it’s short, I’ll post the whole text:
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord‘s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
tet my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my utongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
7 Remember, O Lord, against the vEdomites
wthe day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
What struck me was verse 6: “Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! “
This was a song sung by Judean captives arriving in exile in Babylon. They were a broken people, humiliated and heartsick, yet their captors maliciously demand that they sing.
How do the brokenhearted sing when their whole world has fallen down around them? I think verse 6 is the answer. The writer speaks of Jerusalem not because it’s his home town, or the national Capital. Jerusalem was where the temple of the Lord was, where sacrifices were offered and the worship of God was centralized. I don’t think it’s a stretch to paraphrase verse 6 like this “Oh God, if you are not my highest Joy, if you are not the reason I can sing, then let me not sing about anything.”
This is how captives can sing in a foreign land. If God occupies His rightful place as our HIGHEST JOY, then we can sing even when all else fails us. That was something I desperately needed to see. It is easy to see where my joy is placed when everything seems to be going wrong. If my joy is highest in my family, my job, my church, my health – you name it, then when any of these fail (as they inevitably will) my joy fails. When my highest joy is in seeing, knowing and being known by God, then there is no circumstance which can alter that.
If you struggle like me, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. This is my goal and my desire. Frequently I need my brothers and sisters to faithfully direct my eyes back to Christ, to soak in his inexhaustible glory. Please help me. Please help those God has given you to minister to. Help those who are ready to hang up their harp for good to treasure God above all else. Help them sing even by the rivers of Babylonian captivity.