‘How shall we sing a song of God in a strange land?’ (4)
By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. (Ps. 137:1)
We may not remember Zion, but having often sung the 1972 reggae song made famous by Bob Marley and the Melodians, this lament of a people in exile will not be too far from the surface. To the psalm singer, however, the next verse is the one that hits home:
On the willows there we hung up our harps. For our captors asked us for songs and our tormentors called for mirth: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing a song of God in a strange land?
Living in isolation under the ravages of the 2020 pandemic is just as strange, like living as captive in enemy territory. However, hanging up the harp is decidedly not the way to go. Quite the opposite.
You would think that the singing of songs would be a powerful feature of grief and remembrance in exile. Some of our folk favourites are songs of people in another land, from the more hearty Botany Bay to a plaintive Isle of Innisfree (Dick Farrely, 1950), an oft-recorded song about Irish emigrants:
And when the moonlight creeps across the rooftops of this great city, wondrous though it be / I scarcely feel its wonder or its laughter; I’m once again back home in Innisfree.
In Babylon, it seems the Israelites could not muster the inspiration. Was it just to deny the captors? It may have sprung from an anger so strong as to banish all thought of song, generating vicious thoughts against the captors and their children. (v. 9)
We may wish to dismiss this sting in the tail as classic outdated Old Testament vengeance; however it does give us a glimpse of what anger can do and how hard it is to manage. Deal with it we must if society is to avoid such dominoes of damage.