Do We Lament at the Streams of Babylon?

“At the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we thought of Zion. On the poplar trees there we hung up our lyres.” -Ps. 137. 1-2

Deeply ingrained in the hearts of Jews in the Babylonian exile of 6th century B.C. were longings after the glory of Zion.

Though the prophets had warned them while they were still in the Land, and though they had resisted the word of repentance and the call to justice before God, the judgement of exile revealed that there was something of a yearning for God underneath the surface of their nationhood. Though they were apostate and under judgement, the residue of Abrahamic faith remained, and the chastisement of the Lord caused it to come to the surface afresh.

Psalm 137 lets us recognize how the exiled community, separated from the place of the presence of God, thinks wistfully and longingly of Zion. Jerusalem is the “highest of all joys” (v. 6). Yet the lamentation supersedes all reminiscence. The community, weeping and pining away in anxiety, is described impressively. Even in a faraway place it can only swear new fidelity to Jerusalem (vv. 5f.) and wish for the destruction of the enemies.

…. Here is it worth noting that songs of Zion (v. 3) according to the understanding of the psalm are not songs in praise of Zion but “Yahweh songs” (v. 4), psalms in which first and last all singing, praying, and glorifying is applied to the God of Israel.

The Christian community- in situations of oppression and sadness- will take up the lament of Israel….

(PSALMS: A Continental Commentary Vol. 2, Hans Joachim-Kraus; Fortress Press, 1993, p. 504)

For the fickle and faithless members of exiled Israel, their longing for Zion was merely a longing for security and prosperity, driven by their own self-preservation and fear. But for that remnant of Jews who were required to worship at the streams of Babylon, their longing for Zion had everything to do with their desire to be in the place where God Himself could be most supremely discovered and glorified. To serve Him outside of the place of His intention was a great grief to them, and though they sought to remain in the ancient line of faith, something on their insides pined and panted after the full expression of God’s ultimate purpose.

The apostle Paul described the indwelling Spirit as a “deposit” of the fuller reality which is to come. In a real sense, a longing for Zion in all its eschatological splendor has been placed on the inside of us, but we are still being required to meet with Him at the “streams of Babylon,” for we only see in part until the day when He will be made fully known.

Do we lament at the streams of Babylon, or are we all too at home in the foreign lands of unfulfilled prophetic vision? Do we lament over the sin in the world, the lostness of men, and the disparaging condition of the Church in these days? If we have allowed the fire to grow dim in our lives, do we lament when we have ceased to yearn for His presence, grown cold towards the Scriptures, and lost all savor for the place of prayer? Do we lament, or do we jog along with the world, blinded by frivolity and quite at home with a life lived beneath the glory of God?

May we be found in the vein of that remnant of old, who might be found at “a faraway place,” but who also could be found swearing “new fidelity to Jerusalem,” and to the One who will soon establish it in righteousness and peace, and rule forever therein. May we weep and pray for the full glory of Zion, that we may also take our “lyres” from the trees and sing unto the Lord a new song of most high praise.

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