How Shall We Sing the Lord‘s Song?
In 586 BCE, Judah was taken captive to Babylon. Losing their homeland and temple was a traumatic experience for the Israelites. The Babylonians added insult to injury by mockingly requesting that they sing songs of Zion as the Israelites struggled to learn to worship God in a foreign land without the benefit of the temple.
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,
let my right hand forget its skill!
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!
“In my Babylonian moods keep the vision of Jerusalem alive in my heart and teach me new songs of praise.”
–Eugene H. Peterson, Praying with the Psalms: A Year of Daily Prayers and Reflections on the Words of David
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the 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!
An interesting application on v. 9 comes from the Rule of St. Benedict. He advises his monks to capture their evil thoughts, which are the conception of sin, and dash them against the rock of Christ before they can grow up.
In 1937 Stephen Vincent Benet published a post-apocalyptic short story called “By the Waters of Babylon.” It is one of my favorites! I could tell you a bit about it, but it is better that you just jump in and figure it out as you read! Click HERE to read it for yourself!
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Psalm 138 (ESV)
Give Thanks to the Lord
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
3 On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased.
4 All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
5 and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
It is one of the joys of my marriage that my husband, David, knows countless hymns by heart and is often to be heard singing them. In fact, the t-shirt pictured above was given to him for that very reason!
6 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
Fear not that the whirlwind will carry you hence,
Nor wait for its onslaught in breathless suspense,
Nor shrink from the blight of the terrible hail,
But pass through the edge to the heart of the tale,
For there is a shelter, sunlighted and warm,
And Faith sees her God through the eye of the storm.
The passionate tempest with rush and wild roar
And threatenings of evil may beat on the shore,
The waves may be mountains, the fields battle plains,
And the earth be immersed in a deluge of rains,
Yet, the soul, stayed on God, may sing bravely its psalm,
For the heart of the storm is the center of calm.
Let hope be not quenched in the blackness of night,
Though the cyclone awhile may have blotted the light,
For behind the great darkness the stars ever shine,
And the light of God’s heavens, His love will make thine,
Let no gloom dim your eyes, but uplift them on high
To the face of your God and the blue of His sky.
The storm is your shelter from danger and sin,
And God Himself takes you for safety within;
The tempest with Him passes into deep calm,
And the roar of the winds is the sound of a psalm.
Be glad and serene when the tempest clouds form;
God smiles on His child in the eye of the storm.
–from Streams in the Desert, April 23
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
This last verse is a prayer I have uttered a thousand times. I pray it for myself, of course, but I also substitute the name of my husband as the object of the preposition in the first line, or of my children, or of someone who is heavy on my heart. And I always add a “Thank you that you” at the beginning of line 3. I can pray this with utter confidence because the Lord is utterly trustworthy!
A musical rendition of Psalm 138. If you listen to this song several times, you will be well on your way to knowing this wonderful psalm by heart! Click HERE to start hiding God’s word in your heart!