Survival in a Foreign Land

Today's Bible reading: Psalm 137:1-6

The Babylonian captivity was a period in which the hopes and claims of God's people were put to the test.  Apart from the question whether God still cared for Israel … there was the basic question of whether God could even be with the people in their captivity.  Could a nation uprooted from the holy land - and separated from all its holy places - still remain God's holy people?  The basic question is this: Could Yahweh - who had been defeated in battle by Marduk, the god of Babylon - still have any power?

Long before this captivity, the prophets had repeatedly stressed that God was in control of all history … and that His realm was not simply Israel.  The prophets who had spoken out before the exile had also warned of the time when God would again lead His people back to a desert experience.  And wasn't the time of wandering in the wilderness a time when God was most close … when He showed His power most clearly?


Actually, isn’t that often true for us as well.  Sometime we don’t sense God’s presence when we are going through our own desertsour own trialsour own difficulties.  As a matter of fact we may not feel like God is with us at all.  But He is … and sometimes it is only in retrospect that we realize this fully.  This is also why, between trusting our own feelings and trusting God’s Word, we always trust God’s WordOur feelings come and go … often quite arbitrarily.  We may find ourselves up or down - going from one extreme to the other - over the course of only a few hours.  But regardless of the way we feel, God’s Word is always trueand He is always true to His promises.  This is the basis of our faith and our Christian hope.

Psalm 137 captures some of the despair that God’s people were feeling.  Its opening verses read: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our lyres.  For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!  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!”

So there is the question: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  Could the captives do more than hang their lyres from the willow branches along Babylon’s streams and weep over the memory of Jerusalem's past glories?  This, then turns our attention to the book of Daniel … the story of one young man who - with some friends - demonstrated that one could still worship God in a foreign, “unclean” land.   Daniel does not defile himself with unclean foods … nor does he make himself unclean with the idolatry.  By rescuing three young Israelites from the fiery furnace and Daniel from the lion’s den, God shows that He has lost none of His old power, demonstrated long ago in the Exodus.

Prayer: O Lord, as we too are exiles in this ungodly world, teach us to mourn for our sins.  Give us the gift of repentance, so that we may escape the judgement we deserve.  Deliver us from our captivity to sin, through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen