"By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it."
Psalm 137: 1-2
The Israelites had been carried away to Babylon. They had been warned by countless prophets to turn away from evil, yet they did not listen. Thus, they ended up in captivity. The Babylonians requested a beautiful song of Zion, but they replied, how can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? (v 3) Were they being mocked? More than likely. Were the Babylonians wanting entertainment? Possibly. Or, did they sincerely want to listen to the Israelites sing? We may never know for sure.
The Israelites were known for their beautiful songs which we still sing today. How is it they could not sing in a foreign land? Many of the songs they sang were penned by David, who sang through his sorrow and came out victorious. Yet, they could not follow through. They sat in a beautiful land and wept. During their time of trouble, the songs should have brought them comfort and assurance. During their captivity, they could have led many Babylonians to follow God. Instead, they were silent.
Do you ever feel like you have lost your song?
Fast forward a few centuries to the early church. Persecution was initiated against Christians. There was such turmoil in that day. Christians were begin burned at the stake for entertainment and tortured beyond belief. Persecution had intensified through a man named Saul who later converted to Christ after an encounter with the Lord. It was during this time, Paul went from the persecutor to the persecuted. He seemed to be in chains more often than not. He was a pioneer for Christ, and perhaps the greatest missionary of all times. He tirelessly worked to spread the Gospel, bearing the marks of physical beatings and chains.
We read in Acts 16 where he was thrown into jail under false charges with a fellow missionary named Silas. The two were beaten with rods and placed in stocks in the inner prison. If there were ever two people who may have had reason to hang their harps upon the willow, it was Paul and Silas, but they did not!
Imagine for a moment being chained inside a dungeon after suffering a beating. How many of us would be quick to sing a praise song? Would we turn through our mind to our favorite page in the old hymnal? I hope so. The two men began to sing at midnight, and everything broke loose- literally! Suddenly there was a great earthquake and the foundation of the prison was shaken. The doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed.
The story does not end there. The prison guard was ready to kill himself, fearing all had escaped, but Paul assured him they were all there. What happened next was astounding. He ran to Paul and Silas and fell trembling before them and asked, "What must I do to be saved?"
Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." (v31)
The guard took them to his house, washed their stripes, and immediately he and his whole family were baptized. The two men were freed by the magistrate the next day.
What a contrast in these two stories!
Are we as committed as Paul and Silas or do we hang our harps when times are tough?
The early church pressed through turmoil to spread the Gospel. Even when colleagues were martyred, it didn't stop them from sharing the story of Christ. Are we willing to go that far, or do we complain when we stub our toe? Do we sit back and stay quiet when we should sing and proclaim the Lord to others?
It seems that our world is full of Christians who are a far cry from the fervency of the early church. We argue and bicker over things that are often silly or irrelevant to the cause of Christ. We live in a world where compassion is felt, but rarely acted upon- where many have a desire to change the world, but do little- where most Christians would love to see people saved, but we never share the Gospel. Could it be that we are not singing the Lord's song because we are too consumed with our own problems?
The children of Israel were sitting in a beautiful land by a peaceful river and yet couldn't find their song- Paul was bloody and chained and he sang through his pain. To sing the Lord's song through brokenness is perhaps the greatest testimony of the love of God.
Lord, help me to be as Paul. I want to find a song to sing no matter the circumstances.