1 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!
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!
Continuing our journey through some lament psalms we come to a particularly interesting category of lament psalms called community laments. Individual lament looks at individual problems where the community laments approach God from the standpoint of a group of people. The difference is that the psalmist intends on voicing the psalm as a representative of his people. Sins may be involved (aren’t they always ;)) but it is the sins of the people (i.e., collective disobedience) rather than specific sins of a person.
This particular psalm is voiced from the context of Babylonian captivity (i.e., Exile) and comes to us without a specified author. Babylon took many of the people of Israel away (hence Exile) in the sixth century BCE and many of the Israelites would not return for decades (70 years?). This particular season brought many Israelites to two recognitions: 1) the brevity of their communal sin and 2) their dependence should not be in their own ability to write history but in the one who created it.
Notice in this Psalm the community is weeping and longs to return to Zion, the holy city. They find that they have to endure the context they are in but their understanding is that “this world is not their home” and Zion is the place they need to be both physically but ultimately, spiritually. Notice that they can’t even sing the “Lord’s song” in a land where the song is not recognized (v. 4). This land that they are in is filled with injustice as implied in verses 8-9 is that their little ones were dashed against rocks. Whether that’s literal or figurative does not take away from the fact that they are experiencing a communal low.
So what is their solution? Trust in God that he will repay their enemies for evil and to remind themselves of the hope that is protected in the memory of Jerusalem, their highest joy. I am reminded how important this psalm is as we find ourselves in post-election America. I will not go far as to say the U.S. is Babylon (some make a strong case for this) but I also am reminded that our hopes, our dreams, our greatest reality can never be in a human institution. The monarchy of Israel was never God’s intention nor is it his intention to wield the wills of his kingdom through the United States of America or any other human institution.
There is a sense where we all struggle with singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. We all are living in tents and our temples have yet to be built. We read Scripture that reminds us (like Zion reminded the Psalmist) of better things. Our hope does not lie in parties, partisanship or policies. Our hope lies in the Kingdom of God. It always has, it always will.
- What are some things your church community could possibly lament about?
- Why is it important to stick to the kingdom of God rather than human institutions?
- Why is it so hard to have a kingdom-vision for your community rather than a democratic, republican or whatever vision?
 Was this psalm written pre-Exile anticipating Babylonian captivity or was it post-Exile written during the experience of Exile? Not sure. In the end it does not matter as it seems the point is clear that the captivity was a cause to approach God and make their requests made known to him.