Read: Psalm 137
This Psalm is sad. And difficult. In this small space I won’t attempt to explain it in any complete way… but here we go with a few take-aways for a brief devotional.
1. The Israelites were exiled from their home, made to live in a pagan land and mocked by pagan captors when told to sing songs of “Zion.” These songs weren’t just catchy tunes from their old stomping grounds. These would have been celebratory songs of their God and His goodness and their identity as His people. Their refusal to sing was emotional but it was also an act to stand for what they believed; to honor their God, and not dishonor Him. As Christians, there will be times when we aren’t compatible with the world around us. We are called to be in the world as God’s light, but we are not to be of the world.
2. It’s hard to be joyful or act joyfully when you’re separated from the source of your joy – like these exiles. Maybe you’ve found yourself a similar situation, either through circumstances or a bad choice, and you now feel isolated and far from God. If you’ve lost your job, or a relationship has gone south, or you’ve received a phone call with bad news… it can feel like you’re in exile from the presence of God. Praising God or living joyfully can seem impossible. But continuing to honor God, live for Him and honestly cry out to Him, is a choice that God in turn honors. He offers the only unchanging relationship where you can be completely authentic and know you will be loved.
3. Verses 8-9 are hard to read. Verse 9 is horrific. I struggle with the fact that this is in the Bible. This writer, this one who was among God’s chosen people, wants retribution and he’s brutally honest about it. It carries a sort-of shock factor. But maybe this was part of the purpose. Often we sugarcoat the consequence of sin. Sin is ugly, always destructive, never isolated to one person’s life and ultimately leads to the horror of eternal separation from God (which is separation from all good). As we consider our lives, our nation, our choices… are we as horrified at the sin we harbor? And, as God’s people, when we witness (or are victims of) the horror, how do we respond? The Psalmist here, as extreme as his words are, does not say he plans to take action and inflict this wrath himself, but he cries out to God. Vengeance is rightfully left with God (see Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Romans 12:18-19), and as harsh as his words are, this is where he leaves it.
The truth is, ultimately, we will not find our joy in trying to mimic and look like this world, nor in self-exile from God, nor through our own vengeance on those who have wronged us. We will find our joy in finding our identity in God, seeking Him regardless of how we feel, and trusting Him with the outcome of our lives and the lives of others.
God, some of what I read in Your Word is hard and disturbing, like the final words of the person who wrote this Psalm. Thank you for being an unchanging God and for asking me to trust in you, not in my own, changing heart and circumstances.