Psalm 137

Friday 26 March 2021

Coming from a different culture and continent, my understanding of Psalm 137 is a little different from someone born and bred in the UK. Although I wasn’t dragged here after a horrendous war and forced to adapt to the local culture and be restricted to what I can do or can’t do, I have a little understanding about living in a ‘strange’ land. My first year was filled with doubts about my choice to study in England. I felt alone, did not have anyone to confide in, no support structure at all. My way of life was so different from the ‘locals’. I was invited to pubs, clubs, parties but it just wasn’t my scene. Even in church, I felt a stranger. People were so friendly but there was a distance that did not exist in my hometown church. The family atmosphere was missing.

The Jews in exile in Babylon were taken by force. The war lasted years, 2 defeats by the Babylonians and ultimately the destruction of their beloved Temple, the home of God on earth. The remnants scattered, held captive or were enslaved. This psalm describes the devastating feeling of being an alien in a place where nothing is ‘right’. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? It’s not the fact that they lost their voice or hymn book. They lost their hope, their identity, their lifestyle, family. The reason for their joy, their life in God’s presence. At the end of this psalm, the Psalmist expresses a very strong expression of emotional pain and trauma. ‘Happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. This is how strong the feeling of being kept away from God’s presence should feel like. We are children of the Most High. Yet, we live in a land that does not follow God’s ways. We should feel like these Jews who were taken away from their Temple, aliens in a strange land.

1Peter 2:11 Peter describes the church as foreigners and exiles. In the whole letter Peter describes how we should live in this foreign land. How we should conduct ourselves in a ‘strange’ land, not being tempted to conform with the ways of the land but to follow God’s way.

This was the way in Babylon, this was the way after the event of the cross and this is the way today. We are all living in an environment that has significant influences on our way of living. Our choices in life are tainted by this environment. How we set our goals, our future and our families futures are all influenced by this environment. Yet, we are called to be set apart! We are to stick diligently to God’s way. It’s the only path to joy, peace and everlasting life. I have always loved the song by Boney M, ‘By the rivers of Babylonian’. The only way you can understand the full impact of this psalm is if you truly feel an alien in a strange land.


“This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

Winston Churchill
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