Hundreds of foreign civilians have been captured and mistreated by Iraqi insurgents since 2004. What’s amazing is that the brutalizing of hostages in Iraq (formerly Babylon) is as ancient as the water in the ocean.
In 586 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah. Jerusalem, also known as Zion, for Jews the most holy place in the world, was totally ruined. Solomon’s Temple, the pride and glory of Israel for almost 400 years, was reduced to rubble. The last king of Judah was captured, blinded, and taken in chains to Babylon with 10,000 prisoners. The rest of their nation was scattered to live in diaspora. And according to an anonymous eyewitness in a poem penned after their exile, they were devastated by their captivity (Ps. 137:1-4).
These sad words speak of a silent resolution to succumb in a crisis and surrender in a prevailing storm. The Hebrews in Babylon resigned themselves to their situation, even though God told them through Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and reiterated by Daniel, that their exile would last 70 years. They had lost faith in God’s promise and ceased to praise Him when they refused to sing the songs of the Lord “in a foreign land.” They, who were known for their musical abilities, the Old Testament abounding with references to their singing, had a tradition of praising the Lord with psaltery, harp, stringed instruments, and organs. In fact, the very meaning of the name Judah is “praise.”
Undoubtedly their captors heard of their musical talents and demanded songs. But the Hebrews retired their instruments of praise and refused to sing, saying, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” Perhaps they thought it irreverent, indecent, even blasphemous to sing the Lord’s songs to drunken pagans for their “mirth” or entertainment.
But isn’t it to such people, in such places where God’s people are exiled, that they should sing the Lord’s songs with fervor and passion? Couldn’t their exile have been part of God’s method of spreading His love and grace among a nation that would not otherwise know Him? What if God permitted them to be carried to strange and foreign lands for the sole purpose of singing His songs? Yet they passed up the opportunity to make a difference when they hung up their harps and refused to sing the Lord’s songs.
Daniel was a captive in Babylon, yet, despite a royal edict, he prayed, as was his custom; and his continuous praise shut the mouths of hungry lions. Paul and Silas were in prison, yet they prayed and sang praises unto God in the hearing of the guards and the other prisoners. Jesus no doubt sang many times. Ellen White wrote about it in The Desire of Ages. But there’s only one specific record of Him singing, on the night He was betrayed (before the agony in Gethsemane, the scourging, the cross, and the grave) at the Lord’s Supper, where “when they had sung a hymn, they [Jesus and His disciples] went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt. 26:30).
From heaven Jesus came to show “the way,” and His own people rejected Him in that strange and foreign land; but He sang the Lord’s song. His disciples, whom He loved with an everlasting love, betrayed, denied, and abandoned Him; but He sang the Lord’s song. His world was shattered, His cause seemed defeated, and it appeared as if evil would win the final victory; but He sang the Lord’s song. He sang His Father’s song because He knew there’s extraordinary, supernatural, unconventional power when we praise God.
The strangeness of the land is no excuse for silencing the Lord’s song. For we will never be in any place on earth where adversities and overwhelming challenges are absent. So if and when you find yourself in the strange land of terminal illness or the desert land of a dying church, don’t hang up your harp! If you find yourself by rivers of confusion and conflict regarding issues challenging our church today, don’t hang up your harp on the willows of pride or anger, with only the winds of despair blowing through its strings. Praise God in joyful song. Deliverance always comes as we sing the Lord’s song.