Don’t Hang Up Your Harps on the Willows and; don’t Surrender!

 Psalm 137:1-6Sunset at the Pool When you hear the word willow, you probably think of Weeping Willows in England or wherever you may be familiar with them, but there are more than 350 known species of willow and many hybrids of those species. Babylon was full of Willows. The said rivers and canals of Babylon led to it being called in Scriptures the “Valley of Willows”; for so the words in Isaiah 15:7 which is translated in other texts as “the brook of the willows seem to say. The weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is easily identified by its long, graceful, cascading branches and slender, silvery leaves. It has been identified in various cultural contexts with deep human emotions. These words in Psalm 137 come from a nation of people who have been vanquished by the armies of the Babylonian empire. Their beloved and holy city Jerusalem has been sacked and set aflame. The beautiful temple that was built by King Solomon has been desecrated and left in ruins. And the once proud nation of Israel has been placed in chains and marched away as slaves into a strange and foreign land. The very people who were known throughout the world for their beautiful songs of worship to the God of their salvation, have been reduced to listening to the taunts and ridicules of their captors. The Babylonians had listened carefully to Israel’s songs of praise as they studied their enemy. They heard them as they sang one of the psalms of David. They listened as the Israelites sang: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” They listened and they remembered. And in celebration of their great victory over Israel these captors mocked the people of God with a cruel request. “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” And the people of God replied with a question; a question that I believe was directed more to themselves than to their captors: “How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?“ This sad account of the people of God finds them at one of the lowest points in their rich history. I would like to suggest to you that upon a closer examination, there is a message of hope hidden in the text. The psalmist said: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song.” The psalmist records the question: “How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?“ I want to encourage us by saying: “Don’t Hang Up Your Harps and Don’t Stop Singing.” 1. DON’T STOP SERVING. First of all, I need you to hear me when I say DON’T STOP SERVING. In verse 2 we read, “We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.” The words of the psalmist creates for us a very visual image of weeping saints standing at the edge of the river in the midst of weeping willow trees. Their heads were hung in shame and defeat, and he says “there they hanged their harps.” It was there at the river’s edge among the willows, in a mood of spiritual dejection and defiance that they decided to hang up their instruments of music and worship. Those who made this decision were people like us when we are in big trouble.  They were the music makers who played for the singers and aided the worship in the temple. They had once provided a valuable service to people of God and the work of the Lord. Two things caught my attention in the text and they both speak of a future hope: A. Instinctively, these prisoners brought their harps with them on their march into captivity. So somewhere in the back of their minds, even though their city and their homes had been destroyed, even though they were now in chains being led away into a strange land, they remained hopeful that the time would come when they would be able to play the Lord’s songs once more. Even in times of sorrow and mourning God will give you a ray of hope. B. Somewhere along their journey the daily diet of the enemy’s verbal assaults and insults against the name of the most high God, Jehovah took its toll. And in response to the taunts of their captors these minstrels decided to hang up their instruments of music. But I noticed that they did not destroy their harps or throw them away, they hung them up. Again, somewhere in the back of their minds was a flicker of hope that there would come a time that they would be able to pick up their harps and play the Lord’s songs once again. Disasters and calmity especially death has a way of crashing into your life, catching you off guard and causing such a disruption that your initial reaction is to pack it in and quit – but don’t do it. These servants may have hung up their harps, but they never intended to stop serving. Their harps may have been silent for a season, but they left the door open for the time when they would be able to make music in the service of the Lord. God will always leave the door of opportunity open for service, even to the bereaved and those in pain. So “Don’t Stop Serving.” King Solomon wrote these words of wisdom: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” He went on to say, there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Eccl.3:1,4) This may be your season to weep and to mourn, but the time will come when you will laugh and dance again. So “Don’t Stop Serving.” You will find out that sometimes you will have to serve even while you are weeping, even while you are hurting, when you’re not feeling your best. But child of God “Don’t Stop Serving.” 2. DON’T STOP SINGING. Then in verse 4 we hear the words of the singers. They asked a question both of their captors and themselves. “How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?” The request of their captors was as unreasonable as it was insulting. How could they who had reduced us to slavery, and dragged us in chains from our own beautiful land and privileges, expect us to sing one of our sacred songs to please them, who were enemies both to us and to our God? And how could they now expect laughter and entertainment from people in a state of poverty and oppression? The songs required of the singers were songs that were appointed by God, and were to be sung only to His honour and in His service. They were not even Israel’s songs; they were the Lord’s songs. How then could they be sung in a strange land, for the benefit of a strange people who were enemies of God? Like most of us in times of trouble, these singers had no choice in the matter and responded with their silence. But while they refused to sing in a strange land and for the benefit of an unworthy audience they did not declare that would never sing again. So often when trouble shows up he also comes to steal your song. And for the child of God, your song is the source of your praise. Your song is the verbal expression of your joy and connectedness to God. When you sing the Lord’s songs those around you are offered a glimpse into the relationship – the love affair if you will, between the Creator and His creatures. Like Israel, our enemy also comes to taunt us at times of difficulty. Unlike the Israelites, who had no choice in the matter, when taunted by the enemy to sing, you do have a choice. Trouble may have darkened your door, but you still have choice in the matter. You may be still shedding tears of sorrow, but even now, you have a choice in the matter. Israel’s enemy was Babylon, our enemy is Death and evil. And like the land of Babylon, Death is a strange land. Death is foreign for people who were created to live forever. Like Babylon Death has invaded our lives, taken our loved one, disrupted our families, and now taunts us with the questions, “Where is your God now? What happened to your songs of praise?” Israel’s silence was a form of protest and resistance. But our silence would be a victory for the enemy. So “Don’t Stop Singing.” Israel could not sing because their joy had been destroyed. They could not sing because they were out of their element. They were captives in a strange land. And captivity has a way of paralyzing both the hand and the mouth. The minstrels could not play, and the singers could not sing. But Nehemiah 8:10 reminds us “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Singing stirs up the joy that is in you, the Lord’s joy! So “Don’t Stop Singing.” 3. DON’T FORGET YOUR SAVIOR. So those of you who are in trouble and experiencing challenges, “Don’t Stop Serving,” and those of you who are the singers, “Don’t Stop Singing.” Then in verses 5 and 6 we hear the resolve of the Israelites. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” The children of Israel declared that even though their harps were hanging and silent, they had not forgotten how to play and serve God. Even though Jerusalem lie in ruins they would not forget her joys and her glory. If they did forget or if they ever played for the heathens, “then let me lose my skill in the use of my harp.” The singer vowed that should he ever forget the holy city Jerusalem and what it represented to the people of God; “let me lose my voice, and all its powers of melody and praise.” They were devoted to Jerusalem and vowed never to forget her. If only Israel had been as devoted to LORD! In the midst of their calamity and suffering Israel had the presence of mind to remember. They remembered and vowed never to forget Jerusalem. In the midst of your sorrow and suffering, I want to remind you, “Don’t Forget Your Saviour.” Israel was admirable in their vows to remember, but they remembered the wrong thing! They remembered Jerusalem, but they had forgotten God. They had forgotten the One Who had brought them not over the Red Sea, but through the Red Sea and out of the wilderness. They were in captivity because they refused to remember their covenant relationship with the God of their fathers. Death and troubles may have thrown you into a season of mourning, but “Don’t Forget Your Saviour.” The tears may be flowing; your heart may be breaking, but “Don’t Forget Your Saviour.” “Don’t Forget Your Saviour” and what He accomplished on the cross at a hellish hill called Calvary. Through your pain and tears remember that He died a sacrificial and substitutionary death to cleanse us from our sins and purchase us back our freedom. Because of their sin and disobedience Israel’s enemy was allowed to defeat and enslave them. But I need you to remember that your Saviour has already conquered and defeated your enemy. So – do not  hang up your harps because there is yet work to do. Psalm 100:2a speaks to the workers, the music makers: “Serve the LORD with gladness…” DON’T STOP SERVING. The b clause of that same verse speaks to the singers: “…Come before His presence with singing.” DON’T STOP SINGING. In Psalm 103:2-5 we read: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” DON’T FORGET YOUR SAVIOR.

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