By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord‘s song
in a foreign land?
This is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture, so much so that it became part of a popular Broadway show. The melancholy nature of this Psalm was perfectly suited to be set to music and then inserted into the Last Supper scene of “Godspell,” an early-1970s Broadway interpretation of the ministry of Jesus. A number of people have not liked that musical because it seems to take the life of Christ lightly. Others have loved it, in part because of scenes like the one I mentioned.
During the scene, Jesus clearly knows that this is the last time He will spend time with His followers before the crucifixion. So at the Last Supper, while the song “On the Willows” is playing, He goes to each disciple and greets them in a way that is special to each one. It’s at the same time uplifting and heartbreaking because we know what’s coming.
The reason that “On the Willows” is so appropriate is that it exactly conveys a sense of sadness and melancholy that is appropriate to the moment. And in the context of the Psalm, the writer recalls the sadness that the Children of Israel experienced when they were dragged into captivity in Babylon. There, their new masters would laugh and say, “Sing us one of the songs from your country,” and then ridicule them as they sang. The writer correctly says that the songs they would sing are the very Psalms we read from the Bible. And he says, “How can we sing those songs to godless people in a foreign land?”
Sometimes in life, things just don’t make sense. And it’s OK to feel downcast when things simply aren’t right. We are, after all, human beings created by God to have human emotions. Sadness is one of those, and so you shouldn’t feel bad when you are surrounded by tough times (or even tough people).
Just be sure you don’t let the sadness lead you into despair. In 2 Corinthians 4:8 we are told that, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.” (NIV) Every one of us will experience times when we feel like weeping. But the Lord wants us to remember that He’s always there for us to comfort us and dry our eyes.
Today, commit all of your problems to the Lord and pray that He will bring you joy in the midst of any trial.
Reflection copyright © 2017 Doug DeBolt.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.