Hanging Harps: Hope on Hiatus

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

Though written thousands of years ago in a specific time and place, Psalm 137 resonates strongly with Christians of every age whose hope has been on hiatus, who are in danger of hanging up their harps.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps…How can we sing the Lord’s song while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may might hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. 

God’s people sang this mournful song in their exilic journey from their home to the foreign, strange land of Babylon. They had once been a jubilant, hopeful people, singing spontaneous songs of praise and gratitude on lyres and harps. They had known a home where they belonged, where they were understood, where life was as it was meant to be. However, through the complexities of their own sin and refusal to seek and serve God alone, they were led into a dark exile. Nothing was familiar, everything and everyone seemed harsh and unwelcoming. They were close to giving up, they wanted to hang up their harps.

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While Syrian believers can sing this Psalm with a depth of understanding foreign to most Christians, every Christian at some point or another can and should empathize with our exiled ancestors.

While we have never been to Eden, to the world of shalom for which we were tailor made, our hearts remember and long for the home country we have never seen. Our hearts hum the tune of hope and home, even though we can’t quite remember the words. Our disappointments and sense of foreignness remind us that we are indeed exiles on this earth, those looking for a better country, trying to find the way back to the home they never fully knew.

When a baby dies, when a spouse leaves, when a body betrays us in illness, when a child struggles to find friends, when the best the world has to offer leaves us hollow, we ask with the saints of old, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”

When physical hopes have continually been rearranged and/or ruined, it is natural to want to hang up our harps and to harden our hearts. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

But that is only half the story.

Desire coming is a tree of life.

God’s people hung on in exile through the dim and far-off promises of the prophets that God would come and bring them home, that while this foreign sojourn felt endless, God had plans of hope and a future. And when they came home, the harps and the hope that seemed futile were picked up and used to sing songs of joy and relief.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come, he will not delay,'”and “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39. 

As tempting as it is to hang up our harps and to leave our hope on hiatus, we must cling to the promises God has given us. Some days we may only be able to barely hum the tune, but we must ask our Father to keep our home song in our hearts as we pass through a hash and strange land.

As impossible as it may seem now, we will one day sing with the returned exiles a very different song.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dreamed; Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, likes streams in the desert, those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,  carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126. 

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