After relating the anguish of lingering consequences in Psalm 137:1–3, the writer does a little self-analysis. His perspective shifts from looking outward to searching within. He asks a reasonable question in verse 4: “How can we sing the LORD‘s song in a foreign land?”
The question touches on two issues. First, the Jews understood their occupation of Canaan as a necessary part of God’s covenant with Abraham. How could they legitimately sing about the faithfulness of God if their covenant no longer existed? But they failed to understand that their exile was temporary; seventy years, as predicted. God had said all along that their hold on the land depended upon their obedience (Deuteronomy 28). So, to answer their question, “Keep My laws, and I’ll restore your land to you.”
The second issue has to do with sincerity. Genuine singing is spontaneous; it cannot be forced. Nor will it joyfully burst forth from a rebellious heart or a guilty conscience. The captive Jews couldn’t sing for joy naturally; they needed supernatural help. The same is true of all people. We are totally unable to experience joy as long as we’re enslaved to sin. But when freed by the power of Christ . . .
Paul and Silas were chained in the Philippian jail, but the Christian melodies and songs rang out nonetheless. Physically, they were captives; spiritually, however, they were free. Consequently, they could sincerely sing with joy despite their dismal surroundings (Acts 16:25–26).
Psalm 137 continues with a refusal to give up hope. While their chastisement was severe, the composer would not stop trusting that God would fulfill His promises. With the zeal of a Jewish patriot, the psalmist declares his devotion to his Lord and to the capital city of his homeland, the land unconditionally promised to Abraham’s Hebrew descendants.
How can we sing the LORD‘s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy. (137:4–6)
Notice that the pronouns change from “we” and “our” to “I” and “my.” He says that he will never, ever forget the blessings and benefits of being a citizen of Judah. He says that his song would be forever silenced—he would not skillfully play (“my right hand”) or spontaneously sing (“my tongue”)—should he forget the marvelous benefits of home. While the composer speaks for himself, let us not forget that he wrote this hymn to be sung by the faithful of Judah. As they joined their voices, each person pledged to remember God’s promise regardless of the circumstances.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, nothing can break your bond with God (John 10:28–29; Romans 8:28–39; 2 Timothy 1:12). The lingering consequences of wrongdoing can, however, cause you to feel like God has abandoned you. The people of Judah refused to accept this falsehood and encouraged themselves with the promises of God. They focused on His unfailing goodness despite their faltering devotion.
We can’t experience joy as long as we're enslaved to sin. But the power of Christ can totally free us.— Charles R. Swindoll Tweet This
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind (Brentwood, Tenn.: Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved. Used by permission.