“How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not remember Jerusalem with great joy.” Psalm 137:4-6
In the year 587 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and destroyed Jerusalem. As a way of proving his power and might over the conquered Hebrews, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the Solomon’s Temple, the holy Temple where the God of Israel resided, be destroyed. The Babylonian troops eagerly carried out this order and completely demolished the entire temple. Then, Nebuchadnezzar began removing many of the Jews from the Promised Land and deported them to Babylon, where they would remain for roughly seventy years.
This psalm is referred to as the ‘Lament of the Exiles,’ as it was first penned during the period in which the Jews lived in exile in Babylon. The exiles were grieving the loss of Jerusalem, the city of God, and they vowed to never forget the holy city. However, it was not the loss of the physical buildings that make up the city that saddened the Jewish exiles, rather it was the spiritual loss that the destruction of Jerusalem represented. Jerusalem, and the Temple, represented a place where God dwelt among His people. It was a city that was filled with the spirit of the Lord; it was the city of God.
If God lived in Jerusalem, why did He allow it to be destroyed? For centuries leading up to the destruction, the people of Israel had not kept the commandments of God. Instead, they served pagan gods and allowed wicked kings to contaminate the country spiritually. God raised up numerous prophets, such as Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, to speak out against the wickedness of the people and to bring the people back to God. But the people would not heed the prophets’ warning. Instead, many of the prophets were killed, the wickedness increased, and God had to chastise His people.
Many people forget that God is a jealous God. He is absolutely holy, and He demands that we strive to be as well. When we stray from His commands, He will use any method necessary to correct us, and He does this because He loves us. The righteous remnant–those who had remained faithful to God during the time of wickedness in Israel–understood that the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent deportation to Babylon was God’s judgment, and they vowed to never forget the lessons learned from it. They would never again allow their people to wander so far away from God that He would to judge them in such a way. Though they were devastated and distraught, they vowed to never forget their spiritual heritage and homeland, even while they were living in a foreign land.
Spiritually speaking, our time here on Earth is not entirely unlike the experience of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. This is not our spiritual home, we are merely living here until we can be reunited with God in Heaven. We live in a world that does not understand us, our beliefs, or our values; people make no effort to hide their mocking of our beliefs. Despite all this, we must keep God’s commandments and remember the spiritual Jerusalem–the place where God lives among His people–until we are able to return there. But, unlike the the Jewish exiles, who lamented because they did not know when they would ever return to Jerusalem, we have been assured by Christ that the reunion will occur. We must remain patient and ever longing for that day until it comes.