This psalm seems to have been written during the Babylonian captivity. The psalmist laments collectively with his people, who have been taken captive. The enemy taunts them, knowing that they are broken in spirit and can’t even bring themselves to sing the happy songs of Zion. For my American audience: imagine if the United States were overrun by Islamic State, destroyed our homes, took over buildings, destroyed churches and other places of worship, and then enslaved us. Imagine if they started taunting us saying, “Hey, Americans! How does that old song of yours go? ‘Ohhh say can you see…’ Isn’t that how it starts? What’s the matter, don’t you feel like singing?” This is the state in which the Babylonian captives found themselves. Nevertheless, the psalmists always turned their attention to God and found strength in their time of need.
But take it to a personal level for a moment. There are times when, for whatever reason, we might find ourselves taunted by the enemy of souls. We become sad, downcast. And we should be allowed to feel those emotions. But then, just as the psalmists looked to Yahweh their God, so also do we look to Him for strength in our time of need. We come boldly before His throne to receive that grace. He gives us strength because He doesn’t want us to wallow in self pity forever. We’re allowed to feel, just not allowed to become crippled by it. It’s fine to be sad and to cry and even wail or become completely crushed and crestfallen. Yet He will not leave us so. He heals and restores. He even settles the score with those who have inflicted the pain–if we will but leave justice in His hands.
Are you there right now? Do you feel the sting of the Babylonian taunts? Are there people who say things that sound so convincing, yet you know they speak as the world speaks? For the world speaks a different language than that of Zion. The world speaks a condemnatory message filled with hopelessness: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” The world offers a false hope pinned squarely on idealistic humanism, to which not everyone can attain. But the language of Zion brings hope and healing: “Such were some of you.” Did you catch that word “were?” It’s past tense. Even if we are currently held captive in the world, we are not the slaves of the world. We’re both His freedmen and His servants! In Christ we are no longer what we once were and we’re becoming more and more what we are: children of God. And if Christ lives in us, then we’ll change from one glory to the next. And in eternity, a fortune that makes all the world’s wealth look like plastic ware. “The world and its desires are passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:17).
Take heart in your sorrow. Though things are difficult, God will bring about justice for the oppressed who trust in Him.