Far from home, Psalm 43

Most scholars believe that Psalm 43 belongs with Psalm 42. In The Literary Study Bible ESV, editors Ryken and Ryken write: “The case is overwhelming that these two poems actually constitute a single worship psalm” (p. 792). They point out how the combined psalms express the longing of an exile to return to worship God in his own land.

Can we identify with this exile? Although you (like me) probably never were banished or taken by force from your own country, we’re far from our real home. If we’re Christians, our home is in heaven.

The Bible tells us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

While we climb the mountains and valleys of this world, anticipating that great and final homecoming, we suffer in many ways. Sometimes others manipulate or oppress so severely that we feel God has rejected us (Psalm 43:1 & 2, ESV):

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?

Despite feeling rejected by God, the psalmist still puts his trust in him. He is the One in whom we take refuge. He is the One whose guidance we seek (verse 3, ESV):

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!

While we live far from home, we can ask God to split this world’s darkness with his light and to shatter deceitful lies with his truth. We can beg for his guiding light and trustworthy truth to bring us to God, our dwelling place. Led by God’s light and truth, we can truly worship (verse 4, ESV):

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

We can worship and praise God with joy. We can call our downcast soul to task (verse 5, ESV):

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

Our lives are filled with physical and emotional turmoil. Why should that surprise us? Jesus warned, “In this world you will have tribulation,” but he didn’t end there. He added, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Put your hope in God. You will again praise him, for he is your salvation and your God!
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Weeping in Exile, Psalm 137

Psalm 137 is a sad dirge that records the Israelites’ lament in exile. They had been torn from their homes, their infants ripped from their arms; they had watched in horror as those homes were torched and those babies were dashed against stones.

After that horrible trauma, their captors had the audacity to taunt them, asking them to sing a song of Zion. The reader can imagine the captives, shoved and stumbling along, finally allowed to sit when they reach a Babylonian river. There the captors sit back and relax, but the captives sit down and mourn (Psalm 137:1-3, ESV):

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!”

Forced to sing a song of Zion for their captors, the Israelites determined never to use those desecrated harps again and left them hanging on the branches of the Babylonion willows beside those Babylonian waters.

Israel had been sent into exile as punishment for national sin. The next few verses seem to indicate not only a feeling of national loyalty, but also a renewed awareness that God must be their highest joy (4-6):

How shall we sing the LORD’s song
   in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
   above my highest joy!

The Psalm concludes with an imprecation against the captors who destroyed the Israelites’ city and children (7-9):

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
   down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
   blessed shall he be who repays you
   with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
   and dashes them against the rock!

What can we learn from this imprecatory lament? Certainly we are reminded that sin will be punished. We are also reminded that God must be our chief delight, a concept beautifully conveyed in the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

We can also feel empathy with the persecuted church in every age, including our own, which has seen the most martyrs of any time in history. We can know that all the anti-Christian forces that array themselves against the Most High will be surely and thoroughly brought down.

There may be ways that we feel as if we are in exile; that we feel as if our captors have taunted us and demanded a song. Psalm 137 reminds us that Israel’s exile eventually ended and ours will, too.

Although the Israelites were so certain they would never again sing that they left their harps hanging on willow branches, a remnant was restored to their own land. They once again dwelled in Jerusalem; they again sang the songs of Zion.

May God soon restore you from your personal exile. May you dwell again in Jerusalem and sing the songs of Zion!