Psalm 137:1-4  (NKJV)

Longing for Zion in a Foreign Land
1  By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?



As you know, Psalms are songs. They were originally put to music. This particular song was one of the saddest songs ever composed and ever sung in the house of God.

This Psalm was written by a P.O.W.. But this was not just a prisoner of war, this was a prisoner of want, W-A-N-T. The songwriter here is singing of a time when believers where in Babylon, in captivity. These believers in Babylon were also believers in bondage. Where once they had been overjoyed with the fresh fragrance of freedom, now the sour stench of slavery filled their nostrils in a foreign land.

Now, instead of enjoying blessings, they were enduring burdens. Fruitfulness had turned to bareness; happiness had turned to bitterness; joyfulness had turned to brokenness.

Now to understand the background of the story, remember that the children of Israel had been carried away into captivity by the Babylonians. Now the reason they had been carried away was not because of their weakness but because of their wickedness. They had fallen away from the living God. God had allowed their defenses to be broken down and used a pagan nation to bring them to their knees to break them and to bring them to repentance.

Now that should not surprise you. Because Babylon always leads to bareness. Babylon always leads to bitterness and Babylon always leads to brokenness. That is, if you are a child of God. The only people who are happy in Babylon are Babylonians. Now there’s a sermon in that sentence.

Babylon in the Bible is a picture of the world in all of its iniquity. It is a picture of the world in all of its idolatry. It is a picture of the world in all of its immorality.

The name Babylon means confusion. Now, these people were in Babylon but their hearts were in Zion. They were weeping because they “remembered Zion” (verse 1). They could not get Zion out of their minds.

Zion is another name for Jerusalem. The name Jerusalem means “City of Peace”. There was a time when these people lived in God’s capital city. Because they were right with God they were holy. Because God was right with them they were happy. And because they were right with each other they were healthy.

There are two major cities in the Bible and they are totally opposite and yet, in a strange way, magnetically attracted. There is Babylon, the hellish city; there is Jerusalem the holy city. There is Babylon, the seat of wickedness; and there is Jerusalem, the source of holiness. The people of God had been transported from Zion to Babylon.

There were two people in this city, there were the captives and the captors. Now the captives represent the saints, the people of God. While the captors represent sinners, children of this world. And so this is a picture of believers in Babylon. Christians who are in captivity. And it shares, both historically and theologically, The Backslidder’s Burden.



(Ill. A dark cloud of depression hung over the heads of these people which totally eclipsed the sunshine of joy which once had brightened their lives. Now there are two reasons they were sad.)

A. The Misery In Their Hearts – “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea, we wept….” (verse 1). From the very first day they moved into their new homes they were absolutely miserable. You see, there is a tremendous difference between being lost and being saved. Now both a lost person and a saved person can sin. In fact, I’ll go farther, both a lost person and a saved person will sin. But the difference is this, only one of them can enjoy it. Transgression always brings tears to the eyes of a true child of God.

You see, God loves you so much that He will let you go to Babylon, but He loves you too much to let you enjoy the stay there.

These people were broken hearted not just because of where they were but more because of why they were there to begin with. Why were they there? Well listen to the sad tale that is recounted in Jeremiah 25:1-11.

Now we read there that God gave three things to the people of Israel. He gave them a land, He gave them a Law, and He gave them a Lord. But they defiled the land. The defied the Law. And they denied the Lord. And when they did, God disciplined them and He did it by “Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant” (verse 9). God can hit a tremendous lick with a crooked stick. God took a pagan king ruling over a pagan army, living in a pagan land, teaching pagan laws, serving pagan gods and used him as His rod of discipline to punish His own people.

Now you may think to yourself “if God really loved them He would not have done that”. Quite the contrary, it is because God loved them that God did do that. For we read in Jeremiah 24:5, “Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.”

Any parent knows that discipline is never a delight but it is often times a duty. And the parent carries out that duty because he or she knows in the end the result will be a delight to both the father and the child. The same thing is true of God. God loves us enough to let us sin, if we so desire, but He loves us too much to let us enjoy it or to let us get away with it.

B. The Memory Of Their Home – These exiles sat down and “wept when we remembered Zion” (verse 1). Zion here represents Jerusalem, the Holy Hill of God. The home of God. Zion represents the place of the presence of God.

Their hearts were heavy. Their harps were hung: “We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.”

Here they were weeping in the shadows of weeping willows. Their mind had wandered back to Jerusalem, the “city of Peace” where the peaceful presence of God could be felt day in and day out. But now they were here in Babylon, separated from their Father, surrounded by their foes, saddened by their failure, shackled by their fears.

I admit that I feel sorry for people who do not know God. Who have never experienced the joy that comes from a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Because “in His presence is fullness of joy”. But may I submit to you that the saddest person in the world is not the person who does not know God. The saddest person in the world is the person who does know God but is out of fellowship with Him.

There are so many so-call “Christians” who live like the Devil. Citizens of hell who live in sin, who show no zeal for the things of God, who could not care less about living holy, separated lives. They never weep, they never cry; they never seem to be bothered, much less broken because of their sin and yet they profess to be saved. Very sad indeed!

Do you know why so many of these so-called Christians live in sin and never shed a tear? It is because they have no memory of Zion. They have never been to Zion. They have never been saved. They cannot remember what it was like when they walked with God because they have never had a walk with God.

Do you know why many people drop out of church? It is because they were never a part of the church to begin with, 1 John 2:19.

The church is more than a building. The church is a body. It is the Body of Christ. There is a tremendous difference between belonging to a building and being a party of body.

A leech can attach itself to my body and yet never be a part of my body. In my ministry I have seen in the church spiritual leeches. People who attach themselves to the building, sucking all of the benefits and blessings from it they can, but when the blood is gone – they go find another building. But they never become a part of the body.

Do you know why a true believer can never be happy in Babylon? Because once you have tasted Jesus, you will never be satisfied with the food the world has to offer. These dear people, who once had tasted the sweetness of Zion’s glory, now was having to taste the bitterness of Babylon’s guilt. And I can well imagine they were thinking to themselves:

Where is the blessedness I knew

When I first saw the Lord?

Where is the soul-refreshing view

Of Jesus and His Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!

How sweet their memory still!

But they have left an aching void

The world can never fill.



(Ill. Sin always brings more than just slavery. It brings shame. This world is not interested in a Christian as long as he stands on his feet. But he will put him on the front page of the newspaper when he falls flat on his face. The world loves to see Christians fall. Their motto is “The bigger they are the harder they fall and the better we like it.”

Now that should not surprise you. Jesus said: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”, John 15:19.

The world loves to load its cannon with the fodder of fallen Christians and Christian leaders. Did you notice that when Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart fell they became the biggest targets of comedians like Johnny Carson and others? They became the butt of so many jokes.

Chuck Swindoll said: “The scoffers and critics of Christianity never stand any taller or shout any louder than when God’s people publicly fall into sin and are force to suffer the inevitable consequence. All Satan’s host dance with glee when believers compromise, play with fire, then get burned.”

One of the first spiritual superstars ever to fall was the strongest man who ever lived by the name of Samson. You remember his story well. He was the fair-haired boy of the Jewish race. He was God’s choice and the people’s champion. But he fell. He tripped over his own sin. When he did, his enemies put out his eyes, they bound him, put him to doing a woman’s work and the last thing they demanded of him before he took his revenge is recounted in Judges 16:25.

“So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.”

But while he (Samson) performed for them you can just imagine how they mocked him and how they scorned him. And more particularly how they made fun of the great God that he once served.

The greatest tragedy of a backslidden believer in Babylon is the shame and disgrace he brings to his God. If God knows my heart, I would rather die today than ever to bring shame to the name of Jesus.

(Ill. There was a teenage girl who was out on a date one night. In fact, she and her boyfriend were double dating and one of them suggested that they go to a party where there was going to be alcohol and drugs and all kinds of illicit activity.

Well, this particular young lady was a radiant Christian who loved the Lord and she said, “No, I’m not going to do that. And if you’re going to do that you can take me home.” Well one of the kids said, “What’s the matter? Are you afraid your Daddy will hurt you?” She said, “No, I’m afraid that I will hurt my Daddy.”)

If you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, you have been branded with the name Christian. And when a Christian falls into sin he drags the name of Jesus through the mud and the slime and the filth of that sin and holds his precious Saviour up to the ridicule of an unbelieving world. We ought to see sin as a spiritual AIDS that we avoid at any cost.



(Ill. The reason why the song that they once could sing was stuck in their throat is because they were in a foreign land. Only those who are free can sing. Only those who have been delivered from bondage can sing. David said in Psalm 32:7: “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.”)

The songs of God are songs of deliverance. Do you know where the first song in the Bible is found? It is found in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus. It is called the Song of Moses. The occasion was the crossing of the Red Sea. These people had been in bondage in Egypt for over 400 years. Egypt is a picture of sin. But when these people had been freed from Egypt, when they had been redeemed from their sin, they sang.

Now there’s only one thing that can rob a saint of his song. You would think that sorrow could do it. But sorrow cannot rob you of your song. Even when night is at its darkest God puts a song in your heart. The Bible says in Isaiah 30:29, “Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel.”

Someone else may say suffering can rob you. But no, suffering cannot rob a saint of his song. Paul and Silas were in jail, having been beaten. They were tired, they were hungry, facing death. And yet the Bible says they sang such a song that it brought the house down.

No, the only thing that can rob a saint of his song is S-I-N. And there’s only one kind of sin that can rob you of your song and that is your sin. Now when you’re a backslidden believer in Babylon, there’s only one thing to do. That is to take down your harp and to tune up your heart.

You see, singing is not a matter of physical freedom, it is a matter of spiritual force. Did you know one of the marks of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that there will be a song in your heart? Paul said in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit”. But he went on to say “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (verse 19). There is nothing that will put a song in your heart, a smile on your face or a bounce to your step like knowing you’re clean before the Lord. That every sin is confessed and every sin is forgiven.

(Ill. A.J. Gordon was a great preacher who lived many years ago. He was out taking a walk one afternoon and he saw a dirty faced, barefoot little boy carrying a rusty bird cage.

In that bird cage was some sparrows. Gordon, who was a nature lover, stopped that little boy and said, “Where did you get those birds?” He said, “I trapped them.” He said, “What are going to do with them?” He said, “I don’t know, I’m going to play with them.”

Gordon said, “Well then what are you going to do with them?” He said, “I guess I’m going to kill them.” Gordon said, “Well would you like to sell them?” Little ol’ boy said, “Mister, you don’t want these birds. They ain’t no good to you or anybody. They’re just little field sparrows.”

Mr. Gordon said, “I know what they are. I just asked you if you wanted to sell them.” Little boy said, “Well, what would you give me for them?” Gordon said, “I will give you $2.” Little boy said, “Mister, are you crazy or something?” He said, “No, I mean it. I will give you $2.” He said, “Mister, for $2 you can not only have the birds, you can have the cage.” Mr. Gordon said, “Thank you, son, thank you.”

And that great pastor, A.J. Gordon, took that bird cage full of frightened birds, waited until that little fellow left. He then walked into an alley where no one could see him and he opened the door on that rusty cage where those frightened birds were, he knocked on the bottom of that cage, and Gordon said that one by one those little birds came to the perch of that rusty cage that was opened, spread those little wings and flew away.

Gordon said he watched those birds circling higher and higher in the sky. That all of a sudden one by one they began to chirp and they began to sing. And A.J. Gordon said it was almost as if he could hear them sing just one song “Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed”.)



That’s what every child of God should be able to sing at any moment. I am redeemed, I’m right, I am clean before the Lord. There is nothing in the Word of God that says a backslidden Christian has to remain that way. You may be backslidden, but you don’t have to live that way and you certainly don’t have to die that way.

Jesus Christ gave his blood, not just to save you from the penalty of sin. Not even one day to save you from the presence of sin. But even now to save you from the power of sin. Take down your harp, tune up your heart and let Jesus put a song back in your soul.

Maybe you are saying within yourself, “Things just aren’t like they used to be! I don’t get anything out of church any longer. It seems as though the things of God are not as exciting as they used to be. I just don’t have any joy.” If that is you, there is hope at the feet of the Savior. Come to Him today if you have never been saved. Come home if you have wandered away from Him. Either way, He will receive and restore you!

Praise the Lord!


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