INTRODUCTION: The sentiment of the Israelites during this difficult time in their history is summed up there in the fourth verse. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in this strange land?" In other words, we really don't belong here in Babylon. We are aliens here. We are refugees here. We are wanderers here, and the compelling task that we are facing at the moment is to try and figure out how we can sing the Lord's song in this strange place. We used to sing praises to the Lord all the time, but now—now we just don’t feel like singing much anymore. And how frustrating it is to be somewhere you know you don’t belong.
They were in Babylon, and Babylon (trust me) is not a place you want to be. In fact, Babylon is the worst place on earth. It has the worst real estate known to mankind; it is a horrible, horrible place to be. And how I know this to be true is not through research or study, I didn’t watch a documentary on the History channel about it—but I know it to be true through first-hand information because I’ve been to Babylon, and you have too. The minute you arrive in Babylon, is the very minute you want to hurry up and get out. I heard somebody say that Babylon is the closest thing to hell on earth. And nobody, especially a Christian wants anything to do with Babylon. Geographically speaking, Babylon is today’s Iraq—and in Iraq as you know is where many of our young men and women are engaged in battle. And one of the main topics today that’s on President Obama’s plate is how and when will we get out of Iraq? Since Iraq and Babylon is one in the same, you could say that we have been dealing with this problem, this question for a long time now—when and how will we and can we get out of Babylon? Now that’s geographically speaking, but speaking in a metaphoric sense of the word, Babylon is any situation which makes your life uncomfortable. [That’s what Babylon is] If you are sick today with some disease that’s your Babylon. If you are poor and you can’t make ends meet in life, that’s your Babylon. If you’re caught in the statistics of a 9.7% unemployment rate, that’s your Babylon. If you’re suffering from an addiction that you can’t seem to get rid of that’s your, Babylon. I have two things I want to discuss with you and they are how we get in Babylon and then how to get out of Babylon. And I’m gonna use four brief points and after that I’ll take my seat. And first point is that…
I. BABYLON IS A PLACE OF WEEPING
“…there we sat down, yea, we wept…” once you are in Babylon you automatically get into a crying mode. If you are not crying on the outside, you are crying on the inside. And sometimes in life you just have to cry—there are some things in life that will make you cry. And (and) being in Babylon will make you cry. It reminds me of the song we like to sing every once in a while, “Trouble in my way. I have to cry sometimes. I’ve got so much trouble, I have to cry sometimes. I lay awake at night, But that’s alright, Cause I know Jesus, He’ll fix it after while.” There are times when we are sad. We have lost a friend or family member to sickness or disease, or they are moving away. A disagreement, a lack of trust or misunderstanding has caused painful stress in an important relationship. An illness or injury has changed our lives.
These are all times are where we have or will experience some sadness. Someone going through this can feel very alone even in a crowded room. There are some things that are guaranteed to make you cry, and one of them is Babylon. I’ve been there and I know for a fact—that Babylon will make you weep. They (the Israelites) were weeping because they missed their homeland. You see, they were in exile for 70 years. This is because they were supposed to let the land lay fallow every 7th year, but they had not done that for 490 years. God therefore exiled the people for 70 years for the land to receive its due rest, after which they were to return. And now here they are missing Jerusalem; they were in exile—separated, bitter, distressed and persecuted. You know we’ve got some people in the church living exiled lives; it’s not geographical because you can live in the same neighborhood for 30 years and still live an exiled life. An exiled life is a life a long ways from God because you refused to listen to Him—and anytime you are away from God it makes you want to weep. When you are away from God because of disobedience whether you know it or not you are living in Babylon. It’s a place of weeping, and then…
II. BABYLON IS A PLACE OF REGRET
“…when we remembered Zion.” They remembered Zion; they remembered how good they used to have it when they were in a right relationship with God. When you arrive in Babylon it causes you to remember the goodness of God. You remember when life was not like it is now. You regret that you allowed sin to get you in this situation, you start remembering those days when you wasn’t so broke. You remember those days when you were in perfect health, you remember those days when your marriage was like a honeymoon. Bills were always paid on time. You had a good job, your children were acting right— and there was peace in your life. They said “…we remembered Zion.” Zion is where the fortress stood, we had protection there. Zion was home, and there’s something about home isn’t? Ask the prodigal son, after wasting his inheritance he regretted leaving his home. Because he found himself in the far country and regretted his actions and wanted to come home to His Father. Somebody said that a sure sign that you’re getting old is when your regrets replace your dreams. I’ve been to Babylon and I still have a few regrets, and if you’re honest with yourself this morning—you have some regrets too. Let me talk to the young folk for a minute. Do you realize how important it is to make the right decisions and choices right now? If you do this right now, you can save yourself from a lot of regrets later on.
I have some regrets but I’m glad they’re godly regrets; I would suggest two ways to distinguish regret. 1) Worldly regret is when you feel sorry for something you did because it starts to backfire on you and leads to humiliation or punishment. It's the reflex of a proud or fearful ego. Pride will always regret making a fool of itself. And fear will always regret acts that jeopardize comfort and safety. So feeling sorry for something we have done is in itself no sign of virtue. But godly regret is the reflex of a conscience that has wounded our relationship with God. Godly regret grieves that God's name has been besmirched by our own sinful behavior. The focus of godly regret is God. I believe that they regretted that they turned their backs on God, I know that all of us here that have reached the age of adulthood have some regrets, but there’s one thing that you’ll never regret and that is accepting and submitting to God’s purpose in your life—Babylon is a place of weeping, it is a place of regret, and then…
III. BABYLON IS A PLACE OF SURRENDER
“We hanged our harps upon the willows…” In other words they gave up—they said we hung up our harps on the willows, we quit! That’s what kind of place Babylon is, it’ll make you want to thrown in the towel. Some folk give up so easily when things are not going their way, they just quit—quit coming to church, quit praying, quit singing in the choir, ushers stop ushering, deacons stop doing what they should do, and even preachers stop preaching . How many times have you said I’m through? Ever felt like the situation was so hopeless that the only thing left to do is call it quits? They looked and looked and only saw darkness, that’s how Job felt too.
He said, “Oh that I might have my request that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! . . . . "What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?"
"My body is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin is broken and festering. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again."
- Job 6:8-12; 7:5-7 (NIV)
Job knew what it was to feel despair; to lose hope; to look into the future and see only darkness. He felt as though even death would be preferable to what he was experiencing. Just like the Israelites here it’s human to feel this way because of the temptation to just give up, to lose hope, to despair, is universal; all of us will feel like this sometimes.
- It’s the wife who is ready to give up on her husband and her marriage; rather than stay and keep trying to make it better.
- It’s the parents who are ready to give up trying to guide their rebellious teenage son.
- It’s the grown daughter who has tried over and over again to please her parents, without success, and is about ready to completely write off the relationship.
- It’s the pregnant teenager who can’t see any way out but to have an abortion.
- It’s the fed-up employee who wants to honor God with his work but is about [this] far from telling off the boss and walking out the door.
- It’s the man who has been unemployed for over six months, and resume after resume no one seems willing to give him a chance.
*It’s the preacher who’s ready to walk away from the pulpit because the people in the church he pastors are not acting like children of God anymore.
- It’s the victim of cancer who’s tired of fighting the illness and thinking of taking her own life.
They gave up singing; there was no more joy in them. They hung up their harps, unable to sing the songs that they were taught about the goodness God. Could you imagine if this choir didn’t want to sing this morning? The devil stoled their joy. One of the many schemes that the devil uses on you is to steal your joy, he tries to cause you to feel dissatisfied with your earthly condition—worried about what you have and not have, where you live, and how you look, what kind of car your driving. You’ve seen folk call themselves tryin’ to enhance their looks, and end up looking like something out of Mars or Pluto. It’s because the devil caused them to become dissatisfied with what God gave them. (That’s all it is) now they walk around with blue and green hair—and you know that’s a lie! Young men walking around with their trousers almost hitting the floor, with $100 hats on 10¢ heads. People buying big homes they really can’t afford, buying an expensive car and then try to hide it from the repo man later on. It’s all because the devil has caused some of us to be dissatisfied with our earthly condition, and if you want to know the truth about it—it’s dissatisfaction with the blessings from God.
They were concerned about their earthly condition, and when you are overly concerned about your earthly condition there’s no way that your mind is on heavenly things, and there’s no way that your mind is stayed on Jesus. Why because your mind is stayed on your condition—and that’s where the devil wants your mind to be. Because when your mind is not focused on Jesus it makes his work much easier. And look here, they were so worried about their own condition, until they gave up on even praising God. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? The devil had them believing that praising God could only be done at home in Jerusalem.
And it’s all a part of life in Babylon; I told you it’s a miserable place. It’s a place of weeping, a place of regret, a place of surrender, and then lastly:
IV. BABYLON IS A PLACE OF CAPTIVITY
“For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song…” The devil wants to control you. 2 CORINTHIANS 2:11 “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” He wants to control you. He wants the kind of power over you that you’ll only do what he tells you to do. In other words, he wants to take you into captivity, he wants to blind you from the fact that God is the One in control. But I’m here this morning to tell you church, that, it ain’t over until God says it’s over. Whatever the devil is trying to hit you with you can shake it off. Now we know that God has a will for our life, but did you know that the devil also has a will for your life? He wants to hold you captive so your life will not reflect the godliness that you have in Christ Jesus. Let me tell you this just in case you don’t know, but Satan wants to be like God, he wants to be the possessor of heaven and earth. God has a plan for the heaven and earth (Eph 1:10; Col 1:16-18). Satan wants to take over what God has planned. Satan's will for your life is to keep you from understanding that God's purpose is for you to restore God's rule and authority in the heavenly places. And His goal is to get you to follow the wrong set of instructions so that the purpose that God has for you will never materialize. His evil plot is to hold you captive, he wants you to be confined, and he wants you to be his prisoner of war—you do know we’re fighting a war don’t you? He wants to lock you up in a spiritual jail. And if he can get you locked-up, then he’ll start tormenting you that’s how he works let’s see how you sing now! I’ve got you penned up, held up, tied up, and jacked up—now let me see how well you can sing one them old so-called songs of Zion! Sister you ran all up and down the aisle last Sunday, but I worked on you pretty good this week, run down the aisle now! Once he has you captured, he’ll torment you. Brother, last week during Bible study you shouted hallelujah I heard you now shout hallelujah—what’s wrong? Cat got your tongue? If he can hold you captive, he will torment you!
He will demand you to do, what you can’t do. Can you make bricks without straw? No. But that’s a requirement in Babylon; it says that they “… required of us mirth,” in other words, smile and act as if you like it—cause you better get used to this your situation and accept it. When I entered the military and during my first day in basic training my drill sergeant looked me in the face and said, “I’m your mama now, boy!” Babylon is your new home now, (that’s what they said) smile and get used to it! Take your shoes off and settle down—because you’ll never see your home again. By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down, we sat down, because we were down. Down and out and ready to give up in fact we hung up our musical instruments our harps the ones we used to sing praises to God. Because we’re here in such a strange land. And we are too busy worried about our situation to sing any more songs Zion.
CONCLUSION: Excuse me right along here, but I think that they should have sung. They should have sung because when hard times come, the lines of a familiar hymn often leap out at us, catches us, and sticks in our throats. I don’t know about you, but when hard times come just to sing a song of Zion makes me feel a little better. I think that they should have sung, because if they really wanted to get out of Babylon—praise was the key. If you’re caught up in Babylon and looking for a way out, why don’t you just praise God while you’re there? They said that they sat by the rivers of Babylon, but when you praise God it’ll make you stand up. Don’t you remember Paul and Silas locked up in prison? They were locked up behind an open door, I heard an old preacher say that Paul and Silas were in the prison praying and singing and God was so pleased by what they were doing until He began to tap His foot to the sound. And since heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool when He began to tap His foot to the praise the earth began to quake, it was around midnight, and midnight is the darkest but Paul and Silas praised God anyhow—when He tapped His foot to the praise, the walls started shaking and the cell doors flew open and all the chains fell off the prisoners. If you’re chained up, caught up in Babylon why don’t you try praising Him—I think they should have sung anyhow, while they were in Babylon. Ah if they could have sung something like— I love the Lord, he heard my cry and pitied every groan, long as I, I live and troubles rise(even if I get caught up in Babylon), I’ll hasten to his throne.