Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I have a friend who has a business. She makes and sells a product that’s often used as a favor at parties or different kinds of events. Not too long ago she got a pretty large order.
As she and her team started to fill that order, they realized that it was from Planned Parenthood who wanted to use this item at one of their events. My friend agonized over what she should do in light of Planned Parenthood’s role as a major abortion provider.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Wednesday, April 24, 2019.
This week Nancy’s been showing us how to live in a place that’s not our home. The series is called “Singing the Lord’s Songs in a Foreign Land.” It was recorded on the road in the Atlanta area. So how did Nancy’s friend respond to this big order from Planned Parenthood?
Nancy: Finally, she realized that she had to call and tell them, “I can’t fill this order.” That was a tough call because she didn’t know what she might face at the other end or after the call. Potential of a lawsuit, say?
Afterwards I texted her and let her know Robert and I were praying with her and for her about this situation. We were asking God to give her peace in what she had done. And here is part of what I said in that text.
I’ve been mediating on Psalm 137. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. This world is not our home. May He help you sing His song today in anticipation of that Day (capital D) when we will sing it without fear of reprisal safe at home.
You see, this kind of Scripture comes into play in all kind of circumstances and situations that are very real ones. And how often have we read through a passage like this and thought, Babylon. Zion. Jerusalem. This has nothing to do with me. Are you starting to see how this has something to do with us?
We’ve been looking at Psalm 137. And we see in the first four verses God’s people pining in Babylon. They’re back home in Jerusalem but reflecting back on the days when they were in Babylon – longing for Zion—their homeland.
Let me read those first verses:
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres [or our harps]. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” [And then that question we looked at in verse 4:] How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? [And what was the answer? Remember Zion.] And as you remember Zion, that memory will make you weep but it will also help you sing (vv. 1–4).
And so as we come to verse 5, we see God’s people pledging to remember Jerusalem, Zion. Now, up to this point, the first three verses, it’s all been “we, our, us.” Nine times in the first four verses. This was a corporate, a community lament. And those are important. Those kinds of hymns are important as we sing our praise to the Lord, our lament, our confessions to the Lord.
But when you get to verses 5 and 6, you’ll notice that the pronouns change to what? “I and my.” This all of a sudden becomes very individual, very personal. It’s an oath. It’s a promise. And each person pledges his personal loyalty to Jerusalem. Each person says, “I’m determined not to forget.”
Let me read the two verses and then we’ll talk about them. Verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 137:
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!
Now you see, Zion and Jerusalem (and they’re used interchangeably throughout this psalm) . . . But I think in these verses the psalmist is saying, in essence, “If I sit in Babylon, as one of the people of God, merrily singing songs along with the culture, strumming on my harp, having a grand old time, forgetful of the calamities and the sorrows back home in Jerusalem, unmindful of the fact that our temple lies in ruins, then let the hand that plays my harp become stricken and useless. Let my vocal cords be paralyzed, unable to sing or talk about anything anymore.”
I think that’s what he’s saying. “I don’t want to forget Zion. I don’t want to forget Jerusalem. I want to remember.”
The right hand . . . it’s a symbol of strength in Scripture, and I think he’s saying, “Render me powerless; render me useless.” We’re supposed to use our right hands to raise them in praise and worship. Maybe he’s saying, “Don’t let me be able to use my hand in praise or worship anymore if I forget where I belong; if I become more attached to Babylon than I am in my heart to Jerusalem.”
You see, Babylon was an amazing empire. It was beautiful; it was affluent; it was sophisticated. A little bit like parts of Atlanta, right? I mean expensive stores. I said to my husband the other day, “I’m kind of glad not to live in an area like this because I’d have so many temptations.” Restaurants. Great shopping. It’s easy to settle in and feel at home in this earthly city of man and forget the true God and His worship. So the singer promises not to forget his true home.
Now, symbolically, Jerusalem throughout Scripture of course was a literal, physical city—a place where the temple was, the presence of God was manifest. But it’s also used to refer symbolically to the people of God, the City of God, the kingdom of God, the church of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
I think as we apply this passage to our own hearts as the people of God, we’re promising not to let our hearts become more attached to our earthly home here in this world than we are to our spiritual, heavenly, eternal home, the city of God.
“Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem [my homeland, the people, the place I belong, the place where God’s presence dwells, if I don’t set Jerusalem] above my highest joy!”
It’s a promise to love what God loves. And what does God love? Well, Psalm 87:2 says, “The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.” So it’s a promise to love what God loves; to prize what He prizes; to value what He values. It’s a promise to treasure our heavenly, eternal home above every earthly joy, and of course, above every sinful pleasure.
You say, “Sinful pleasures?” Yes, sin is pleasurable, for a season. Do you think we’d sin if we didn’t get some joy out of it? We think it’s going to give us pleasure.
But this is a promise to love God, to love His people, to love His Church, to love His kingdom more than anything on this earth no matter how much pleasure or joy we may think it brings us—more than you love your marriage; more than you love your children; more than you love your precious grandchildren.
“God, strike me paralyzed and useless if I don’t treasure You, the heavenly Jerusalem, Your City, Your dwelling place, above my highest joy.”
Brings to mind that verse in Psalm 73:25: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” O Lord, I love you. I cherish You. I prize You. I set you above my highest joy.
- What’s your highest joy?
- What are your highest joys?
- What means the most to you?
- What do you value?
- What do you prioritize?
- What do you live for?
- What do you long for?
- What do you really love?
- What do you enjoy?
Listen it’s good to enjoy God’s good gifts. He’s given them to us to enjoy. But do you love more than all of that the people of God, the Church of God, the kingdom of God, the house of God, the place of God’s presence?
Timothy Dwight was a hymn writer. In 1800 he wrote a hymn. You may have heard some of its stanzas. It’s based on Psalm 137. You might want to Google it and find some of the other stanzas. They’re in pretty quaint language, so I’m not going to read them all. But let me read a few of them.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord, the house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved with His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God. Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and written on Thy hand.
For her [that is for Your Church, O Lord. For her] my tears shall fall for her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise.
I love your Church, O God. Not the building. The people. The place where Your spirit dwells. The place of your habitation. You see, God’s people treasure the place where God dwells. They consider it their home.
But God’s enemies want to trash the place where God lives, the place God loves. That’s because it’s not their home. And so that’s why we come now to verse 7 in this psalm of lament where God’s people who’ve been pining, they’ve been pledging and promising, now they plead and they pray to be avenged of their enemies.
This is a prayer for justice, a prayer for revenge against the enemies of God and the enemies of His people. It’s what is called an imprecation. That’s not a word we use very often today. It’s not a word we want to use very often. But it’s a calling down of a curse upon those who are the enemies of God and of His people.
Now, before we start unpacking this imprecatory prayer that’s very hard to understand (and I feel like I’ve just dipped into the outer edges of what this is all about) remember that in verses 5 and 6 that we just looked at, that the psalmist called down an imprecation upon himself first, before he calls down curses or judgment against the enemies of God. That’s really important to notice.
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem. If I don’t cherish you, set you above my highest joy, then let my right hand go limp. Let my vocal chords be paralyzed.” It’s a reflection of what we see in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4. “The time has come that judgment must begin in the house of God.”
We can’t even start to pray righteous prayers for God’s kingdom to come in this world which means the judgment of His enemies. Sometimes it’s right to pray for that. But we dare not pray for that if we haven’t first put our own heart before God and said, “Lord, revive my heart. It’s not my brother; it’s not my sister; it’s not the Babylonians; it’s not the pagans in this culture. It’s me oh Lord, first, standing in the need of prayer.”
I think you’ve heard us talk about on Revive Our Hearts sometimes where you just draw a circle. Picture it in your heart and in your heart you step inside that circle and you say, “Lord, send revival to our world. Send it to our nation. We desperately need it. Send it to my community. Send it to our schools. Send it to the halls of Congress. Send it to my church. Send it to my neighborhood. Send revival to my family. But Lord, first send revival to this circle. Send it to my heart. I need thee, O Lord, every hour I need Thee. It’s me standing in the need of prayer.”
Now, how do you acknowledge that? We come to this very difficult to understand part of Psalm 137. And we’re going to take today and the next couple of programs to unpack these three verses. Today, we’re looking at verse 7 where the psalmist says:
Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!”
Have you heard the phrase, “Never forget”? You’ve undoubtedly seen that slogan. It’s a slogan that originated after the Holocaust. It’s often used to encourage people to remember national or international tragedies, attacks, acts of genocide, mass murders, etc. Never forget. For example, after the 9/11 attacks in New York City you heard this phrase a lot. Never forget. It’s a reminder that we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of history.
And sometimes that slogan “Never Forget” implies the desire to see justice meted out to those who’ve committed these atrocities. It’s a pledge. “I won’t forget!” Never forget.
Now this word “remember” is an important word in this psalm. You see it three times. We saw it first in verse 1 where it says, “we remembered Zion.” Then in verse 6 there’s the promise to remember Jerusalem. And now in verse 7, “Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem.”
God’s people have remembered Zion. They’ve remembered their homeland. They have promised never to forget. And now they ask God to remember something. They want God to remember what has been done to them. They’re saying, “God, don’t ever forget.” Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites.
Now, this is kind of legal phraseology. It’s as if they were in a courtroom, laying out before the divine Judge, the Judge of the universe, the facts, the evidence against Edom. Now, the Edomites were descendants of Esau. So they were distantly related to the Jews. And the Jews and the Edomites did not have a happy history as sometimes relatives don’t have.
If you go back to Numbers 20, you may want to turn there or just listen as I read this. Back in Numbers 20 was the first skirmish between Jews and Edomites. The Edomites treated the Israelites harshly. Let me read to you several verses beginning in verse 14:
Moses sent messengers [this was as the Jews were getting ready to enter the Promised Land. And they came to the Land of Edom. And Moses sent messengers] to the king of Edom: . . . “Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you” (vv. 14, 17–18).
No way. Now Moses asked so politely. “We’re not going to cause any trouble. We’re not going to be any difficulty. We’re not going to mess up your crops. We’re not going to steal anything from you. We’re going to be well behaved. We’re going to leave things like we found them.” And yet he says, “No way. You come through here, you’re dead.”
And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more” (v. 19).
So, here you have a second, gracious appeal.
And verse 20 the same, cruel response, merciless. “‘You shall not pass through.’ And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory” (vv. 20–21).
So that was the first incident between the Edomites and the Israelites. Not a happy story. Now fast forward years when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in 587 BC, Edom, who was a neighboring country to Israel, stood by and watched it happen.
It’s the Babylonians who did all the damage, but Edom did not come to the assistance of her sister next door. She wouldn’t side with Israel. She wouldn’t side with Jerusalem or come to her aid. She just sat there and watched it happen.
So, in the Old Testament prophets, God promised to repay Edom for what they had done, or in this case, for what they had not done to help Israel.
Obadiah chapter . . . well, Obadiah only has one chapter. Obadiah verse 1. Let me just read you several verses from the book of Obadiah, and you’ll see what God had said in this prophecy. “The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom . . .”
This is why you need to read the Scripture as a whole. And when you read something in Psalm 137 about the Edomites, you want to say, “Now, who are these Edomites? Do they ever come into play before?” Well, you get to Numbers 20, you get to the book of Obadiah. This is how you do Bible study, ladies. You think. You get your concordance. You compare Scriptures. You put verses together. And this is what happens.
The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom: . . . Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers [the Babylonians] carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them (vv. 1, 10–11).
It was as if you had taken your sword in your hand and you had caused Jerusalem to be sacked. You had destroyed the temple of God. You said, “I didn’t do anything. I was just standing there.” God said, “That’s exactly the problem. You stood aloof. You stood there and you watched. You didn’t care. You didn’t have compassion. You didn’t come to the aid of your sister next door. You were like one of the Babylonians.”
And then in verse 15: “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”
Now, this is the Judge of the universe saying, “This is the verdict on Edom.” God deals with nations, by the way. You see this throughout the Scripture. Here God is saying this is what Edom did, and nations pay consequences for national choices. It was true back then. It’s is true today.
Now, sometimes it looks like the bad guys are winning. Babylon, the Babylonians won for a long time. But if you take the big look, the big perspective, you see that God judges nations that reject Him and God deals with nations who don’t treat His people right. “As you have done, it will be done to you. Your deed shall return on your own head.”
And so the psalmist here in Psalm 137 is just praying in accordance with what God has said He’s going to do, which is to judge the Edomites. And he’s saying, “God fulfill your word. Do what you said you’re going to do. Remember against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem when they said, ‘Lay it bare. Lay it bare down to its foundations.’” O Lord, never forget! That’s what the psalmist is praying.
He asked God to remember the damage that His enemies had done to His city, His people and to repay them accordingly.
Now, three quick takeaways from this verse:
Number 1: For those who treat God’s people harshly—may be nations, may be individuals . . . For those who treat God’s people harshly, who stand aloof and refuse to give them refuge, who refuse to come to their aid when they’re in trouble, you need to know, God will repay. “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”
God cares about His people. And you can’t deal with God’s people, the Jews, God’s people, the followers of Christ. You cannot persecute Christians without someday paying for it. God will repay.
Number 2: For those who’ve been sinned against, those who’ve been treated harshly, it’s a comfort to know that God never forgets and that one day, in that great Judgment Day to come, all wrongs will be righted!
Number 3: As New Testament believers on this side of the cross, we don’t forget what has been done against God’s people. God remembers it. We should remember it. But we’re also given grace to pray for mercy against our transgressors. To pray as Jesus did from the cross: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34); to pray as Stephen did as he went to his death by stoning: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)
So the New Testament gives us light in our praying that the Psalmist didn’t have. “Lord, remember. Never forget, but in wrath, in judgment, remember mercy.” Because where would any of us be without the mercy of God?
Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray. That message is part of a series called, “Singing the Lord’s Songs in a Foreign Land.” We need passages like Psalm 137 that show us how to keep our eyes on the Lord even as the world grows more hostile to the truth.
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Do you ever feel reluctant to be honest with God about the pain and confusion you feel? Tomorrow, Nancy will show you how to be honest with God about deep sorrow and pain. Now, she’s back to wrap up today’s session in prayer.
Nancy: Oh Lord, remember. Remember the things that have been done and are being done against Your people this day in our world. Remember, Lord, never forget. Thank You that You are the righteous Judge of the earth, and one day You will right all wrongs. You will do to them what they have done to Your people.
But as we pray that, oh Lord, we also pray that You’d have mercy on us, and on those who persecute Your church, because one of them just might be a young man named Saul, standing by the side, standing aloof as Stephen was stoned, giving his blessing. But one day to become Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles that he once sought—protecting and defending the Name that he once sought to destroy.
So I pray, oh Lord, in wrath remember mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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