Verse 4. How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land How shall they sing at all? sing in a strange land? sing Jehovah's song among the uncircumcised? No, that must not be; it shall not be. With one voice they refuse, but the refusal is humbly worded by being put in the form of a question. If the men of Babylon were wicked enough to suggest the defiling of holy things for the gratification of curiosity, or for the creation of amusement, the men of Zion had not so hardened their hearts as to be willing to please them at such a fearful cost. There are many things which the ungodly could do, and think nothing of the doing thereof, which gracious men cannot venture upon. The question "How can I?" or "How shall we?" comes of a tender conscience and denotes an inability to sin which is greatly to be cultivated.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? Now, is it not true that, in many senses, we, like the Jewish exiles, have to sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If not a land strange to us, then, all the more strange to it -- a land foreign, so to say, and alien to the Lord's song. The very life which we live here in the body is a life of sight and sense. Naturally we walk by sight; and to sing the Lord's song is possible only to faith. Faith is the soul's sight: faith is seeing the Invisible: this comes not of nature, and without this we cannot sing the Lord's song, because we are in a land strange to it.
Again, the feelings of the present life are often adverse to praise. The exiles in Babylon could not sing because they were in heaviness. God's hand was heavy upon them. He had a controversy with them for their sins. Now the feelings of many of us are in like manner adverse to the Lord's song. Some of us who are in great sorrow. We have lost a friend; we are in anxiety about one who is all to us; we know not which way to turn for tomorrow's bread or for this day's comfort. How can we sing the Lord's song?
And there is another kind of sorrow, still more fatal, if it be possible, to the lively exercise of adoration. And that is, a weight and burden' of unforgiven sin. Songs may be heard from the prison cell of Philippi; songs maybe heard from the calm death bed, or by the open grave; but songs cannot be drawn forth from the soul on which the load of God's displeasure, real or imagined, is lying, or which is still powerless to apprehend the grace and the life for sinners which is in Christ Jesus. That, we imagine, was the difficulty which pressed upon the exile Israelite; that certainly is an impediment now, in many, to the outburst of Christian praise. And again, there is a land yet more strange and foreign to the Lord's song even than the land of unforgiven guilt -- and treat is the land of unforsaken sin. --Condensed from C. J. Vaughan.
Verse 4. The Lord's song -- in a strange land. It was the contrast, it was the incongruity which perplexed them. The captives in Babylon -- that huge, unwieldy city, with its temple of the Chaldean Bel towering aloft on its eight stupendous stories to the height of a furlong into the sky -- the Israelite exiles, bidden there to an idolatrous feast, that they might make sport for the company by singing to them one of the far famed Hebrew melodies, for the gratification of curiosity or the amusement of the ear -- how could it be done? The Lord's song -- one of those inspired compositions of Moses or David, in which the saintly soul of the king or the prophet poured itself forth in lowliest, loftiest adoration, before the one Divine Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier -- how could it be sung, they ask, in a scene so incongruous? The words would languish upon the tongue, the notes would refuse to sound upon the disused harp. Such Psalmody requires its accompaniment and its adaptation -- if not actually in the Temple courts of Zion, yet at least in the balmy gales of Palestine and the believing atmosphere of Israel. --C. J. Vaughan, in "The Family Prayer and Sermon Book."
Verse 4. The Lord's song. These songs of old, to distinguish them from heathenish songs, were called God's songs, the Lord's songs; because taught by him, learned of him, and commanded by him to be sung to his praise. --John Bunyan.
Verse 4. Many were the sad thoughts which the remembrance of Zion would call up: the privileges they had there enjoyed; the solemn feasts and happy meetings of their tribes to worship there before the Lord; the Temple -- "the beautiful house where their fathers had worshipped" -- now laid waste.
But the one embittering thought that made them indeed heavy at heart, silenced their voices, and unstrung their harps, was the cause of this calamity -- their sin. Paul and Silas could sing in a dungeon, but it was not their sin brought them there: and so the saints suffering for the name of Christ could say, "we are exceeding joyful in all our tribulation." There is no real sorrow in any circumstances into which God brings us, or where he leads and goes with us; but where sin is, and suffering is felt to be -- not persecution, but -- judgment, there is and can be no joy; the soul refuses to be comforted. Israel cannot sing beside the waters of Babylon. --William De Burgh.
Verse 4. There is a distinction between us and God's ancient people; for at that time the worship of God was confined to one place; but now he has his temple wherever two or three are met together in Christ's name, if they separate themselves from all idolatrous profession, and maintain purity of Divine worship. --John Calvin.
Verse 4. It is one of the pathetic touches about the English captivity of King John II of France, that once sitting as a guest to see a great tournament held in his honour, he looked on sorrowfully, and being urged by some of those about him to be cheerful and enjoy the splendid pageant, he answered with a mournful smile, "How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?" --Polydore Virgil, --1555.