We should refuse to be intimidated by anything of whatever source. The world has in a sense always been a foreign country. We are strangers and pilgrims seeking the City of God.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-11)
Consider the Jews going into exile in Babylon in 597 BC under King Nebuchadnezzar. He levelled the Temple and the City of Jerusalem. Psalm 137 expresses the sorrow of the Jews in Babylon as they wept by the Waters of Babylon and wept when they remembered Jerusalem.
The River Euphrates flowing through the Desert.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137)
Psalm 137 was written by one of the Exiles in Babylon during the Captivity. Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed and the Children of Israel taken into bondage. It was a time of mourning and regret.
It was an unknown prophet, who we call Second Isaiah, that in the name of the God of Israel told the exiles that they must sing a New Song. Second Isaiah opens with those wonderful words – “Comfort ye, O comfort ye my people,” Says your God.’ Those words from Isaiah 40:1 were the inspiration behind Handel’s Oratorio, “The Messiah.”
The exiles in Babylon inspired by Isaiah’s God did indeed sing a new song, We likewise are living in a world that is indifferent to the God of Israel. We too are bidden by Isaiah to sing the Lord’s song in a strange Land.
Many ancient texts in Holy Scripture explode with fresh power in our contemporary world.
The God inspired poem by Second Isaiah was originally directed to the exiles in Babylon. It was then a message of hope and encouragement sent by God. Likewise it is for us to-day.
Let us in our day sing the Lord’s Song as Isaiah urges. It is our God given duty and right. It is only by singing the Lord’s Song that we can counteract the dark powers that threaten all life on this planet. King David sang and danced before the Ark of the Covenant.
10 Sing to the Lord a new song, says Isaiah. (See chapter 42 of Isaiah)
Let the people sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord
and proclaim his praise in the islands.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.
The entire Chapter 42 of Second Isaiah is as relevant for us o-day as it was for those to whom it was written. Can we imagine the Prophet Isaiah defying the Babylonian Empire, and singing this song in defiance of the rulers and army of Ancient Babylon?
This prophecy/poem was composed by Isaiah in opposition to the authorities, encouraging hope and a return to Israel. Living in hope opens God’s Grace in our fallen world.
Think of it: new reality conjured in worship, by the choir, inviting to new courage, new faith, new energy, new obedience and new joy. Isaiah’s song is as subversive as is the New Reality that is dawning.
The New Song never describes the world as it is now. The New Song imagines how the world will be in God’s good time to come. We must look to the future with hope.
We ought to spend much more of our energy promoting the God of Israel. Our vocation is to proclaim the true God as manifested in Christ Jesus. We may have to sing the Lord’s Song in a land that has become increasingly dominated by Militant Islam. But sing the Lord’s Song we must with unceasing fervour like King David when he sang and danced before the Ark of the Covenant.
The New Song is a refusal to accept the world as it is, a refusal to believe that present circumstances are right or will last. Singing a new Song to the Lord is a constant theme in the Psalms. Psalm 33: 3 – Sing unto the Lord a new song
Particularly relevant is Psalm 40: 3 – “And he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” As Christians we must NOT be defeatist or discouraged. Heads held high. The Lord will give us the words of HIS SONG. Jesus is Lord.
The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future, God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgements upon each other will themselves be judged.
The judge will be Christ. In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.
Romantic love is blind to everything except what is lovable and lovely, but Christ’s love so wishes our joy that it is ruthless against everything that diminishes our joy. The worse sentence that love can pass is that we behold the suffering which love has endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one.
ECCE HOMO painting by Caravaggio.
God of past, present and future, be with us as we journey through these uncertain times. May we learn to relinquish our old habits so that we are ready to receive your newness. In our exile we look for you, O God.Teach us your new song and celebrate your faithfulness. And the new life that you are ever bringing into being, Amen
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