I don’t know how many people read this blog, and it doesn’t help that there was probably a month between my last two posts. I hope some read it, though, as these things are important. Today, I read a reminder of just how important:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy…
O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you
How blessed will be the one who…dashes your little ones against the rock. (Psalm 137, NASB)
There is much in Scripture that is figurative. It’s important that we understand figurative modes of interpretation. Evangelicals tend to be very literal in their interpretation, and so they miss much that was known in the apostolic churches. On the way to Emmaus, the Lord “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” What were those things? Way more than we’re aware of. If you want a taste of the sort of things that Jesus taught to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, you ought to read Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, which can be found free on the net at http://www.ccel.org/fathers.
One of the things he almost surely taught them is that “he washed his clothes in the blood of grapes” from Gen. 49:11 is a reference to his death. Justin adds that it’s “the blood of grapes” because the Messiah’s blood would not come from the seed of man but from the hand of God. He argues, too, that the “clothes” referred to in that verse is a reference to his people, whom he would wash in his blood (Dialogue with Trypho 54).
This sort of figurative interpretation was typical of the early church. You can see it throughout Hebrews, and you can see it in Paul’s letters, too (e.g., Gal. 4:21-31). Dialogue with Trypho recounts an argument with a Jew, and this sort of figurative interpretation was normal to both Justin and Trypho. At one point, Justin tells him, “Not even her should we be at a loss about anything, if we are acquainted even slightly with figurative modes of expression” (ibid., ch. 63).
I say all this to tell you that Psalm 137 is written figuratively as well as literally. Most who are following God wholeheartedly today already know that God has been saying, “Come out of her, my people.” For many years it has been almost impossible to experience the Life described in Acts. God’s people have been stuck in institutions, meeting separately based on doctrines, centered on twice a week meetings and focused mainly on witnessing to the world. They have not experienced the blessed fellowship of sharing their lives, being family, and growing together (Eph 4:11-16). Disciples who have forsaken all for Christ are mixed with “believers,” who believe, just as devils do, that Jesus is real and died for sins, but who are not taking up their cross, denying themselves, or following him.
God allowed that for a long time, but many of us were like the writer of Psalm 137. We could not forget Zion. We could not forget the fellowship of the church that belonged to all the saints for at least two centuries after the time of Christ. We wept and mourned, and we threatened ourselves with curses if we ever forgot or ignored the longing in our hearts for the true fellowship of the saints. We knew that only in such a life would we be able to say with Paul, “I am confident that he who has begun a good work in [all of ] you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Thankfully, just as happened with Nehemiah at the end of the 70 years in Babylon, the voice of God is calling us to return toÂ the heavenly fellowship of Jerusalem. Following the road to Zion that is in our hearts, we have entered into the fellowship of the saints. Psalm 137Â is an encouraging reminder that it is normal andÂ appropriate that the rebuilding of the Lord’s house is so important to us. It is so important thatÂ the Psalm writer exalts even over the destruction of Babylon.
Babylon is coming down. Come out of her, my people. The pitiful and weak world of the traditions of men can and must beÂ left. Rejoice! For the saints can return to Zion. We no longer need to languish in the denominationsÂ that have imprisoned us for so long. We no longerÂ need toÂ feign fellowship with those who are not his disciples.Â We can restore the walls andÂ repair the streets for the citizens of Jerusalem, who follow the new law and new wine ofÂ Christ–the love of the Spirit and wholehearted service to our God.
It is time, o holy ones, to sing again the songs of Zion. It is time to gather up again our harps and play the songs of the Lord. We thank God for those who have not forgottenÂ Jerusalem.Â