By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion...How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
—Psalm 137:1, 4
After the sack of Jerusalem and the death of the King Zedekiah, the people of Israel were taken captive and carried off to exile in Babylon. There the Babylonian “captors and tormentors” taunted the homesick Israelites, demanding that they “sing the songs of Zion” for the amusement of the mocking soldiers. But, they lamented, “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” It is painfully difficult to praise God among hostile strangers, to sing of love and trust from the midst of captivity and exile. Nonetheless, that is sometimes what we are called—and empowered—to do.
Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz in 1943. Her diaries, published posthumously as An Interrupted Life, bear witness to her luminous faith in the saving presence of God, even in the face of war and death. For months Etty evaded capture by the Nazis, managing to travel between Westerbork (a “transit camp” for Dutch Jews) and Amsterdam on behalf of the Jews trapped in the camp.
Eventually, however, she was herself captured and placed on the train for Auschwitz . From the window of the train she threw a postcard, which was found by farmers and mailed. “Tell them we left singing,” she had written.
Oh God of love and life, you are present to us in the midst of hate and death. We thank you for your love, which is stronger than death. Help us to praise you in all times and places, to sing your song in the strange lands through which we must pass to find our way home. Help us to leave singing.
Copyright ©2005 Deborah Smith Douglas.