By the Rivers of Babylon: Remembering Jerusalem When You've Never Been There

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By the Rivers of Babylon

Remembering Jerusalem When You've Never Been There

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“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (Psalms 137:1-3 Psalms 137:1-3 1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 We hanged our harps on the willows in the middle thereof. 3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
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There are a number of popular and enjoyable renditions of this psalm. The words have been on my mind lately. It’s hard to imagine being taken away from home by force. But the next section of the psalm has me interested from another perspective.

“How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalms 137:4-6 Psalms 137:4-6 4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. 6 If I do not remember you, let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
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The Psalmist is remembering Jerusalem. Perhaps like many Christians, I have never visited Jerusalem. How could I relate to this if I’ve never been to Jerusalem?

God connects several topics to Jerusalem throughout His Word. Examining three of these subjects gives us a clearer picture of Jerusalem and a better appreciation of this psalm.

1. A center of worship

During the giving of the Law, God pointed Israel toward a place He would choose, a place for them to gather together (Deuteronomy 12:5 Deuteronomy 12:5But to the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even to his habitation shall you seek, and thither you shall come:
American King James Version×
). But the Lord didn’t just want His People to go there to hang out; He wanted them to journey there and worship Him! “There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 12:11-14 Deuteronomy 12:11-14 11 Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to the LORD: 12 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; for as much as he has no part nor inheritance with you. 13 Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt offerings in every place that you see: 14 But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.
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Hundreds of years later, God identified this place as Jerusalem through the dynasty of King David: “I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there” (2 Chronicles 6:6 2 Chronicles 6:6But I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there; and have chosen David to be over my people Israel.
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). In doing so, God directly connected Jerusalem to sincere and purpose-filled worship of Him.

When Israel and Judah experienced division under kings Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the power of this connection was recognized. Jeroboam created new worship practices so the people would not be drawn back to Rehoboam, who controlled Jerusalem in the south (1 Kings 12:28-33 1 Kings 12:28-33 28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan. 31 And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. 32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like to the feast that is in Judah, and he offered on the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. 33 So he offered on the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast to the children of Israel: and he offered on the altar, and burnt incense.
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). For example, Jeroboam fashioned two golden calves to be set up in the north for worship, something God never commanded and a past source of error for Israelites (Exodus 32:2-4 Exodus 32:2-4 2 And Aaron said to them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me. 3 And all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a engraving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
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). He also instituted a festival exactly one month after the biblical Feast of Tabernacles when the Israelites were commanded to travel to Jerusalem to worship (Leviticus 23:33-36 Leviticus 23:33-36 33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days to the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein. 36 Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation to you; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and you shall do no servile work therein.
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As we can see by this example, we must seek God and follow His instructions in order to please Him in worship. The Lord Himself reinforced this principle during His ministry on Earth by teaching “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 John 4:24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
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). Our worship should only be directed toward God and should be something we take care to do properly (Matthew 4:10 Matthew 4:10Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
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2. A dwelling for His Spirit

King David’s house was also responsible for the design and fabrication of God’s temple in Jerusalem, a work of impressive logistics, craftsmanship and wealth. When it came time for the Ark of the Covenant to be brought into this first temple, the priesthood ministered with singing in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. There came a moment when the priests couldn’t continue. This house—this temple—was filled with the glory of God; He had chosen it and made it holy (2 Chronicles 5:11-14 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 11 And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course: 12 Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brothers, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) 13 It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endures for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; 14 So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
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, 2 Chronicles 7:16 2 Chronicles 7:16For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and my eyes and my heart shall be there perpetually.
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Just as before, this principle is reflected later in the scriptures. The apostle Paul wrote to one church congregation that they were “the temple of God and that the Spirit of God” dwelled in them (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 16 Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
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). Those in the Church of God—His children, those bearing His Spirit—are the collective and holy Temple of God (Romans 8:14 Romans 8:14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
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; 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
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God’s people have always been obligated to treat holy things as holy (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
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; Exodus 30:31-32 Exodus 30:31-32 31 And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil to me throughout your generations. 32 On man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall you make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy to you.
American King James Version×
). As one part of this holy temple, Paul taught the Corinthians to begin by treating themselves as holy, in particular by avoiding sexual misconduct (1 Corinthians 6:18-19 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body. 19 What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?
American King James Version×
). Christians ought to treat themselves with honor and respect by changing their behavior to imitate Jesus Christ.

But the Christian alone is just a single part of that one, greater temple, and it must be one temple because one Spirit dwells in it (Ephesians 4:3-6 Ephesians 4:3-6 3 Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
American King James Version×
). A house is not a house if it is broken into many pieces. Such a house is in a state of disrepair and cannot be lived in. It is to the shame of the household of God that division and sin take root (1 Corinthians 11:18-22 1 Corinthians 11:18-22 18 For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 20 When you come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one takes before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have you not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise you the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
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; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 10 Now I beseech you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me of you, my brothers, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you said, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
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Christians everywhere should seek to mend broken relationships, care for one another in service, and yield to the Spirit to produce a more unified Church of God (Romans 12:18 Romans 12:18If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
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; Romans 14:19 Romans 14:19Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another.
American King James Version×
). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10 Galatians 6:10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
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3. A hopeful future

By faith Abraham “waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10 Hebrews 11:10For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
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). God has a future for His People and, at the center of it all, He has prepared Jerusalem (Hebrews 11:16 Hebrews 11:16But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: why God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city.
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During the Kingdom of God, Jerusalem will become a destination for people of every nation. From this city, the Word of God will go out to everyone. All alive will have an opportunity to know God and to sincerely walk in His paths. From Jerusalem, peace will begin and expand across the face of the Earth (Micah 4:1-3 Micah 4:1-3 1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. 2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
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At that time, a physical temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and, just as the former temple, it will be filled with the glory of God (Ezekiel 43:2-5 Ezekiel 43:2-5 2 And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory. 3 And it was according to the appearance of the vision which I saw, even according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city: and the visions were like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. 4 And the glory of the LORD came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east. 5 So the spirit took me up, and brought me into the inner court; and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house.
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). Offerings will go up to God from this new temple; it will be the worldwide centerpiece of godly worship.

Still further into the future, an entirely new but familiar city is coming. A city not made out of steel and bricks but out of spirit, this city is the New Jerusalem, and it will come as part of a new heaven and new earth. Then, “God will wipe away every tear” and death, sorrow and pain will all pass away (Revelation 21:1-4 Revelation 21:1-4 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
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This great future is a powerful hope, a motivation for the people of God! We push through the trials and the hard times to feel and see and touch this future: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 Hebrews 10:23Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
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Jerusalem is a destination many people hope to visit one day, but should be a place of great importance for Christians—whether they’ve been there or not. The city is central to godly worship throughout the scriptures and Christians today must continue to sincerely worship Him. God sanctified the temple in Jerusalem with His Spirit for many years, just as He sets followers apart with His Spirit now. Those with the Spirit should be affectionate toward and united with one another. Jerusalem is a beam of the gospel message’s light in this dark world, with a prophesied future of harmony and joy for all humanity. Let’s learn, exalt, and never forget, the lessons of Jerusalem.