By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the LORD’S song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
I'm not sure I have ever missed home as much as this psalmist does. Of course, I have also not been forcibly taken into exile, with tormentors gathering around asking me to sing a song from home while they taunt me in the land to which I have been taken.
This is a haunting Psalm. The Christian hymn "how can I keep from singing" is modified, re-written itself as a song, that goes, "How can I sing? We can't."
There is in this Psalm a contradiction. It is a song that asks, "How could we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land?" Could it be that this song was written far away from Jerusalem, but then only sung for the first time upon a return to Jerusalem? Did the harps remain hanging in the willows until they once again crossed the rivers of Babylon? Conjecture, yes, but certainly within the imaginative horizon of this psalm.
Finally, the prayer, that if we do not remember Jerusalem, may our tongue cling to the roof of our mouths. What is my Jerusalem? I have never been patriotic in the way many people are patriotic. So am I therefore silenced? Am I a stranger in a strange land? I have certainly felt that way at times, especially when I've lived abroad for a while and returned.
I do not consider myself unpatriotic either. I guess I am patriotic in the same way an atheist is religious- by way of protest. Shall I put this in song?