Isaiah 35 speaks to a sinful nation in captivity in Babylon’s flat land, a nation longing for home among its hills and mountains in Judea. Their heartache and the fact that they have shamed God just by being in captivity (Ezekiel 36:20, passim) has left them songless. Babylon’s god Marduk must have been too strong for Yahweh. How could they sing about their God and home while their grinning captors mock them”—sing us a song about Zion.” (Psalm 137)? No wonder many of them hung their unused harps on the willow branches. Babylon made their songs sound fake, wishful thinking—how can you sing (Psalm 46), “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble” when you’re being hauled off away from all you love?
Many things can leave us songless. Singing, “Thank you Lord for loving me and thank you Lord for blessing me…” might make you want to get sick! Agony entered your home a long time ago and never left and despite anguished prayers nothing changes so let us all sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus; all our…griefs to bear…”
And then one Sunday morning you slip into your familiar seat and you see strangers in the same row looking your way with pleasant smiles and friendly nods. You make the effort, rise and greet them, speak your name and ask theirs.
“I’m Daniel,” one says. Then, “Shadrach,” “Meshach,” “Abed-Nego.”And with one voice they say, “We’re so pleased to meet you. A great multitude of us (Hebrews 12:1) heard of your trouble and we were sent to say hello to let you know you were not forgotten. We’re not quite sure why we were chosen to come but…“
And you interrupt to say, “Oh, but I know why you would have been chosen you. You each went through so much trouble.”
“Ah, yes,” Shadrach says, “but that’s all past and we are blessed.” Then Abed-Nego says, “And believe us, our trouble was no more stressful than yours has been and is.”
You return to your place and somehow feel more able to sing. You rise to sing with everyone else. The song-leader announces the hymn: “Father Hear The Prayer We Offer’ and, look, it’s Him. The hands He holds the book with….what are those marks? It’s, Him! He nods in your direction and together everyone gallantly sings songs of Zion “in a foreign land” (Psalm 137:4)
Father, hear the prayer we offer:
Nor for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength, that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.
Not forever by still waters
Would we idly, quiet stay;
But would smite the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.
Be our strength in hours of weakness,
In our wanderings be our Guide;
Through endeavor, failure, danger,
Father, be Thou at our side.
Let our path be bright or dreary,
Storm or sunshine be our share;
May our souls in hope unweary
Make Thy work our ceaseless prayer.