Last week, we were reminded that Jerusalem was destroyed for the first time in 597 BC. That’s 2600 years ago. The city was demolished by the Babylonians, who were the superpower of the time. The Temple, God’s house, was torn down. And Jerusalem’s best and brightest were carried away into exile in Babylon, in the place we now call Iraq.
When the Jewish people were carried away, they felt they could no longer worship God. The Temple was gone. That was their only place of worship. So in Psalm 137 they sang,
By the rivers of Babylon
we sat down and wept
as we remembered Zion.
On the willow trees there
we hung up our lyres,
for there those who had carried us captive
asked us to sing them a song,
our captors called on us to be joyful:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
How indeed? As if broken hearts and broken spirits were not enough, how could they sing God’s songs with no temple?
The Book of Jeremiah countered this by telling them to put down roots, to grow food and have children, to pray for the welfare of the city of their enemies.
And when the time came that they could go back to their ancestral home, the Book of Jeremiah has startling news for the returning exiles. God says:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.