When We Remembered Zion
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered
Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors
demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, ‘sing us one of the
songs of Zion” (Psalm 137: 1-3).
There is a spiritual struggle in the unseen realm. God desires that His people
enter into the blessed reality of the fullness in His Son, but the enemy of God
throws all he has into the ring to prevent this from happening. God’s enemy is
bent on keeping the nature of this struggle from God’s people because once it is
understood, God’s remnant begins to respond to His call and return to the fullness
that He has prepared in His Son, and the struggle will be over with.
Concerning God’s thoughts for the fullness which He prepared in His Son for His
people as revealed in Paul’s Ephesian letter, T.A. Sparks had this to say, “This
letter is written in superlative upon superlative, a tumbling of language over itself
as it strives to cope with the immensities that are in view. The language of
overflowing fullness (‘exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think’) –
one wave succeeds another … ‘and that you may know what is the breadth and
the length and the height and the depth, the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ.’
This letter brings to our understanding what we can find nowhere else in the Bible:
the great thought of God for His people before time was, the electing, the
choosing of that people for Himself, with a great purpose in view. God coming out
from eternity into time to find them, lifting them out of time, carrying them on into
the eternity to be, with great thoughts, great designs, great intentions, great
purposes. …the wonderful revelation of God's 'pre-thought' about us, of His
calling of us in time, of the great purpose of that thought and that calling, to be
realized throughout the ages of ages” (Rivers of Living Water).
To prevent God’s people from seeing and entering into His fullness in the Son,
the enemy cleverly employs two tactics: 1) Harsh Persecution, and, failing it, 2)
In the Old Testament, the slavery of the children of Israel in the Egyptian bondage
epitomizes the enemy’s first ploy. He did all he could to keep
God’s people from leaving by imposing hard labor, harsh treatment and
enslavement. Life in the Egyptian bondage would be unbearable. In the first
couple of hundred years following the birth of the Church, the enemy used the first
method through the Roman Caesars in an attempt to snuff out the early church.
Instead of floundering, the Church grew stronger and flourished under severe
Under the reign of Constantine, the enemy switched his tactic to that of warm
embrace. Instead of persecution, Christianity now became a state religion
enjoying prestige, power and wealth.
Likewise, the Babylonian Captivity was just such a cleaver design to prevent God’
s people from returning to Zion, the fullness of God in Christ Jesus, by elevating
the status of the exiles and giving them everything they wanted, as long as they
stayed in Babylon. The result was clear, unlike the Egyptian bondage where ALL
Israelites departed the “house of slavery” in haste, only a small remnant left
Babylon, even after Cyrus, the king of Persia issued a royal decree encouraging
ALL Israelites to return to Zion (Ezra 1:1-4).
During the captivity, the children of Israel flourished in Babylon. They were free to
conduct commerce, build houses, enter into politics, enroll in higher education,
pursue the Great Babylonian Dream…. And excel they did in every field. Yes,
even in religion. The ingenious way of gathering for worship in Synagogues was
invented during the Babylonian Captivity. Giving the exiles everything they
wanted, including the worship of their God, proved far more harmful than
persecution and slavery – they soon forgot about Zion. Why remember Zion when
they can worship God freely in Babylon, not to mention live in comfort and style?
Alas, the invention of the Synagogue system fully exposed the heart of the exiles.
God only meted out 70 years to discipline the children of Israel for their
unfaithfulness and idolatry. But at the end of 70 years, only a tiny remnant
returned to Zion. The vast majority of God’s people have succumbed to “singing
the Lord’s song in a foreign land.” How sad!
Has the situation changed today? I’m afraid not.
The most outwardly successful mega churches have all embraced the Babylonian
culture. From public relations to self-promotions to Hollywood-styled productions,
churches today are engaged in all types of propaganda. The late Peter Jennings
of ABC News did a documentary about 10 years ago on the prevailing
movements in Christianity. He noted that the secret of the success of mega
churches involved offering to the congregation what they wanted most –
entertainment. Nothing draws a crowd more than entertainment cloaked in
religion. Songs and dances and drama and stage shows, you name it. “Sing for
us one of the songs of Zion”? You betcha.
So, where are the remnants?
The remnants are “by the rivers of Babylon,” sitting down and weeping. This is a
picture of destitution. And unless we are brought to the end of ourselves, we will
not “remember Zion.” The prodigal son did not remember his father’s house until
he was reduced to an absolute destitute end of himself. As the old adage goes,
“The end of man is the beginning of God”…truer words, truer words. Many
Christians have been disappointed by the soulishness of entertainment in the
churches, and have longed for deeper spirituality that is not offered in traditional
institutional churches. Messages and books on the New Testament-styled house
churches have been in ever increasing circulation. Many sincere and seeking
saints have been drawn by the allure of “authentic” church experience as
revealed in the Early Church as seen in the book of Acts.
Unconventional churches, house churches and simple gatherings are springing
up in many places. The sad thing is, nothing has really changed. The same folks
that gossiped and bickered in the institutional church now gossip and bicker in
the living-room of the house church. The same people that had itching ears for
sermons in the institutional church now have itching ears for sermons in the house
church. The same zealous and ambitious ones that loved to lead and preach in
the institutional church now lead and sermonize in the house church. Worse yet,
some have observed a superior “us-against-them” mentality among the house
church saints toward the saints in the institutional church.
The authenticity in the outward ways of doing church does not make for genuine
church experience. What’s missing?
Simply put, we have not been taken to the river’s edge, sitting down and
weeping. No one can do this by his own power; it is the work of the Holy Spirit
through applying the cross in our lives. Job declared, “When He has tried me, I
shall come forth as gold.” What makes the house of God authentic is not a bunch
of people who have discovered the Early Church blueprint. It is the character of
His Son, Christ, lived out in folks who have been brought to the river’s edge
realizing it is “no longer I, but Christ.”
God wants a people who enter in, partake of and express the fullness of His Son,
Christ. The only way to do that is to be brought to the end of ourselves. Moses
had to be brought to the end of himself before he could experience God’s
A few years ago, I came upon a news article written by a Houston Chronicle
reporter in Baghdad in 2003. It stated that as recently as the end of WWII, there
were still over 130,000 Jews calling Iraq (the ancient Babylon) home. Why so
many still? Life was good, that’s why. That number steadily dwindled as God
moved to edge them closer and closer to their “river’s edge.” Now, the last
remaining Jews, all 24 of them, in Baghdad have decided to leave as well. Not
for Zion, but for the perceived “good life” in Israel.
At long last, after 2,600 years, the last of the children of Israel finally left Babylon.
Or did they…? They may have physically left Babylon, but Babylon may still be in
their hearts. I’ve attached the news article and a comment I wrote in 2003 below.
Read it and you’ll see.
Sept. 30, 2003, 11:50PM
Iraqi Jews plan to leave for Israel
Synagogue's 24 members feel insecure, see no future in Baghdad
By MICHAEL HEDGES
2003 Houston Chronicle
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The last Hebrew speaker from a Jewish population that dates
back to the days when King Nebuchadnezzar brought the Israelites to Babylon in
chains nearly 2,600 years ago is a gregarious rabbi named Imab Levy.
And he is headed for Israel.
Levy, 38, presides over the congregation of Iraq's last synagogue, the Meyer
Torque Synagogue, and over a Jewish population that has shrunk to 24 people.
"I need to sell my house, sell my things and prepare things first," Levy said. "But I
hope to go to Israel soon. There is no future here. I can't find a wife, we are all
afraid. It is a terrible life."
Nidhal Saleh, her sister Khalida and a friend Samira Yakub, three Jewish women
living in Baghdad near the synagogue, also hope to go to Israel in the near future.
"We were born here, and Iraq is a good country, it is our home," said Nidhal
Saleh. "But we are single women living alone, and there are so few Jews here.
For this reason we want to leave."
Levy's father, Ezra, also a rabbi, moved to Israel a couple of months ago with five
other Iraqi Jews, aided by a New Jersey organization, called the Hebrew
Immigration Aid Society, and a private Israeli group.
"They flew out of Baghdad airport after being cleared by the CPA (Coalition
Provisional Authority) and landed directly in Israel without passports," Levy said. "I
have talked to my father many times. He has a house, he has everything. It is a
very good life."
As recently as the end of World War II, some 130,000 Jews lived in Iraq, which
occupies the fertile lands that had been the heart of the ancient Babylonian
empire. In the late 1940s, a combination of a wave of harassment and the
opportunity to emigrate to Israel lured all but about 10,000 out of the country.
That population shrank steadily to the low triple digits by the late 1980s. At that
time, President Saddam Hussein saw the propaganda value in pointing to the
Jews in Baghdad as evidence of the secular tolerance of the ruling Ba'athist
party. So, the Iraqi leader made it nearly impossible for the remaining Jews to
They lived mostly in middle- or upper-middle-class neighborhoods and in many
ways were indistinguishable from other Iraqi professionals. They spoke Arabic
and -- under duress, they now say -- kept pictures of Saddam in their homes
against an unexpected visit by the secret police.
The blending of the two cultures was evident in Levy's home, where a Hebrew
scroll hung from on one wall and another displayed a framed piece of black silk
with the word Allah stitched in gold in graceful Arabic calligraphy.
The synagogue remained a functional center of Jewish life here until last April
when U.S. forces overthrew Saddam's regime. But now the temple is locked and
guarded by Muslim security men hired by Levy.
"We were afraid after the war. We had no weapons, no way to defend ourselves,"
Levy said. "Some people here hate us. They don't want to deal with us. We have
no security anywhere."
Levy has a clear sense that this has a moment in history for the Jewish tradition in
Iraq, which includes epic events such as Daniel being cast in the lion's den and
the trial by fire of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
"We have been here for over 2,500 years," Levy said. "And I am the last person
who can speak Hebrew. I am the last rabbi who will be in Iraq, there will not be
But Levy is far from sentimental about what he plans to be his imminent departure.
"I'm not concerned about what I have lost. I will have a new life," Levy said. "When
I leave, I am never coming back.
"There is nothing I will miss."
I have always wondered what ever happened to the hundreds of thousands Jews
who stayed in Babylon after Cyrus, king of Persia granted them permission to
return to Israel. At the time only a small remnant were stirred up to return to
rebuild God’s house in Zion.
God clearly set 70 years as the length of their captivity. No doubt, God used the
Babylonian captivity to chasten His people for their unfaithfulness and purge them
of idolatry. But 70 years was all He required, not a day more. Now, almost 2,600
years later, the remaining descendants of the original few hundred thousand Jews
– all 24 of them – are about to close the long chapter of their captivity and embark
on a journey back to the land of their fathers, the land that God gave them.
Imab Levy is right, this final exodus from Iraq, the land of the ancient Babylon,
does have a “moment in history.” And what a history it is! It shows God’s great
mercy, sovereignty, blessing, longsuffering and love. He protected His people
from those who hated them and bent on annihilating them; He blessed them with
earthly wealth and comfort, beauty, power and wisdom; He kept them from being
assimilated and dissolved into foreign religions and cultures…. All these and
much more, He did for a people who refused to obey God’s desire for them to
return and build His testimony. And finally, even for those who chose the wealth,
comfort and good living in Babylon instead of suffering hardship and reproach
with the remnant in Israel, God turned all their sweet successes into waters of
God waits patiently – even if it may take 2,600 years.
Even then, have they really changed? Have they learned the lessons? It is
apparent from the answers given by Levy and the 3 women that they have not.
Were it not for the persecutions, lack of security both politically and economically,
lack of suitable mates, they would have been more than happy to remain in Iraq
(Babylon) forever. It is the allure of a perceived “good life” in Israel with houses,
jobs and abundant choice for potential mates that draws them back, it has nothing
at all to do with a desire for God or for His testimony.
It is a heart issue. It always is.
The heart of the true remnant was never consumed with the allure of good life; it
ached when they remembered Zion; it ached when God’s house lay in ruins.
Their heart trembled at the reflection of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down, and yea we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our
harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those that 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!’ 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.”
Interestingly, I find myself a near mirror-image if Rabbi Levy. I have a desire to
serve God, I care for the flock, I speak a spiritual language; and yet in my heart I
covet the treasures and comforts of Babylon. I also find myself trying to balance
between the “blending of two cultures” – pleasing God on the one hand and
pleasing my soul life on the other. And what about pleasing men? Isn’t there a
temptation to tell the brothers and sisters what they like to hear? Why risk
misunderstanding if the message goes against their concept?
There is such a similarity between the Jews who frolicked and flourished in the
Babylonian society and us Christians. When “Nebuchadnezzar” slapped the
ankle-iron on us, we’d moan and groan for Zion, God’s eternal purpose; but when
the king elevates us to a penthouse in the Hanging Garden, all burden and desire
for God’s house is but a forgotten dream.
Then there were the true remnants – those who never forgot Zion. No matter what
the king of Babylon did, they set their faces as the flint toward Zion. They were
not swayed or deceived by Babylon’s riches and glory, or even the counterfeit and
watered-down version of the house of God in synagogues. Nothing short of the
original foundation – Christ – would do for them! They would stop at nothing short
of the original foundation – Christ. And off they went.
Alas, in a world that is predisposed to instant gratification, instant foods and
anything instant, Christians are also programmed to look for instant spirituality,
instant maturity and instant relationship. Today, Christians gather based on a
derivative of the instant culture that we are in – whatever works, do it. If it works to
gather with people of same race and culture, with people of similar mentality and
temperament, with like teachings…why not do it? Who needs God’s archaic way
of the cross? Transformation of the soul? Fellowship in His sufferings? Made
conformable to His death? Small wonder Christians are still in their Babylonian
captivity; they are gathering on anything but the original foundation of Christ which
is what “Zion” represents.
When we gather unto each other, unto a spiritual man, unto a doctrine or teaching,
unto a formula for meeting, unto a practice or experience, unto a race/culture…we
are settling for something far short of Zion, the original foundation of Christ.
God can take Imab Levy and the rest of his companions out of Iraq (Babylon) and
put them in Zion, but Babylon is still deep in their hearts. It will take a change of
heart to effect real change.
Likewise, it will take a change of heart for us Christians to really come out of our
“Babylon” to our “Zion,” the original foundation of Christ.
How does a change of heart take place? By being brought to the end of our
selves “by the rivers of Babylon” thus “remembering Zion.”
The Closed Door
Gateway to Spiritual Fullness