“On the willows there we hung up our lyres.” Psalm 137:2
Sorrow, oppression, injustice … these are constant themes of human history. What people group has not encountered them in their chronicles? He who saw the tears of the oppressed said, “If you see in the province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter” (Eccl. 5:8). Such is the way of fallen mankind.
One such horrid spectacle of oppression was immortalized by singer Billie Holiday in her haunting song Strange Fruit. She was not the first to hit the note, for there are ancient songs of our Lord hanging from a tree. The psalm before us sings anticipations of this great, eschatological hanging.
The children of Israel found themselves far away from home, under the iron oppression of Babylon in the height of its power. And this too had produced a sort of strange fruit, harps hanging on trees. The willow is a peculiar plant, and lends itself to this idea, for it is popularly called the weeping willow. It sings a sad song by nature, and produces neither fruit nor fragrance. A fitting platform for the silenced instruments of Jerusalem’s singers. The picture is of absolute loss and great longing. In a word, it is exile.
It was our Lord himself, heaven’s very song of joy, who hung upon a strange tree in this Babylon world. He was exiled from God’s favor in our place, that we might find a home with him forever in true Zion. If we pass through strange lands on our way there—and certainly we must—let us keep this song on our lips as we go, the song of the Lamb and his great love for the lost children of God.