Reflecting on the Psalms: Broken in exile, healed at return

Jesus, by his death and resurrection is the glorious symbol and the first-fruits of the New Jerusalem. His paschal mystery has brought this victory over the evil one.

Jul 30, 2021

By Msgr James Gnanapiragasam
“In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month – it was in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon – Nebuzaradan commander of the guard, a member of the king of Babylon’s staff, entered Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of Yahweh, the royal palace and all the houses in Jerusalem,” 2 Kg 25:8-9.

Assyria, which had been the sworn enemy of Israel, had overrun Samaria, the northern kingdom, and had taken captives. But as so often happened in biblical history, one power succeeds another, and Babylon had become the supreme power in the Ancient Near East in the sixth century. Judah, the southern kingdom always presumed Yahweh’s protection but, because of their infidelity to the covenant they provoked his anger which ultimately led to its fall in 587 BCE. The pride of Jerusalem, the Temple, was destroyed, the sacred precious vessels from the Temple and the palace were carried away, the king Zedekiah had to see the slaughter of his sons before his eyes were put out and he was eventually carried off in chains to Babylon. Even the leaders and the nobles had been deported. Nobody remained except for some poor vinedressers and ploughmen.

The Book of Lamentations gives us a pathetic description of the sorry situation: “The Lord pitilessly engulfed all the houses of Jacob, in his fury he tore down the fortresses of the daughter of Judah; he threw to the ground, he desecrated the kingdom and its princes,” Lam 2:2. There were no sacred celebrations any more.

“Yahweh erased the memory of festivals and Sabbaths in Zion; in the heat of his anger, he treated king and priest with contempt,” Lam 2:6. It was utter humiliation for the people of the covenant for the enemies scoffed at them, Lam 2:16. On the other hand, the people in exile mourned and lamented their loss of land, priests, and temple. They could not celebrate their festivals as Ps 136 (137) tells us that they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept and hung up their harps. They yearned for freedom to return to the land of promise.

Psalms of Praise to Creator and Saviour (3) Ps 146 (147A) (Everyday Prayer) Week 4 Thurs Morning Prayer page 657. This Psalm is a communal hymn in praise of Yahweh who, faithful to his covenant, had pity on the people in exile and brought them back. God is praised not for his attributes but for his works in creation and his wonders in the history of the people. This is a hymn that was sung after the return from the exile. Celebrations will begin once again when all believing Jews will join in joyful praise.

It begins with an invitation to praise the Lord for showing his goodness and love in his works. What are these works? The immediate reasons for praise are the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of the exiles. The situation of a united people who once were under the sovereignty of King David may one day return. The exile had broken them in spirit but now the Lord had forgiven them as he bound up their wounds. People had once imagined that divine beings lived in the stars and orchestrated the fate of humans. But the psalmist says it is Yahweh who, being all powerful, fixed the stars himself. God is able to bring their enemies to the dust. The people can now pick up their “harps” and sing and give thanks. Now that the people are back in their own land the Lord will continue to give rain and nourishment to the needs of man and beast.

Jesus, by his death and resurrection is the glorious symbol and the first-fruits of the New Jerusalem. His paschal mystery has brought this victory over the evil one. He became the mediator of a new covenant by the pouring of his blood. As we pray this psalm, think of the troubles and pain our lives are experiencing today. We, like the exiles, are on a journey to the land of promise, the new and heavenly Jerusalem. Meanwhile the Lord is building us up anew. We are being restored spiritually like the Temple of Jerusalem. The Lord cleanses us of our faults and shortcomings in his generosity and faithfulness to this new covenant. Let us praise him and ask him to keep our hopes alive until we reach the final Jerusalem.

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