“Singing in a Strange Place”

boney mIn 1970,  Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group, The Melodians, wrote the popular song “By the Rivers of Babylon”. This song was later covered by the group, Boney M in 1978. Do you remember this group? They were a seventies German-based, Jamaican-born British band with a Rastafarian flair. That’s a great mix isn’t it? In 1978, their cover version was one of the top ten all-time best-selling singles in the UK.  I loved this album, we played it often in our house. Enjoy the lyrics:


“By the Rivers of Babylon

By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down

Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion

When the wicked

Carried us away in captivity

Required from us a song

Now how shall we sing the lord’s song in a strange land


When the wicked

Carried us away in captivity

Requiring of us a song

Now how shall we sing the lord’s song in a strange land

Let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart

Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight”


Read more here (click on the link)

The theme of the song is about the Hebrew prisoners/slaves on their walk from Jerusalem to Babylon (Psalms 137:1-4).

Let me quote to get the full picture: “Beside the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps hanging on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn, one of those songs of Jerusalem. But how can we sing while in a pagan land?” (NLT)

I provided all the details above to reaffirm our Christian heritage despite all the intense prosperity culture. Jesus still grants the troubled soul a song in the night or a rare provision of streams in their deserts. It may question the logic, nevertheless backed by experience and based on Scriptures. Here are my arguments with four different case scenarios.

Singing in the Jail (Acts 16:25-34)

Not many have heard hymn singing in jail houses in the middle of the night; definitely not in Roman times, where Prisoners were chained in overcrowded dungeons, many with stocks.  Paul and Silas were thrown in there for preaching the good news and for delivering a girl from an evil spirit.

Boney M’s question could have propped up in their minds: “How can they sing the Lord’s song in a jail house? But singing they did.” “Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, and other prisoners were listening. Suddenly there was a massive earthquake…. prison was shaken… chains fell off. The jailer woke up, saw the prison doors open, he fell down before Paul and Silas…He said Sirs, what must I do to be saved? They replied, believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved along with everyone in your household…Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized”.

Singing on the battle field  (2 Chronicles 20:21-25)

Three neighbouring nations got together and declared war against king Jehoshaphat of Judah. The terrified king stood in the temple for guidance. Again, I wonder if he thought “how can we sing the Lord’s song – in a battlefield?” But he ordered his subjects to fast and pray. The answer came through one Jahaziel (Yachaziel = God sees) who said: “Do not be afraid….for the battle is not yours but God’s. You will not even need to fight”.

The king formed an unusual military strategy. He appointed the singers to walk ahead of the army to the battlefield singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. The very moment they began to sing, the three kings and their soldiers started fighting among themselves and killing each other. There was a great victory!

The event continued; Jehoshaphat and the people marched back to Jerusalem singing and playing their harps, lyres and trumpets, thanking God.

Singing while being martyred

This happened in Uganda in late 1800. Anglican and Catholic missionaries ministered in Uganda and many Ugandans accepted the Gospel and became disciples of Jesus. The Ugandan King did not like his subjects following Jesus. He felt he was losing their loyalty. When punishments could not stop them, the king put thirty to death, of which twenty-two were burnt to death.    

What moved me to tears while writing about them was their faith in God. They walked to their death, you guessed it, singing “Hallelujah.” Today Uganda has the fastest growing church in Africa.

Singing before the Cross (Mark 14:22-26)

“As they were eating , Jesus took some bread and gave……And he took a cup of wine and gave…..Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives”. That was the last Supper. The disciples were unaware, but Jesus knew he was heading resolutely towards judgement, suffering, rejection, Peter’s denial and the cross (and ultimately death) for our Salvation. He sang!  

Are any of my readers in situations where you are also asking: “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this situation?”  The singers by the riverside of Babylon did not know that among them God had a Daniel and friends whom He would use to change the captivity, to convert the ruthless, powerful autocratic king Nebuchadnezzar (Neb) into a Believer in Jehovah. They did not know that Jews prospered and became stronger in Babylon than Jerusalem itself. God raised up leaders like Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah with 50,000 Jews from Babylon to return to Jerusalem, bring in a revival and to rebuild a wall and a temple!

No wonder Tertullian, one of the early fathers wrote in 197 AD in his Apologeticum: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. I started with a song. May I end with one too?

“Faith of our fathers living still, In spite of dungeons, fire and sword. Oh how our hearts beat high with joy. Whenever we hear that glorious word.” (Frederick William Faber, 1814-1863)

A friend gave me this quote: “Anyone can sing when the sun is shining bright but you need a song in your heart at night”. Day or night – KEEP SINGING!!!


God bless,   Danny Paul

7 Replies to ““Singing in a Strange Place””

  1. God didn’t just give us the ability to sing, He IS our song!! We can also rejoice in that while we are in heaven we will be singing before the throne “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”

  2. Hi Danny

    I remember this group for its many songs, recently downloaded their Christmas Special.
    This memory took me back to a happy day in Calcutta.

  3. Great blog. Interestingly, I believe the lead female singer’s father worked at Vauxhall motor company with my father.

    1. Hi Bob, This reply comes with an apology. I was just going through my responses to comments and found that I had not replied to you. I apologize and request you to overlook my error.
      You mentioned that George Charles worked with the Female Lead singers (BoneyM group)Dad in Vauxhaul Motor Company. I remember this car company. Are they still in business under that name? Once again my apology. Danny Paul

  4. Only human beings “understand” suffering.
    Only human beings “it is said” sing.
    Only our God puts the two together. What if He didn’t?
    Grace to understand our suffering, and grace to sing about it. What a great God.

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