By the rivers of Babylon

There is something about this song that resonates deep within me. It is a reggae classic, written in 1970, that has been remade many times over by reggae artists, gospel choirs and everyone in-between. This version is by Jimmy Cliff, a reggae legend, and it shows the up-lifting power of the song. It’s a song that is meant to be experienced, I highly recommend you sing along while playing it loudly.

And we wept as we remembered Zion

This is a song of mourning and grief. The song is based on Psalm 137: 1- 4:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion… For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song… How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? (1-4)

It is some dark subject matter. This song was written about Africans being taken from their homelands and sold into slavery, based on a bible verse about the Jews being exiled to Babylonia (6th-5th centuries, B.C. ) This song describes terrible events yet goes on to encourage the listener to continue to walk with God and do right. The second half of the song is based on Psalm 19:14:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

How will you handle adversity?

My family has faced great change and upheaval over the course of the last two years. It’s been a long process filled with grieving and rebuilding. I know things are happening as they should, but my faith has been stretched to its limits at times.

Reggae is music born from people who know hardship and suffering. Yet the music is filled with love, gratitude and humor. It’s music that is meant to be danced to and experienced with others. By the Rivers of Babylon takes tragic events and makes something beautiful that conveys strength and power. I love the congregational aspect of this song, it uplifts me like a hymn. In Jimmy Cliff’s capable hands, it’s practically a religious experience.

Recommended Versions

This version by Sublime is a favorite because the harmonies are lovely and I have a soft spot for marimba. If you are interested in purchasing this song, I highly recommend the gospel version by Sweet Honey in the Rock titled Waters of Babylon. Blessings!


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