Here, near the Trinity Alps in northern California, we live in some of the world’s most beautiful forests. Someone asked me recently where the name of our small town, “Willow Creek”, came from. I said I guessed there must have been some willow trees along the creek.
The Euphrates River! Our local town of Willow Creek has ancient “roots” in the Euphrates River
His question made me wonder where the willows came from. First thing I discovered is that the scientific name of the Weeping Willow tree is salix babylonica, which blew my mind.
Look at the name: babylonica. It’s the word, “Babylon” in Latin! (Today, this land is Iraq.) The willow tree historically is known as a tree lining the banks of!
Then I found out (isn’t the Web awesome?) that the first Weeping Willow in England, arrived in 1748. Mr. Vernon, a Turkey merchant of Aleppo, planted a tree from “home”, from the Euphrates, in London’s Twickenham Park. From there, the Weeping Willow has been transplanted everywhere!
What’s more amazing is the “weeping” part of the Weeping Willow. The way its leaves “droop” make it look somewhat like it’s “weeping”, but actually one of the earliest, historical references explains it’s called “weeping” for a different reason.
The reference is from a psalm in the Bible [Psalm 137]. Almost three thousand years ago, the Israelites had been taken from their lands and enslaved in Babylon. There, someone wrote this brief, heartbreaking psalm, pouring out their deep desolation and despair:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion [Jerusalem].
“We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it, because, there, those who carried us away captive commanded we sing a song —
“Those who tortured us required mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of your songs of Zion!’
“But how can we sing God’s songs in a foreign land?”
In this ancient song, the Israelite slaves found it impossible to sing the songs of home when they were, in fact, in bondage there by the rivers of Babylon.
So, instead, they hung their harps on the willow trees.
The mention of “willow trees” marks this psalm as definitely from Babylon because, in those times, there were no willows in Israel — they grew on the Euphrates River only.
The hanging up of their harps on those willows clearly means that the Israelite slaves stopped worshipping. They didn’t need their harps anymore.
Which makes it particularly penetrating to hear what a visitor to Willow Creek said recently.
A couple from Sacramento (state capitol for California), coming through on a Sunday morning stopped at our church to fellowship. After the service, they joined the others in our church for prayer before heading on down the road. The woman, speaking as led by the Spirit, suddenly spoke firmly, “It’s time! Time to take the harps down off the willow trees!” She added, “It’s time for the people here in Willow Creek to learn how to worship again! To worship powerfully, in a new way! Time to take their harps down from the willow trees!”
I have an idea I know what the Lord was saying through this visitor. But I also have an inkling that there are far too many “harps” hung on “willow trees” — not only in my town — but throughout the entire, Body of Christ.
Check out your own harps — how are they hanging?