The Psalms of Ascent give us a picture of the pilgrim making his way toward God in a worshipful journey.
Because these Psalms are meant to be used in worship, not merely observed and studied, they also become the means by which God’s people draw nearer to his presence. This is most obvious in Psalm 122, which is attributed to David. As the prototypical king of Israel, David knew Jerusalem quite well. For him, the call to worship in Jerusalem yields gladness and anticipation shown in verses 1-2.
Notice that ascending to the house of the LORD is a communal act. There are certainly times for private worship, but we are meant to joyfully anticipate worship with our brothers and sisters whom God has redeemed from slavery. It is no wonder these Psalms were used as pilgrims traveled together to Jerusalem.
This joy even causes David to reflect on the city itself, but don’t mistake his reflection in verses 3-5 for a mere description of the city. The act of the tribes “going up” to Jerusalem can refer to the main festivals held every year. In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 4 well, “To give thanks to the name of GOD – this is what it means to be Israel.” In their liturgical calendar, the nation celebrated and rehearsed who God is and what he has done for them. Jerusalem is both geographically and spiritually the core of their identity – the center of their inheritance.
Therefore, it makes sense to celebrate thrones of judgment in verse 5. Wait, what?! In 21st century America, “judgment” is usually negative. We hate it when people “judge” us. Yet for the Jews and all societies for that matter, fair judgment is a lynchpin for a functioning community. To take it even further, a righteous King who brings justice is a means by which God brings blessing and order to his people. (Additionally, remember the phrase “house of David” because it would be from this very family line that God would “raise up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” [Luke 1:69].)
With all that Jerusalem represents to its people, David moves us to pray for its peace (vs 6-9).
Jerusalem must be protected for God to bring order and blessing to his people. Our job is to pray for God uphold His promise (from Psalm 121 no less). Note we’re not to pray for Jerusalem for its own sake. Rather, we do so for the sake of God (vs 9) as the source of peace and our brothers (vs 8) as those who benefit from peace. Note the word for peace, “shalom” (שָׁלוֹם) in Hebrew, is more extensive than mere civil peace. The context of 122:7 does indicated David has peace from national security in mind.
However, the word shalom is wonderfully more holistic. It connotes not just peace, but whole, flourishing, and healthy communities that are living as God intended.
Shalom flows from the “house of the LORD” (vs 1) and the thrones for judgment (vs 5). The Old Testament widely uses the concept of shalom and even points forward to the time when God would bring his blessing to all the earth through the Prince of Peace described in Isaiah 9:6-7. In fact, Isaiah even describes the Messiah bringing peace by ruling “on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (emphasis added.)
For the church who resides on this side of the resurrected and reigning Messiah Jesus, a more permanent shalom has begun in the new creation.
It flows from God’s presence in the Holy Spirit to his people (the new temple). We see evidence of this especially when God’s people pray for peace in the church and work for justice and righteousness in our communities “for our brother’s sake.”
When keeping all this in mind, it is no wonder that, just like David, we should be moved to joyful anticipation at the thought of joining the community in the worship of God!
Colson is a lay-leader at Redeemer Fellowship Church in St. Charles, IL. He and his wife, Sarah, live in nearby Batavia with their twin toddlers and one on the way.
To see more of Colson’s devotional posts at The Art of Taleh, click on the titles below: