Finally, we return to a series on the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), used as a liturgy for ancient Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for annual worship festivals. Today’s post focuses on Psalm 122, where David writes of the joy found in the destination – the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. When first written, this house would be the tabernacle, since the temple was built under David’s son Solomon, but when the Psalm was organized into its present order, this house would be the temple. After the pilgrims look up from their circumstances in Psalm 121 to find their help in the LORD, in Psalm 122 they reflect on what they will find at the end of their journey.
This short, 9-verse Psalm has three sections: an expectation of joy, a path to unity, and a prayer for peace. I’ll summarize each as we go.
First, expectant joy. Verses 1 and 2 of the Psalm say:
“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!”
David was glad to attend corporate worship, and this joy would be an encouragement to other when worship required a lot of travel, large crowds, and disruption of daily routines. In the following sections, David explains where his joy comes from: that worshipping with others reminds him of what only God can truly provide: Unity and Peace. David doesn’t expect everyone arriving in Jerusalem to get along and have a perfect experience, but it doesn’t ruin his joy because God promised these things to those who worship Him. While perfect is unattainable in this imperfect world, corporate worship acknowledges that this world is not all there is, and that God’s people will worship perfectly in eternity.
Second, a path to unity. In verses 3 to 5 David writes:
“Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.”
Corporate worship is a physical, visible reminder of our membership in a tribe that is not of this world. From all the tribes of the world, God calls His people and promises to make a perfect unity out of vast diversity. However, unity only exists when differences are resolved through either forgiveness or judgment. Worship should remind us that every injustice ever committed will be judged. Every offense to God’s laws of love will be paid for by either the sinner, or by Christ on the cross, and we can be thankful for both. We do not experience perfect unity or justice yet, but we know that the price has been paid for God’s people to be perfectly unified in eternity. Jesus ultimately sits on the throne David established; therefore Jesus’ authority in mercy and in judgment provides a hopeful expectation that overcomes the current, inevitable conflict that exists among God’s people, and between God’s people and the world. He remains “glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”
Lastly, peace. The final verses of the Psalm say:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.”
The Holman Bible Commentary notes that these prayers for peace are “a reference to divine protection from hostile nations. They needed an indivisible unity and impregnable safety that can come only from God. Where God finds unity, he commands his blessing there.” While Christians do not take pilgrimages to Jerusalem, in Matthew 18:20 Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” God does not promise absence of trial and persecution to His people, but He asks that in worship we do all we can to promote joy and unity within His church, wherever His people congregate. Peace can, and should, exist within the church even if peace is absent outside the church, since God’s peace is not dependent on circumstance.
David found joy in expectation of worshiping with God’s people, based on God’s promises. This week, pray for joy, unity and peace as God’s people gather locally, but also globally. While we remain yet unperfected by His grace, we hold fast to His promises and to His call to ascend to His sanctuary for worship.