3. Psalm 122. Let Us Go to the House of the Lord


Audio (14:22)

Vincent Van Gogh, 'Wheat Field with Cypresses' (1889), oil on canvas, 29 x 37 in, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Vincent Van Gogh, 'Wheat Field with Cypresses' (1889), oil on canvas, 29 x 37 in, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

What excitement in the household! We're going to Jerusalem for Passover! We're leaving the hum-drum life of the village and field, and we're going to Jerusalem, the beloved Holy City!

"A Song of Ascents. Of David.

I was glad when they said to me, 
'Let us go to the house of the LORD!' 
2  Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! 
3  Jerusalem -- built as a city that is bound firmly together, 
4  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. 
5  There thrones for judgment were set, 
the thrones of the house of David. 
6  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! 
'May they be secure who love you! 
7  Peace be within your walls 
and security within your towers!' 
8  For my brothers and companions' sake I will say, 
'Peace be within you!' 
9  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, 
I will seek your good." (Psalm 122:1-9, ESV)

Gladness in the House of the Lord (Psalm 122:1)

I was four or five when I memorized verse 1 in Sunday School:

"I was glad when they said to me, 
'Let us go to the house of the LORD!'" (Psalm 122:1)

I think the idea was to implant in little children the idea of happiness and excitement about going to church -- our "house of the Lord." And I went with my family -- every Sunday!

The House of the Lord, the Temple

But for the Jewish faithful, gathering in their towns to make the pilgrimage together, it is "the house of the Lord" in Jerusalem that they are thinking about -- the temple, for in it is the Ark of the Covenant, figuratively the throne or seat of the Almighty King. Going to Jerusalem means going to God's capital, God's palace. For this reason, Jerusalem is a very special place to them.

The first temple, of course, is completed by Solomon about 960 BC. By all accounts it was grand and beautiful -- awe inspiring. But when Judah persists in sin against the Lord, it is destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians, and tens of thousands of the remaining residents of Jerusalem are either killed or marched off into exile in far-away Babylon.

A remnant returns beginning in 537 BC and by 520 BC have rebuilt the temple. This Second Temple, as it is called, isn't so large or so grand as Solomon's Temple, but it becomes a focus for the people of God where they honor Yahweh and worship him. Finally, beginning about 20 BC, Herod the Great greatly expands and ornaments the temple. So when Jesus goes to Jerusalem as a boy on pilgrimage with his parents, the sight of the temple on Mount Zion is a source of awe.

Jesus spends many happy days in the temple as a child, asks probing questions of the resident Biblical scholars when he is twelve, and later as an adult, teaches and heals within its courts.

Gladness and Rejoicing (Psalm 122:1)

This psalm, which we can classify as a hymn, is attributed to David.

"I was glad when they said to me,  'Let us go to the house of the LORD!'" (Psalm 122:1)

In David's day, the "house of the Lord" was a dream, an ambition, for the ark rested in Jerusalem in a tent David had pitched for it, anticipating the temple that was to come (1 Samuel 6:17) More about that on Day 13 (Psalm 132:5).

Nevertheless, going to Jerusalem to worship the Lord brought the people great joy. David was so overcome that he danced before the Lord as the ark came into the city (2 Samuel 6:14-15).

"I was glad when they said to me...." (Psalm 122:1a)

The word in Hebrew denotes being glad or joyful in one's whole being -- heart, soul, and eyes alit with wonder.30

Within Your Gates, O Jerusalem (Psalm 122:2-4)

"2  Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! 
3  Jerusalem -- built as a city that is bound firmly together." (Psalm 122:2-3)

Now the psalmist seems to have come within the city walls, awestruck, reverently addressing the city, "O Jerusalem!" What impressive walls, what mighty gates! For those from the towns and villages of Israel, this city is dense with dwellings and government buildings. It is a city "closely compacted together."31 No suburban sprawl here!

"Jerusalem ... 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." (Psalm 122:4)

The Mosaic Law stipulates that once the Lord has designated the place "to make his name dwell there" (Deuteronomy 12:11) -- first at Shiloh, later at Jerusalem -- then the Israelites are to gather there three times a year for religious feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16; Exodus 23:17):

  1. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (March-April),
  2. Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (May-June), and
  3. Feast of Booths or Ingathering (mid-October).

These were times to bring an offering and rejoice -- a celebration!

"There you shall bring all that I command you:  your burnt offerings and your sacrifices,  your tithes and the contribution that you present,  and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD.  And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 10:11-12).

Singing these Songs of Ascent as they travel to Zion serves to heighten their anticipation of coming into the glorious city to worship the Lord.

Thrones for Judgment (Psalm 122:5)

Jerusalem is not only known for worship, as the capital of the nation it is also the center of justice.

"There thrones32 for judgment (mishpāṭ)33 were set, 
the thrones of the house of David." (Psalm 122:5)

Yahweh has always been known as the God of justice, called the "Judge (shāpaṭ) of All the Earth" (Genesis 18:25).

"The Rock, his work is perfect, 
for all his ways are justice (mishpāṭ). 
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, 
just and upright is he."34 (Deuteronomy 32:4)

His justice is not swayed by the social status or wealth of the person who appears before his Court.

"The LORD your God ... is not partial and takes no bribe. 
He executes justice (mishpāṭ) for the fatherless and the widow, 
and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing." (Deuteronomy 10:17, 18)

Just as Yahweh is righteous and gives just judgment, so kings and all judges are expected to provide the same impartial quality of righteous judgment.

Though there were judicial systems in the various towns and villages, Jerusalem was where the hard cases were brought.35 A citizen could ultimately appeal to the king himself to hear his case. Thus, the psalmist lauds the judgment or justice seats of David's dynasty.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6-7)

The psalmist has been enjoying the beauty and justice of the Holy City. Now he turns to pray for Zion. He can't take for granted what he sees now. He pleads for its preservation.

"6  Pray36 for the peace of Jerusalem! 
"May they be secure37 who love you! 
7  Peace be within your walls38  
and security39 within your towers!"40 (Psalm 122:6-7)

In his great penitential psalm, David prays something similar.

"Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; 
build up the walls of Jerusalem." (Psalm 51:18)

"Peace" (shālôm) is a rich word that goes far beyond absence of conflict. It refers to completion and fulfilment, of a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship.41 Here the psalmist seems to have military peace on his mind, since the word occurs with concepts of walls and security, but also prosperity that needs absence of conflict to flourish.

In America, we have been blessed to have avoided war on our own soil for more than 150 years, so we tend to take peace for granted. But for much of the world -- especially in the Middle East (both then and now) -- war is a constant threat, so security and keeping strong walls in good repair are vital to survival. Peace is precious!

I Will Seek Your Good (Psalm 122:8-9)

"8  For my brothers and companions'42 sake 
I will say,43 'Peace be within you!' 
9  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, 
I will seek your good." (Psalm 122:8-9)

Verse 8 and 9 are parallel. Both contain a preposition meaning, "for the sake of."44 There are two things that concern the psalmist:

  1. People -- the welfare of his relatives and friends who live within the city, and
  2. The Temple -- the security of God's house

The psalmist offers two responses to his concerns:

  1. Blessing or benedictionn over Jerusalem -- "May shalom be within you!" and
  2. Deliberate actions that promote the good or welfare of the city.

Defending "Zion" Today

Of course, we need to pray for peace in Jerusalem today, and for peace in Israel and in the surrounding countries. Peace is precious.

But in the New Testament, Zion takes on a character that far surpasses a physical city. "Zion" becomes a symbol of people, the people of God. The writer of Hebrews says about the kingdom of the Messiah, Jesus:

"You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,  the heavenly Jerusalem,  and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly of the firstborn  who are enrolled in heaven...." (Hebrews 12:22-23a)

In the Book of Revelation, John the Revelator, sees a vision of the

"The holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,  prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Revelation 21:1-2)

The Holy City in heaven is comprised of God's holy people who have been redeemed.

So where is Zion today? In physical Jerusalem -- at least when God's presence dwelt there in the temple. In heaven, yes. But, here, too, on earth where outposts of the heavenly Zion meet in communities of God's people -- who worship, partake of the sacraments together, hear the word, and testify to the power of Christ in our midst.

We live in a time when many Christians are disconnected from local congregations. When people can say (and believe it themselves), "I don't have to go to church to be a Christian." As a result, the walls of Zion are broken down, the health of the City of God here on earth is poor, and the impact of its might is weakened.

"Let us not give up meeting together,  as some are in the habit of doing,  but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)

Today, when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we also need to pray for the shalom of Communities of the King in our towns and cities. Instead of letting others know that we don't agree with every doctrine, or trumpet aloud that this minister or that deacon has weaknesses, we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem -- and put feet to our prayers. Let us say and do once more the words we learned as children:

"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." (Psalm 122:1, KJV)

Prayer

Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in PDF, and Kindle formats only US $2.99.

Father, you have nurtured my spiritual life in your church, your "house," since childhood. Thank you. Thank for the men and women who have been examples to me of what Christ's character looks like. Thank you for gradually maturing me through your Word that is preached weekly in your house. I pray for my brothers and sisters, that they might find a house of God in their communities and be faithful in it, despite its flaws. Let them add to the brilliance of the glory of God in your house with their own lives that display your goodness. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Meditation

Day 3 Meditation (Psalm 122). Why do people desert the house of God in our day? Why do so many Christians believe they can mature in Christ without the help of Christ's people? How can you pray for the peace of God's house? What can you do to "seek the good" of God's house? http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1902-3-house/

Endnotes

Abbreviations and References

[30] "Glad" is śāmaḥ, "rejoice" (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #2268).

[31] "Bound firmly together" (ESV, NRSV), "closely compacted together" (NIV), "compact together" (KJV) is two words. The first is the Pual stem of ḥābar, "be joined, coupled." The main idea of ḥābar in the Old Testament is "to join or unite" two or more things (Gerard Van Gronigen, TWOT #598; Holladay, p. 94). The second word is the adverb yaḥdāw, "together," from yāḥad, "be united, be joined" (TWOT #858c).

[32] "Throne" is kissēh, "seat, stool, throne." The root seems to be "seat of honor" (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #1007).

[33] Mishpāṭ, "justice," that is, rightness rooted in God's character (Robert D. Culver, TWOT #2443c).

[34] "Just" (ESV) is ṣaddîq, "just, lawful, righteous," conformity to an ethical or moral standard (Harold G. Stiggers, TWOT #1879c). "Upright" (ESV) is yāshār, "upright," here ethical uprightness, a manner of life characteristic of the blameless" (Donald J. Wiseman, TWOT #930a).

[35] Deuteronomy 17:8; 2 Samuel 15:2; 1 Kings 3:16; 7:7; 2 Chronicles 19:8.

[36] "Pray" is shāʾal, "ask, inquire." In its Old Testament usage shāʾal signifies "to ask" something of someone, signify a request for something (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #2303).

[37] "Be secure" (ESV, NIV), "prosper" (NRSV, KJV) is shālâ, "be at rest, prosper." Hamilton sees shālâ in our passage with an emphasis on prosperity (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #2392).  "Have peace and quiet" (Holladay, p. 370).

[38] "Walls" (ESV) is ḥêl, "rampart, fortress" (TWOT #623d).

[39] "Security" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "prosperity" (KJV) is shalwâ, "quietness, prosperity" from shālâ (TWOT #2392d).

[40] "Towers" (ESV, NRSV), "citadels" (NIV), "palaces" (KJV) is ʾarmôn, "citadel, palace." It describes a fortified dwelling, usually a part of the royal complex (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #164a).

[41] G. Lloyd Carr, shālôm, TWOT #2401a.

[42] "Companions" (ESV, KJV), "friends" (NIV, NRSV) is rēaʿ, "friend, companion, another person" (TWOT #2186a).

[43] "Say" is the Piel imperfect of the very common verb dābar, "speak, declare, converse, command, etc." (TWOT #399).

[44] Lema'an, as a preposition, means, "with regard to, for the sake of, because of (Holladay, p. 207). It is also used as a conjunction: (a) "(in order) to"; (b) "in order that, so that." The connotation "in order that" occurs with some known and intended end in mind, hence, "to the intended response that" (Ronald B. Allen, TWOT #1650g).

Copyright © 2020, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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