AMONG THE SONGS OF ASCENT (see vol. 1, meditation for June 29) is the delightful Psalm 122. Here the psalmist joyfully accompanies those heading to Jerusalem for one of the high feasts: “Let us go to the house of the LORD” (Ps. 122:1). Already in verse 2 the pilgrims have arrived: “Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.”
Two themes dominate the remaining verses of the psalm.
First, verses 3-5 emphasize the unity of God’s people, brought about by their common worship in Jerusalem of the true God and by their common submission to the rule and justice of the house of David. There was of course diversity—not only the diversity common to all collections of human beings, but the diversity implicit in the twelve “tribes” (Ps. 122:4), each with its own marked character. The unity was more profound than blood ties. It was based on a common covenant with the one God. These were “the tribes of the LORD” (Ps. 122:4). Small wonder, then, that when the northern ten tribes revolted, the leader, Jeroboam, greatly feared that Jerusalem and its temple would become the rallying point for renewed unification (1 Kings 12:26ff.).
Yet unity was merely the byproduct of the festive ascents to Jerusalem. The purpose of the ascents was “to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel” (Ps. 122:4). When God becomes the means to the end, unity is never achieved; when God himself is the end, the glorious byproducts of unity and peace are never far behind. The sheer God-centeredness of biblical religion is one of the things that regularly distinguishes it from paganism, which commonly sees religion as a means to certain ends (cf. Hosea 2:5).
Second, in another distinction between means and ends, David exhorts people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, not for the sake of an abstract ideal or for the sake of the city per se, but for the sake of people (Ps. 122:8) and above all for the sake of “the house of the LORD our God” (Ps. 122:9). To pursue political peace and forget people is a sham. Indeed, the exhortation to pray for the “peace” of “Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:6) includes a pun: we are to pray for the shalom of Jerusalem; the Hebrew consonants are the same, and remind us that Jerusalem rightly conceived holds out the fullness of “well-being” to people. To pursue merely physical benefits for people and forget the presence and purposes of the Lord God is at best short-term thinking and at worst a route to disaster and to hell itself. “For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,” David writes, “I will seek your prosperity” (Ps. 122:9).
Reflect on how to transpose these two points to the Christian antitype (Heb. 12:22-24), not least in detailed application (Heb. 12:28-13:13).