Bible Commentary: Psalm 122

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Psalm 122

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Psalm 122, the third song of ascents in the first set of three, centers on blessing and peace in Zion. "This poem describes the joy of the pilgrim on arriving at Jerusalem to worship God" ( Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 122). It is the first of four psalms of David among the songs of ascents.

David was "glad"--the Hebrew connotes laughter and cheerful delight--when companions encouraged him to accompany them into "the house of the Lord" at Jerusalem (verses 1-2). As David lived prior to his son Solomon's construction of the temple, this would immediately refer to the tabernacle that David erected in Jerusalem for the Ark of the Covenant, a place of public worship (2 Samuel 6:17-18). Yet David may have intended this psalm to be used in later temple worship. In a greater sense, it prefigures people coming into the spiritual temple of God--His Church--and ultimately God's Kingdom.

Because he lived in Jerusalem, David himself did not have to go far to worship in God's house. But he does mention others coming from afar--stating that the tribes of God (all His people) "go up" (ascend in their journey) to Jerusalem to give Him thanks (verse 4). Packed with throngs of pilgrims, the city is "compact together" (verse 3)--with all the tribes pressed together and blended. They come to the "Testimony of Israel" (verse 4). This likely referred to the tablets of the Testimony bearing the Ten Commandments within the Ark of the Covenant (compare Exodus 31:18; Exodus 25:21-22; Exodus 16:34). It also may entail coming to God's festivals to learn His laws generally. Indeed, the entire law was to be read every seventh Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).

Besides God's law being housed and taught in Jerusalem, it was also administratively applied here in civil judgment--providing the blessing of the rule of law and resultant civil order to God's nation (Psalm 122:5). The leading judges in the land were Israel's kings. When David speaks of "thrones of the house of David" in the plural, he may be referring to the seats of himself and Solomon after he had Solomon crowned king prior to his own death. There may also be a prophetic foreshadowing here of the future thrones of judgment in God's Kingdom, when Jesus Christ sits on the throne of David and His faithful followers reign with Him (see Luke 1:31-33; Revelation 3:21; 20:4, Matthew 19:28).

David calls on worshippers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). Actually, the name Jerusalem means "Possession of Peace" or "Foundation of Peace." And there is wordplay centered on this fact in the psalm. For a feel of the poetic construction, notice the alliteration (repeated consonant sounds) in the following list of Hebrew words and phrases in the song:

Verses Hebrew words English translation
2-3 Yerushalem Yerushalem Jerusalem. Jerusalem
4 shesham alu shebetim shebeti-Yah…le-shem   where go up tribes, tribes of Yah…to name
5 shammah…le-mishpat there…of judgment
6 sha'alu shalom Yerushalem yeshaleyu Pray peace Jerusalem; shall prosper
7 shalom…shaluah peace…prosperity
8 shalom peace

David's prayer--"May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces" (verse 6)--may have been looking ahead to the divinely promised peaceful and blessed reign of his son Solomon, whose name meant "Peaceful." No doubt it was also David's desire for his ongoing dynasty--that the city would be a place of peace and harmony for God's people always, especially as they came together for worship at the annual feasts.

Sadly, Jerusalem has too often failed to live up to its name as the City of Peace. In the nearly 3,000 years since Solomon's death, it has seen numerous wars and conflicts--and today it sits as a geopolitical powder keg. Thus, the psalm looks forward to the time of the Kingdom of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, for its complete fulfillment--a time of which Solomon's peaceful reign was only a small foretaste. The Feast of Tabernacles also provides such a foretaste.

Yet though the peace sought in the psalm was ultimately far off, because the house of the Lord was in Jerusalem, David was committed to praying for peace in his day and seeking to rule righteously for the good of the city (verse 9). As before, besides the application of the words of this psalm to David's immediate situation, we should also understand them as applying to the people of spiritual Zion who constitute the spiritual temple of God today--the Church--the peace and good of which we should all continually pray and strive for even as we look forward to ultimate peace in the Kingdom of God.