Psalms 120—134 are known as “The Songs of Ascents.” As a noun, the dictionary defines ascent as a climb, upward movement, or a way up a mountain. Some Bible versions give a subtitle to Psalm 122. “A song for going up to worship” and “a pilgrim song of David” are two examples. Consider meditating on Psalms 121—123 together in your preparation. The symbolism of journey is a powerful one for Christians, especially at this time in the liturgical season.
Palestine is a country with mountain ridges running through it like a backbone. Jerusalem was in the high mountains of Judea. Egypt is geographically lower than the Promised Land, so the Israelites “went up” when they escaped Egypt. The area known as Babylon was a low, level land. When the people returned from Babylonian captivity, they would have traveled up to their mountainous homeland.
The Hebrews likely sang Psalm 122 as they traveled up the mountain to Jerusalem for a major festival. Jerusalem was the spiritual center of their understanding of being God’s people. It was also a place of conflict and turmoil, which has continued through the centuries.
Beyond the geographical meaning, consider psalms as poems of yearning or seeking God’s presence, especially in the temple. The Hebrew people had their “ups and downs” in their covenant journey as God’s people. Many psalms reflect the poets’ personal relationships with God, such as, Psalm 23 and Psalm 139. Other psalms give us a glimpse of the joys and struggles of a people living out their covenant with God. Think of Psalm 122 as a song of spiritual movement, climaxing with the Hebrew people’s arrival in Jerusalem.
In verse 1, the psalmist is joyful to “go to the house of the Lord.” Connect this idea with real joy in worship during this liturgical season. In Western culture, more people attend church at Christmas and Easter than at any other times throughout the year. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a good time to help people renew spiritual connections with a particular focus on peace—the peace of Jesus Christ. With the start of each Advent season we begin a new journey through the stories of Bethlehem, and claim God’s promises for us today.
Verse 4 is a remembrance of the Hebrews’ commitment to make the pilgrimage and give thanks to God. The next verse, like 1 Kings 22:10, mentions “thrones for judgment” that were set up outdoors for special occasions.
Verses 6 through 9 conclude the psalm as a prayer for peace, people, and the city. The Hebrews went to a sacred, holy place to encounter God, and responded with thankful praise and prayers. Could their example be a model for how we can be this Advent season? This same message is for us today: amid life’s difficulties, we turn to words of hope and promise in God.
Isaiah 2:1–5 also uses the imagery of mountains, going up, praise, and peace “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (v. 3). You may want to consider the passages together in your preparation.
(Worship Helps 10/20/2013)