The Thirteenth Decade of Psalms
This psalm is not exactly a pilgrimage psalm, but is more like a psalm that anticipates great rejoicing upon arriving at the destination of the pilgrimage. “Our feet shall stand within thy gates . . .” (v. 2). Whether or not the pilgrimage has already occurred, the focus of the psalm is on the arrival.
“A Song of degrees of David. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand Within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded As a city that is compact together: Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, Unto the testimony of Israel, To give thanks unto the name of the Lord. For there are set thrones of judgment, The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good” (Psalm 122:1-9).
Summary of the Text
David’s heart rejoices at the prospect of true worship. When someone invited him to go up to the house of the Lord, he was glad (v. 1). The pilgrimage is to Jerusalem, and he anticipates the moment when their feet are within the gates of the holy city (v. 2). That is the moment when the pilgrim band would assemble themselves together to make their final ascent up to the Temple. But remember that David is here speaking with the eye of faith. David was the one who had very recently captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:6-7), and the Temple would not be built until the time of Solomon, David’s great son. And yet, David can speak of Jerusalem as already built, and as compact together (v. 3). There are the distinctions of the various tribes (v. 4), and yet the testimony offered is that of all Israel (v. 4). The two things mentioned that they offer up to God are testimony and thanks (v. 4). They can rejoice because true judgment is found in the thrones of the house of David (v. 5). The reference to thrones in the plural might be a plural of majesty or dignity, or it is also possible that members of the royal family were involved in providing justice and judgment (2 Chron. 19:8). In the phrase “the house of David,” he is teaching his people to remember him. So then, pray for the peace of Jerusalem—because those who love Jerusalem will be prospered (v. 6). Peace and prosperity are mentioned together, within Jerusalem’s walls and palaces (v. 7). For the sake of those on pilgrimage with him, David will pronounce the benediction of peace (v. 8). He seeks the good of Jerusalem because the house of the Lord is there (v. 9).
Testimony and Thanksgiving
Martin Luther pointed out that when these pilgrims arrived at their destination, their intention was to offer up their prayers and their thanksgivings. They would give a testimony to the goodness of God, and they would render their thanksgiving to Him. Sacrifices are not mentioned here. It is not that there is anything wrong with sacrifices, but that is not the emphasis in this psalm.
Prosperity and Peace
The key note is always the truth. This is what Israel testifies to. We give thanks to God for the certainty of His judgments, and this is the express reason given (v. 5). We render thanks because of the presence of the thrones of judgment. Then, right after this, the pairing of peace and prosperity comes in for mention twice (vv. 6, 7). Peace and prosperity are therefore not ends to be pursued, but are rather are the result of caring about something else much more than peace and prosperity. Pursuing peace for its own sake breeds wars, and pursuing prosperity for its own sake breeds mammon-grubbing idolatry, and then poverty.
The bumper sticker that says no justice, no peace is correct, but only if we define those two terms biblically, instead of with the eye of envy.
The Tribes of Israel
The people of God are one great ocean, and our individual communions, or denominations, or churches, or . . . tribes are simply distinct waves on the surface of that great ocean. All who trust in Christ alone for their salvation are our brothers and sisters, and the unity beneath all of us together is immense. Different Christian churches are not isolated from one another, as though we could be collected in different buckets. That is not what God is doing. You can easily distinguish one wave from another one, just as you can tell one bucket from another. But the unity shared by the former is what we are dealing with.
All the different tribes give a united testimony, and it is the testimony of all Israel (v. 4).
The presence of tribes does not mean the absence of unity. That only happens if you define unity as “no tribes.” If you have had much interaction with Roman Catholic apologists, they will often point out the fact that Protestantism is inherently fractious, and has something like 25K denominations. That misleading figure likely comes from a book called World Christian Encyclopedia, but if you drill down to identify actual tribes, you will find that the Orthodox have 19 traditions, the Roman Catholics have 16, and the Protestants have 21. If we tossed in the Anglicans, we have another 6. And among Protestants, we have a lot more inter-tribal unity than they do elsewhere. Fractiousness is not our most pressing problem. It is a problem, but not what it is made out to be.
Christ our Jerusalem
When we are invited to come to the house of the Lord, our response should be one of gladness. When we are invited to come to the house of the Lord, we have been invited to come to Christ. When we come to Christ, He brings us to the Father, and He brings us to the Father in the power of the Spirit. Not only so, but He brings us to Himself together with all the rest of His people.
The metaphors of Scripture do not displace one another, like they were billiard balls. Rather, they can be layered, one on top of the other. Christ is the road to Jerusalem. Christ is the house of the Lord we come to in Jerusalem. Christ is married to His bride, the new Jerusalem. Christ is always all, and in all, and through all.
If we have Him, then we have a true testimony, and we can give thanks. If we have Him, then we are given the gift of true peace and true prosperity. And only there.