Psalm 122 – Coming to the House of the LORD and the City of God
Psalm 122 carries the title A Song of Ascents. Of David. It is one of the four Songs of Ascents that is specifically attributed to King David. He wrote it both for what Jerusalem was in his day, and for what it would become under his son and their successors. David perhaps never made pilgrimage from a great distance to one of the major feasts, but he wrote Psalm 122 in the voice of one who did, and who had arrived at the Holy City.
“David wrote it for the people to sing at the time of their goings up to the holy feasts at Jerusalem. It comes third in the series, and appears to be suitable to be sung when the people had entered the gates, and their feet stood within the city.” (Charles Spurgeon)
A. Coming to Jerusalem.
1. (1) The joy of coming to God’s house.
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
a. I was glad when they said to me: David had in mind both the community (when they said) and the individual (I was glad). He pictured the individual coming together with the group to go into the house of the LORD. That invitation and the acceptance of it made him glad.
i. Boice reflected on David’s possible motive in writing Psalm 122: “It is reasonable to suppose that he wrote it both to express joy in his new capital city and to encourage love for and loyalty toward it as the focal point of the nation’s political life and worship.”
b. Let us go into the house of the LORD: During David’s days there was never a temple, but he knew one would be built, having extensively planned and prepared for it (1 Chronicles 22:2-16). It’s possible that David wrote here of the pilgrimage to the tabernacle, which did exist in his day and was regarded as the house of the LORD. It’s more likely that David wrote this psalm in anticipation of the pilgrims who would come to the house of the LORD built by Solomon.
i. It is wonderful to think of David’s extensive preparation for the people of Israel to come to the temple, especially for the required feasts three times a year.
ii. “That House was supreme in importance because it was the House of Jehovah. Jehovah, the God of Grace, is the One around Whom the people gather.” (Morgan)
c. Let us go into the house of the LORD: Coming to God’s house made David happy, though he knew that no building could contain God in all His glory and greatness. At the house of the LORD he could focus his thoughts, prayers, worship, and receiving of God’s word in the community of God’s people in a special way, and David was glad for that.
i. Too many don’t know the gladness David sang of, either because they don’t go into the house of the LORD, or because they do go and it isn’t a glad thing for them.
ii. We should go into the house of the LORD. It is good and important for us to gather with God’s people for prayers, worship, and receiving of God’s word. The gathering should be formal and ordered enough so that it is regarded as a gathering of God’s house – not everyone doing their own thing, but God’s people coming together for His glory and their benefit in His house.
iii. Our going to God’s house should be a glad thing. This isn’t the same as saying it should be entertaining, especially in an age when entertainment is a dangerous idol. Not everything that happens at the house of the LORD must be fun, but it should all be good, both welcoming to the not-yet-believer and good for those who are believers in Jesus.
iv. If going to the house of the LORD is not a glad thing, the problem may be in the heart of the one who comes or it may be in what happens at the house of the LORD – but the problem should be prayerfully diagnosed and lovingly addressed.
2. (2) The happy arrival.
Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
a. Our feet have been standing within your gates: Most regard this as David’s description of the joyful statement of the pilgrim who has finally arrived. The most important aspect is the evident joy and gladness at coming to the destination.
i. “This is the song of the singer, no longer distanced from the City, and Temple, but having arrived therein. It is the song of first impressions.” (Morgan)
b. Within your gates, O Jerusalem: They came to Jerusalem because that was where David set up the tabernacle and where the ark of the covenant and the altar of sacrifice were. Later, Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem that David planned and prepared for.
B. Describing Jerusalem.
1. (3-4) A prosperous, unified city.
Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
a. Jerusalem is built: David had conquered the city of Jerusalem, taking it from the Jebusites who held it as a Canaanite stronghold. He built the city in his own day, and David rejoiced in declaring, Jerusalem is built.
i. “It matters not how wicked or degraded a place may have been in former times, when it is sanctified to the use and service of God it becomes honourable. Jerusalem was formerly Jebus – a place where the Jebusites committed their abominations, and where were all the miseries of those who hasten after another God. But now, since it is devoted to God’s service, it is a city – ‘compact together,’ ‘the joy of the whole earth.’” (Plumer, cited in Spurgeon)
b. A city that is compact together: David’s city of Jerusalem was not large, but it was not a disordered collection of tents and shacks. It was built, and built together in an orderly way (compact together). It was a real city.
i. “During David’s reign and for some time thereafter, Jerusalem was a small city located on the crest of Mount Zion and Mount Moriah, bounded on two sides by steep descents to the Kidron and Tyropaeon valleys, and thus no more than half a mile in breadth. It had a dramatic setting for one approaching it from a distance, and its tight structure would have impressed anyone observing it.” (Boice)
ii. “Furthermore, it is not erected as a set of booths, or a conglomeration of hovels, but as a city, substantial, architectural, designed, arranged, and defended.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The expression ‘bound firmly together’ [compact together] uses…the same verb as is found in the instructions for making the tent of worship: ‘couple the tent together that it may be one whole’ (Exod. 26:11). Such was the blueprint; such will be the ultimate reality (Rev. 21:10ff.).” (Kidner)
iv. “A church should be one in creed and one in heart, one in testimony and one in service, one in aspiration and one in sympathy. They greatly injure our Jerusalem who would build dividing walls within her; she needs compacting, not dividing.” (Spurgeon)
c. Where the tribes go up: One of the reasons David conquered Jerusalem and established it as the capital of both the political and religious life of Israel was because it did not previously belong to a specific tribe, being under Canaanite occupation. Since it belonged to no tribe, it belonged to all the tribes, and the tribes of the LORD could come together as one at Jerusalem and the house of the LORD.
i. “Note that Israel was one people, but yet it was in a sense divided by the mere surface distinction of tribes; and this may be a lesson to us that all Christendom is essentially one, though from various causes we are divided into tribes. Let us as much as possible sink the tribal individuality in the national unity, so that the church may be many waves, but one sea; many branches, but one tree; many members, but one body.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Christians today should reflect this same unity even with their diversity. “There is no such oneness in all the world as among true Christians; and this the very heathens observed and commended. As the curtains of the tabernacle were joined by loops, so were they by love. And as the stones of the temple were so close cemented together that they seemed to be all but one stone, so was it among the primitive saints.” (Trapp)
iii. “Wherever my brethren meet, in whatever section of the Church on earth, so long as they belong to the one Church, the Body of Christ, nothing shall stay me from wishing them prosperity and peace. They may not recognize me here, but five minutes in Heaven will do away with all these earthly estrangements.” (Meyer)
d. To the Testimony of Israel: This describes the ark of the covenant, which was often called by this title (Exodus 25:22, Exodus 27:21, Numbers 1:53). Representing the throne of God and His presence in Israel, the Testimony of Israel was the center of the tabernacle and later the temple.
i. Matthew Poole explained why the ark of the covenant was sometimes called the Testimony of Israel: “…the tables of the covenant [were] laid up in it, which are called God’s testimony, and the tables of the testimony.”
ii. Many commentators (such as Adam Clarke) regard this psalm as written by and for exiles returning from the Babylonian captivity. The reference to the ark of the Testimonyargues against that idea, because it was not part of the temple when the exiles returned.
e. To give thanks to the name of the LORD: The primary purpose of the feasts of Israel was for the people of God to come together and give Him thanks. Their appreciation for what He had done gave them faith for what He would do in the future.
i. “Note that the object of these pilgrim feasts was to give thanks, not primarily to seek unity or prosperity. These were gifts over and above the occasion, not its raison d’être; whereas pagan worship was all too blatantly a means to securing what one wanted: cf. Hosea 2:5.” (Kidner)
ii. “The unity of the city reflected the unity of the tribes on these special occasions. The Israelite tribes came together for the purpose of praising ‘the name of the Lord’. It was an act of loyalty, as the Lord had commanded them to present themselves before him.” (VanGemeren)
2. (5) A city of justice and righteous rule.
For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
a. For thrones are set there for judgment: As the seat of government for Israel, Jerusalem was where their main courts for judgment were established. Jerusalem was to be a city of justice, where good was honored and where evil was corrected.
i. These thrones were for dispensing judgment, and may have been visible at the gates of the city (Ruth 4:1-12, Matthew 19:28).
b. The thrones of the house of David: David’s house was established to reign over Israel. Saul’s house never reigned, supplying really only one king. David’s lineage reigned in Jerusalem and will forever reign in the Messiah, the Son of David.
C. Praying for Jerusalem.
1. (6-8) The exhortation to pray and the prayer itself.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
a. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: David exhorted pilgrims coming to the Holy City to pray for the peace of the city. Jerusalem’s name itself marks it as the city of peace (Hebrews 7:2), but in reality it has known much war and conflict, which continue to this day. It is good to pray for the often-elusive peace of Jerusalem.
i. “In a church one of the main ingredients of success is internal peace: strife, suspicion, party-spirit, division, – these are deadly things. Those who break the peace of the church deserve to suffer, and those who sustain it win a great blessing.” (Spurgeon)
b. May they prosper who love you: David continued by giving a prayer for Jerusalem. The prayer included a blessing for those who love the city, and a direct request for peace and prosperity for the city.
i. Kidner on peace and prosperity: “They are the proper fruits of justice, the subject of verse 5.”
ii. “The word ‘prosper’ conveys an idea which is not in the original. The Hebrew word means to be secure, tranquil, at rest, spoken especially of one who enjoys quiet prosperity: Job 3:26; 12:6. The essential idea is that of quietness or rest; and the meaning here is, that those who love Zion will have peace.” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. “This is the form of prayer that they are to use: ‘May prosperity ever reside within thy walls, on all the people that dwell there; and tranquillity within thy palaces or high places, among the rulers and governors of the people.’” (Clarke)
c. For the sake of my brethren and companions: David prayed for blessings for those who loved and prayed for Jerusalem, but the blessing was not only for the individual but for the community of those who cared for the peace of Jerusalem, those who said, “Peace be within you.”
i. A “play of words lies in the interchange of ‘peace’ and ‘prosperity,’ which are closely similar in sound in the Hebrew.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The repetition of the desire displays the writer’s high valuation of the blessing mentioned; he would not again and again have invoked peace had he not perceived its extreme desirableness.” (Spurgeon)
2. (9) The reason to pray and to seek good for Jerusalem.
Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.
a. Because of the house of the LORD our God: David understood that the gladness and goodness of the pilgrim toward God’s city was not primarily political in nature. It wasn’t because of loyalty to a political party, leader, or philosophy. It was because the house of the LORD was established there.
i. “The Psalmist declareth the two motives, which induced him to utter his best wishes, and use his best endeavours, for the prosperity of Jerusalem; namely, love of his brethren, whose happiness was involved in that of their city; and love of God, who had there fixed the residence of his glory.” (Horne)
ii. “Through it all it is evident that the glory of city and Temple consists in the fact that they are the city and house of Jehovah. It is not a song of buildings or of material magnificence. It is rather the song of assembly, of testimony, of judgment, of peace, of prosperity. These all issue from the supreme fact of Jehovah’s presence.” (Morgan)
iii. This has a special application for the Christian under the New Covenant. For us, the church is the house of the LORD, with Jesus the Head and Son of the house (Hebrews 3:5-6, Hebrews 10:21, 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 4:17). What makes the church special is that it is God’s habitation, His house. His presence makes it special.
iv. Ancient Jerusalem had political, economic, and social importance. Yet the most important reason to love and care for Jerusalem was because of the house of the LORD. Christians should have the same great care for and focus upon the work of God’s house.
b. I will seek your good: Just as it was good for pilgrims in Israel to seek the good of Jerusalem for the sake of God’s house, so Christians today can and should seek the good of society for the sake of God’s house.
i. I will seek: “It is not a careless, loose seeking after it, almost as indifferently as a woman seeks after a pin which she has dropped; no, no; effort is implied.” (Irons, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “First we love it (verse 6) and then we labour for it, as in this passage: we see its good, and then seek its good.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org