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September 6, 2009
Psalm 125

Psalms 125 belongs to the group of psalms (Psalms 120-134) known as the Songs of Ascents. It is not known why this title is given. It may have something to do with their use during pilgrimage, ‘ascending’ to Jerusalem, or with their use in some temple liturgy. The collection seems to have come together in post-exilic times, i.e.e from the late 6th century BCE onwards. A number of repeated phrases help tie this disparate collection together. For example in relation to Psalm 125 we have: ‘from this time on and forevermore’ (v. 2; cf. Pss. 121.8; 131.3); and ‘peace be upon Israel’ (v. 5; cf. 128.6); Psalms 125-129 forms a  middle cluster within the larger collection seemingly relating to Israel’s settlement in the promised land and the difficulties faced there.

Psalm 125, a psalm of trust, compares the Lord’s care for his people to the hills that surround Mt. Zion or Jerusalem (v. 2) or even to Zion itself (v. 1). Anyone who has ever been to Jerusalem, or even just seen photos of the city will be aware that the hill on which the temple was built in the days of ancient Israel, where the Dome of the Rock now stands, is not physically a significant hill by any means. The hills that surround it, including the Mount of Olives, while a bit higher than Jerusalem itself, are likewise not of great height. The language here depends not so much on geographical realities as on mythic perceptions. These hills which constitute and surround the place where God dwells amongst his people are symbols of the embracing protection of the Lord or of the trust of ne who is faithful.

The Lord will not let wickedness come upon his people so that they may not be tempted to follow suit (v. 3). The psalm then ends with a brief prayer for divine justice for those who are good and for peace upon Israel (cf. 120.6-7; 122.6-9). These verses sound like proverbs themselves only they have been turned into prayers directed toward the Lord. While the psalm ends with its indirect injunction for the people to do good and not follow ‘crooked ways’, it begins with what lies at its heart, namely a proclamation that the security of the people lies in the Lord’s protection and that faith is the key response to that.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

Verses 1-2 could function as a call to worship as they are. Verse 2 could then be picked up in the blessing at the end of worship:

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds his people,
From this time and forevermore.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be with you now and forever.
Verse 4 could also function as a refrain said by the people during the prayers of the people.

Old Testament Reading: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

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