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Year A: Advent 1
Psalm 122

Psalm 122 is one of the sub-collections of psalms known as the ‘Psalms of Ascents’, Psalms 120-134. They are marked out by this common heading. Just what the word ‘Ascents’ indicates is debatable. It could be related to the use of the Hebrew verb ‘to go up’ with regard to the exiles returning to Jerusalem in Ezra 2:1; 7:9. It could indicate that the collection is related to pilgrimage in general. Alternatively, the Mishnah implies a liturgical function seeing one psalm sung on each of the fifteen steps between the women’s court and the court of Israel in the temple complex (Mid. 2.5; Sukk. 5.4). The collection has traditionally been used in the festival of Sukkot or Tabernacles, recalling the wilderness wanderings. Different types of psalms are present in this small collection. The collection falls into three groups with Psalm 122 belonging to the first (Psalms 120-124). There is constant stress on reliance upon Yahweh and on Zion as the place of blessing.

Psalm 122 is designated as a psalm of David as well as a ‘Song of Ascents’. The psalmist expresses joy at having been invited to come to Jerusalem. That is where the throne of David’s dynasty have been set up. Since the collection of Songs of Ascents is usually seen as compiled after the time of exile, it is clear that the Davidic dynasty has become a point of hope.

This particular psalm is focused on Jerusalem as a location. It is the place of the house of the Lord, i.e. the temple. It is a place connected with joy (v. 1), security (v. 7), a strong sense of community (vv. 3-4a), celebration in life (v. 4b) and finally with judgment (v. 5).

The psalm ends with a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem (cf. 121:6-7; 125:5; 128:6). Jerusalem might seem to us to be forever a place of tension with rival claims made over it and three great religions of the world seeing it as central to their beliefs and theology. We might naturally think of the peace of Jerusalem concerning the cessation of animosity arising from rival claims on the city. That is an important prayer. But the psalmist may not have been thinking so much of the cessation of human rivalry as to the overcoming of all that opposes the way of God and the presence of God in the world. Of course, human rivalries and subsequent conflicts are expressions of opposition to the peaceful presence of God among God’s people. Our praying for the peace of Jerusalem does not mean that we are taking sides in a seemingly never ending human struggle. Rather, it could mean that we pray for the overcoming of all human struggles, rivalries, claims to possession etc. and seek that which honours all experience and proclamations – in Jerusalem’s case Jewish, Muslim and Christian proclamations. It means we seek for that presence which ties all together in joy, security, community and celebration with judgment rightly passed on all that seeks to deny such aims.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The beginning of the psalm (vv. 1-2, 4b) naturally lends itself to a call to worship:

I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Lord.
as was decreed for Israel,
so we give thanks to the name of the LORD.
The latter part of the psalm (vv. 6-9) could be adapted in the prayers of the people as a specific prayer for Jerusalem and what it represents:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of all faithful people we will say,
‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of God’s presence with us all,
we will seek your good.
Old Testament reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

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