A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up--
the tribes of the Lord--
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
As a ‘song of ascent’ this Psalm is basically a marching song. It would be sung by families, indeed whole communities as three times a year they made they way up the hill to the plateau town of Jerusalem for each of the festivals; Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tents). These were times of great celebration and joy and the Psalm reflects this with its themes of peace and prosperity.
But Jerusalem has rarely known peace. Laid siege to over 20 times, destroyed twice, captured and recaptured 44 times and now, of course, the most disputed city in the world. Has the prayer of the Psalm failed, was it merely wishful thinking? Is human conflict and division more powerful than these empty words of hope?
In 1804 William Blake wrote the poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’. He sees Jerusalem as an ideal, a future hope for a country that needs rebuilding, whose citizens are oppressed by the ‘satanic mills’ of soulless capitalism. It’s a lament, not a celebration. The well-known Parry tune suffers from its association with a political leaning towards bombast and xenophobia, so I prefer Chris Wood’s new version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNxEQESH9i4). (see below)
This is a prayer of hope and of action, and in this sense it rhymes with the secondary purpose of Psalm 122 – a call to be people who embody peace in our whole lives. ‘I will not cease from mental fight’ is very much like saying I will pray continually for the peace of Jerusalem; in Israel and in my own country ‘I will seek your prosperity’.
(A group of us are visiting Jerusalem on 26th October 2020 for a week. It’s not too late to join us. Speak to Alan Kerry or Karen Mead if you’re interested).