I was glad when they said to me,“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our feet are standingWithin your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is builtAs a city that is firmly joined together; To which the [twelve] tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord,[As was decreed as] an ordinance for Israel,To give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there the thrones of judgment were set,The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:“May they prosper who love you [holy city]. “May peace be within your wallsAnd prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brothers and my friends,I will now say, “May peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God [which is Jerusalem],I will seek your (the city’s) good.
In the seventh of his Chronicles of Narnia, a book entitled “The Last Battle,” C.S. Lewis closes with this observation:
“The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Just as C.S. Lewis transported his characters from time into eternity; so Psalm 122, this third psalm of ascent imaginatively helicopters us from our struggle on the trail below directly into the city where “every chapter is better than the one before.”
If the fifteen psalms of assent were recited sequentially by pilgrims on the two-day climb from the Jordan Valley up to Jerusalem, then this psalm comes long before the city is entered or even lay in view.
Why then is this psalm here, near the beginning of the psalms of ascent rather than the end? Because if you are going to reach the top, you must keep alive the faith of actually getting there.
I call this a dream psalm because, although the Psalmist is just starting the difficult upward trail, in spirit he’s already been to the top of the mountain. He’s refreshing himself in the present toil by drawing from the well of future gladness(verse 1). He’s stabilizing his slipping feet by visioning the coming time when he will stand safe within the gates of God’s own city(verse 2).
Psalm 122 opens with the psalmist expressing the joy of actually standing in “your gates, O Jerusalem.” He says that Jerusalem is a closely compacted community making it easy to defend against all foes. It’s not like the wide open spaces of the wilderness or even rural areas where we feel alone or don’t know the person next door.
We might picture heaven as the renewed Eden but biblically it’s pictured as a city(Revelation 21:2). The companionship that began in the earthly city of Jerusalem with the Early Church(they devoted themselves….to the fellowship-Acts 2:42) will be made complete in the New Jerusalem. In that glorious fellowship, we will never be vulnerable or lonely again.
The psalmist describes this as the place :”where the tribes go up”(verse 4). Should we not describe this as every people, tribe, race, and denomination who are in the kingdom of Christ shall also go up? We may walk with a limited number of those under a particular church or denomination banner, but on that day all the people of God will be waving the same banner! On that day there will be no ingratitude or reserve as the Lord’s name is praised. Instead echoes of thanksgiving and adoration for Christ who redeemed us by His blood will ring out in the streets of the holy city.
In that city stands thrones- not just any throne but that of David- the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ who sits upon that glorious throne(Matthew 19:29). His throne will never be toppled by another(Hebrews 1:8). The throne of judgement(Revelation 20:11) becomes a throne of grace(Hebrews 4:6) to everyone who believes in Him and receives Him as their Savior and Lord.
Finally the psalmist instructs us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Certainly in the current crisis in Israel, we ought to pray this prayer. What’s the use of climbing the trail to the city of Jerusalem if by the time you arrive it’s fallen into the hands of its enemies? However, as citizens of the New Jerusalem, we need not pray for peace for that city for it is already secure. No force of evil including the devil, sin, nor death can ever enter there.
As citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, we pray instead that the security, peace, and prosperity of our eternal residence will come to earth and surround us as we continue our journey on the trail of life below.
Dr. John Thompson