Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am traveling and working on some long term projects this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. Today’s is on Psalm 122, which you can read here.
Imagine you are one of the children of Israel, in the generations after exile.
You were born of a people covenanted to Yahweh God, married to the Most High. Your ancestors followed Yahweh out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the land of promise – Israel. You grew up listening to stories of the golden years – when Israel was united under King David and worship centered around the temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, named the city or fountain of shalom (peace, wholeness, flourishing.) But along with those golden stories, you also grew up with stories of darkness, consequences, judgment. Your ancestors, your people, were unfaithful to Yahweh. They joined themselves to other gods, sought protection through military might and treaties with foreign nations rather than in Yahweh your God. And so – as was promised in the ancient texts, and warned of by prophet after prophet, the mighty men of old – your people were removed from the land. Carried off by the very foreign powers they had looked to for safety and security. Jerusalem, the city of peace, was lost. The temple in ruins, the people were removed from the land of promise. You inherited generational guilt and consequences of sin, through no fault of your own – you were born into exile.
Imagine you are one of the children of Israel born in exile. You were raised on these stories, but you were also raised on promise – the promise of Yahweh’s lovingkindness, the promise of the prophets – that after the judgment would come restoration and return, and some day, a Messiah. A Christ. A King to return Israel to what she should have been. A return of Shalom to Jerusalem, the city of Shalom. And now you are seeing kept promises begin to rise like dawn. Jerusalem is being restored. The temple is being rebuilt. Your people are allowed to make the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship. The Psalms are your songbook, and as you make the long trek home, you sing the Psalms of Ascent. Step by step you are getting closer. Closer to seeing Yahweh’s promises fulfilled, closer to the hope of the Messiah, closer to Jerusalem.
When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,” my heart leaped for joy. And now we’re here, O Jerusalem, inside Jerusalem’s walls!
Jerusalem, well-built city, built as a place for worship! The city to which the tribes ascend, all God’s tribes go up to worship, To give thanks to the name of God—this is what it means to be Israel. Thrones for righteous judgment are set there, famous David-thrones.
Pray for Jerusalem’s peace! Prosperity to all you Jerusalem-lovers! Friendly insiders, get along! Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!
For the sake of my family and friends, I say it again: live in peace! For the sake of the house of our God, God, I’ll do my very best for you.
I was not born into the nation of Israel, but I have spent my adult life being nurtured on these same stories, these same promises. What do I learn from the ancient longing and prayer in this Song of Ascent?
I learn to revere and love and value the place where God dwells. Jerusalem was precious to Israel, not only because of the history and monarchy, but because Jerusalem held the temple, the place where God dwelt.
And where does God dwell today?
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
I learn to seek the good of the city where my heart dwells. Year by year, the people would sing, praying for prosperity, shalom, well-being for the city and its people. “I will seek your good.”
We live in a me-centered culture and it’s hard to shake the taint of that. It is so easy to assume every benefit poured out on me– education, safety & security, earthly provision, intelligence and experience – is meant to be used to further my own agenda, to seek my own good.
What would it look like to seek the good of my neighborhood? My community? My city and all who live in it?
I learn to crave and yearn and pray for peace. The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. Well-being, wholeness, flourishing. This song is asking for Shalom for Jerusalem – whose name means the city or fountain of Shalom. This song aches for what ought to have been, what Jerusalem was meant to be, a source of wholeness, a place of flourishing, a city of peace.
I am not a child of Israel, on pilgrimage home to the Temple and city of God. But I do know what it feels like to live in a world that is not as it should be. I know what it is to long for what should have been.
And I know what it feels like to inherit generational and national sin. We see the results in the news every day – especially this past week. And with the Psalmist and the generations of Hebrews who have sung this song, I long for Shalom. I ache to see the places and people of God prosper into a fountain of flourishing, pouring peace out into our neighborhoods and communities and cities, causing ALL to prosper (not just those who look and think like us and value what we do.)
And with these ancient words I join the longing for Messiah – our Jesus, who initiated restoration and is working still in this broken, exiled world, and who invites me to be a part of His work.
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.