1 I was glad when they said to me, ”Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
This psalm is included in the section of the psalms called the psalms of ascent, the psalms the people of God sing on a pilgrimage. This psalm in particular is a psalm of expectation and a psalm of satisfaction. It anticipates and celebrates one’s arrival at the temple, the climax of a pilgrimage. Explicitly the Book of Psalms attributes this psalm to King David. This only adds to the anticipation. David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites and moved the capital of God’s people there from Hebron. This is where Jacob their ancestor had wrestled with God. This is where Jacob had laid down his head upon a rock and had the most peaceful sleep. And as Jacob dreamed he saw a ladder up to heaven. David longed deeply to build God a house, to build a temple. But the Lord forbid him, David was a man of blood, it was for his greater son, a man of wisdom to build the temple. David in his lifetime had all the construction supplies and professionals and plans ready to go for his son but they all waited. David lived in anticipation of this place of worship. And he wrote this psalm in that space of expectation. How glad he would have been to be invited into the house of the Lord.
I do listen with a straight face when people tell me about how they don’t go to worship because they resent their parents for forcing them to as children, or its their only day to sleep in, or they are just too busy. Nothing I can say will make them want to be here. But this psalm on my lips makes me want to be here. That’s what we are doing when we read the psalms together. We are cultivating our desires, we are nurturing our longings, that we may desire what God would have us desire, that we may be glad when we are invited to go to the house of the Lord.
We as Christians with ears of faith hear not only the joy of arrival at the place of God’s worship. We anticipate the end of our earthly pilgrimage. Moreover we remember the arrival of faith. The house of the Lord for us is not just the temple, not just a church, but the household of God. Let us go into the arms of our loving Father. Let us go and be received by him as sons and daughters. Let us go to our home, the family of the Lord – our family.
2 Now our feet are standing * within your gates, O Jerusalem 3 Jerusalem is built as a city *that is at unity with itself.
The pilgrims with weary feet sing this psalm anticipating their destination, a city with walls for safety. Jerusalem becomes the city of God’s people where a shepherd-king reigns, where the lamb of God is offered in the temple as a sacrifice, where a broken people learn how to pursue the holiness that God invites them to. This is the aspiration anyway, the vision these pilgrims walk to. We know that is not always the reality of Jerusalem. It is often a place of corruption and injustice. Jesus mourns of Jerusalem, that city bathed in the blood of the prophets, that city where he goes to die. Yet for this city he does give his life, and in Revelation we have a vision of a new heavenly Jerusalem come down to earth. This aspiration matters, it matters for the journey of our own pilgrimage, for what we seek to build in the church, for what we expect in the life to come.
4 To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, * the assembly of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
We anticipate here a unity of the tribes of Israel. For most of Israel’s history they were divided into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. For most of Christian history the church has been divided. First into East and West. Now also into Protestant. I want to share a Douglas Wilson quote:
“[Roman Catholics say Protestantism]has something like 25,000 denominations. That misleading figure comes from a book called World Christian Encyclopedia, but if you drill down to identify actual tribes, you will find that the Orthodox have 19 traditions, the Roman Catholics have 16 and the Protestants have 21, and among Protestants we have a lot more inter-tribal unity”
The act of physical pilgrimage to Jerusalem promoted a sense of unity among the divided tribes of Israel. And the hope was that in Jerusalem some eventual eternal unity may be achieved. As a divided church we must also as we worship, as we go to the house of the Lord, anticipate a unity, a unity assembled in the praise of the name of the Lord.
5 For there are the thrones of judgement, * the thrones of the house of David.
Hear what Eugene Peterson says about this verse: “Judgement is not a word about things, describing them; it is a word that does things, putting love in motion, applying mercy, nullifying wrong, ordering goodness. This word of God is everywhere in worship. In the call to worship we hear God’s first word to us; in the benediction we hear God’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our faith-parents; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns the Word of God makes our prayers more articulate. Every time we worship our minds are informed, our memories refreshed with the judgments of God, we are familiarized with what God says, what he has decided, the ways he is working our salvation.”
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: * May they prosper who love you. 7 Peace be within your walls * and quietness within your towers.
The man of blood cries here for the peace of the city he has just seen torn by violence. He prays for the peace of this city and encourages us to pray with him, wishing a blessing of prosperity upon all who seek the peace of the city. When the angel armies come at Christ’s birth they say Glory to God and Peace on Earth. Glory goes up, peace goes out. The peace of Jerusalem proceeds from the humility of humanity laying down our quest for glory and greatness, seeking instead to stand in the city of God. Jesus tells us so long as this world groans and the rebellious spirits ravage there will be wars and the rumours of war. But we still pray and make peace, for we hear that blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, * I pray for your prosperity 9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *I will seek to do you good.”
We are to love the city of God, for the sake of those we love within it. To Israel of old and Israel today that brotherhood is an ethnic brotherhood, by blood they share together in a covenant. By Christ’s blood we join them as people of God, they are in some sense companions and siblings to us. A peculiar people following a peculiar God who the world cannot understand. We should seek the prosperity of Jerusalem, of the Church which is the bride of Christ where the Spirit dwells and where worship happens, and of Christ our Lord. For he is the King who reigns in Jerusalem. Jerusalem of old was a faithless whore. The Church at times has failed to keep the faith. Let us keep the faith and seek God’s help in restoring her. Let us desire to go to the house of the Lord, to worship with our whole being, with swollen feet to dwell within walls that provide a peace the world cannot give.
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