Psalms 120-134: The Pilgrim Psalms
The Psalms are songs. They were sung by the people in their homes and by the choirs in the temple in Jerusalem. Some Psalms were sung by pilgrims journeying up to Jerusalem and the temple. Many people from all parts of the Holy Land journeyed up to the great city each year to the feasts, especially to the Passover in the spring and to the Feast of Tabernacles, the harvest feast in the autumn. At these seasons, companies of happy people from one town and another met and journeyed on together. The Lord with Mary and Joseph and the friends from Nazareth went with such a company when the Lord was twelve years old. (Luke 2:41-52) Also, large companies of people who had been captives in Babylon journeyed back to Jerusalem when they were set free and allowed to do so. Their happiness made the long way seem easy. We think of these companies journeying up to Jerusalem and the temple when we read Ps. 84.
We have in our Book of Psalms some songs which the happy pilgrims sang on their journeys to Jerusalem and the temple. There is a group of fifteen Psalms (Ps. 120-134) which we may call Pilgrim Psalms. You know some of these Psalms, and you will love them all the more as you think of the happy pilgrims singing them as they journeyed up together to Jerusalem and the temple. Perhaps some of them were sung by the company with whom the Lord went up from Nazareth when He was twelve years old. "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help." "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord."
"Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord."
The Pilgrim Psalms are a group of fifteen Psalms following the long 119th Psalm. Over each of these Psalms is the title "A Psalm of Degrees" or "of Ascents." As we read these Psalms, we see that they are songs of pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem. Pilgrims went up to the feasts kept in Jerusalem each year: the Passover in the spring, the Feast of Weeks or Firstfruits, fifty days later, and the thanksgiving Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn. (Deut. 16:16) We have learned, too, of a great company who had been captives in Babylon who journeyed back to Jerusalem when they were allowed to do so. (Ezra 1 and 2)
As we read the Pilgrim Psalms, they suggest the going up to Jerusalem, as does Ps. 84. Ps. 120 expresses distress from living among strange people. Then Ps. 121, which we love, about looking up to the hills. This would mean for the pilgrims especially the hills of Jerusalem. In Ps. 122, we have the glad call to go to the temple and the prayer for peace to the Lord's house. The looking to the Lord and trusting the Lord (Ps. 123-131) grows stronger with the pilgrims as they journey on. They think of peace in the Lord's house and of blessings for their own homes and for their harvests, which will come from Him. Ps. 132 reminds us of David's bringing up the ark to Zion, the same event which is celebrated in Ps. 24. In Ps. 134, the pilgrims have reached the end of their journey and lift up their hands in the temple to bless the Lord.
If we never make a pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem, what meaning have these Pilgrim Psalms for us?
The last question asked the juniors opens a beautiful thought in relation to this group of Psalms. Our pilgrimage is our journey of life, our regeneration. It is a journey up from worldly states of life to spiritual and heavenly states. "Going up to Jerusalem" is everywhere the Scripture phrase, especially because Jerusalem represents interior and heavenly states of life and worship. (A. 3084, 4539) In connection with this ascent, have also in mind the lesson of Jacob's ladder.
More precisely, what is our spiritual Jerusalem? This is freshly in our minds from our study of the Holy City in the Revelation. Jerusalem is the church, called a city as to its doctrine, for its eternal truths are as foundations and walls. This meaning of Jerusalem is in mind as we read Ps. 122 about the city that is compact together, its doctrine making a consistent whole, with prayer for the city's peace. (R. 880, 881)
Zion is mentioned in Ps. 125 and in several of the Pilgrim Psalms. Zion was the fortress hill, David's stronghold. The Spiritual Zion is the church's inmost love, and Jerusalem is its truth or doctrine. Love is the theme of Ps. 125, beautifully suggested by Zion and by the mountains round about Jerusalem, emblems of the Lord's loving care. (E. 375, 405)
The temple is the special goal of the pilgrimage. It is mentioned especially in Ps. 122, 127, 134. It represents a holy nearness to the Lord in life and worship, and in its fullest sense it represents the Lord in His Divine Humanity. He is the life and holiness of the Church, as the temple was the life and holiness of Jerusalem. Our going up, our pilgrimage, is our nearer approach to Him. (E. 220; R. 191)
What relation have the Pilgrim Psalms or Psalms of Ascents to the Lord's own life? This is the holiest aspect of all the Psalms. The ascent which represents our regeneration represents in its highest sense the Lord's glorification, which also He called His ascent and union with the Father. "I ascend to my Father and to your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17; L. 33) Prophets and Psalms interprets these Psalms especially as expressions of the Lord's prayers and thanksgivings for His Church as it shall rise from earthly to heavenly states.