Psalms 120—134 are described collectively as “Songs of Ascent,” thought to be recited by pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem for sacred festivals and other times of worship. Many of these psalms express the affliction of life that the people of God undergo, while also extolling God as their only hope and joy and source of life.
The “Songs of Ascent” fall into five groups of three. The first four of these groups (Pss. 120—131) share the following characteristics: the first psalm in each group exposes a situation of distress; the second emphasizes the Lord’s power to keep/deliver/build/give hope; and the third has the theme of security: in Zion (122, 125, 128); in the Lord (131). This “Zion-ward movement” suits and supports the “Pilgrim Praise” idea. The whole collection keeps the traveller’s eye on the goal. Pss. 132–134 are all psalms of arrival—the ark in Zion, fellowship in Zion, blessing in Zion. The pilgrim who begins far off in a harsh world (120), indeed in this world’s “darkness” (kedar in 120:5 means “black”) ends in a very different night (134:1), secure in the Lord’s house and under his blessing.
We know that our Lord from a very early age traveled to Jerusalem for the annual feasts (Luke 2:41-42). We continue to identify with the first disciples, who “set out for Jerusalem. Jesus had a head start on them, and they were following, puzzled and not just a little afraid” (Mark 10:32). We also are puzzled and a little afraid, for there is wonder upon unexpected wonder on this road, and there are fearful specters to be met. Singing the fifteen psalms is a way both to express the amazing grace and to quiet the anxious fears. There are no better “songs for the road” for those who travel the way of faith in Christ, a way that has so many continuities with the way of Israel. Since many (not all) essential items in Christian discipleship are incorporated in these songs, they provide a way to remember who we are and where we are going.
There are two biblical designations for people of faith: disciple and pilgrim. “Disciple” says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the worksite of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God, but skills in faith. “Pilgrim” tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that “this world is not my home” and set out for “the Father’s house.” Abraham, who “went out,” is our archetype. Jesus, answering Thomas’s question, “Master, we have no idea where you are going. How do you expect us to know the way?” gives us directions: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me” (John 14:5-6).
As we continue to meditate on the Songs of Ascent in the coming week, may we deepen in our identity as disciples of Christ and pilgrims on our way to the heavenly home. May we be people of a long obedience in the same direction. May we be people of hope who persevere in our afflictions and who “seek the things that are above, where Christ is,” setting our mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col 3:1).
* Adapted from Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
Bible Reading Column by Pastor Charles Changsoo Lee
Mississauga Campus Lead Pastor
This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:
|Monday: Psalm 125-126||☐||Thursday: Psalm 130||☐|
|Tuesday: Psalm 127-128||☐||Friday: Psalm 131||☐|
|Wednesday: Psalm 129||☐||Saturday: Psalm 132||☐|