Theme: The Center of the Nation
In this week’s lessons we learn what the earthly Jerusalem means in Scripture, and of our own need to pray for the unity of the church.
Scripture: Psalm 122:1-9
A short time ago I was talking with a Jewish man who had just returned from Jerusalem after his third visit there. He was telling me what his first visit to the city meant to him, and he told me that whenever he went to Jerusalem he felt that he was standing at the very center of the world and that he was always profoundly moved by it. I told him that it is not only Jews who feel this way. Many Christians who have visited Jerusalem have been profoundly moved, too.
I have been to Jerusalem twice, the first time more than thirty years ago, passing through the famous Mendelbaum gate from the Jordanian-occupied sector of the city to the part then under Jewish control, while guards from both nations directed their automatic weapons at those who were entering.
The second time was in 1995. The city was unified then, and I had an opportunity to explore it for several days on foot, as I had not done before. One of my most moving experiences was passing along the base of the great eastern wall and actually reaching out and touching stones that Nehemiah had caused to be raised from the Kidron Valley, where they had been thrown at the time of the Babylonian conquest in 586 B.C., and to be reassembled to form the new walls of the reconstituted city. That was four and a half centuries before the birth of Christ and 2,400 hundred years before I stood there. But I could have said with the psalmist, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’” (Ps. 122:1).
Psalm 122 is the third of the Songs of Ascents. In the first of this small group of fifteen psalms, Psalm 120, the singers are in a foreign land, beginning to turn their faces toward God’s city. In the second psalm, Psalm 121, they seem to have sighted the city or are at least very near it at the end of their journey. Now, in Psalm 122, the travelers reflect on their joy when they were asked to join the pilgrim party and thrill that their feet are now actually standing within Jerusalem’s gates (v. 2).
Many of us may have a love for the towns or cities in which we were born or brought up, and there may even be some affection for Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. But none of our towns, cities or even our capital can mean for us what Jerusalem has meant for Jews throughout history, or for that matter, what it means to devout pilgrims of varied faiths today.
In the biblical record, Jerusalem is first mentioned as the city of which Melchizedek was king (“king of Salem,” Gen. 14:18). We know nothing about the city then, but we do know that the site was inhabited by people known as Jebusites from about 3500 B.C. onward, judging from the pottery remains that have been found there. Jerusalem became a Jewish city and achieved biblical prominence under King David, who wrested it from the Jebusites and made it both his political and religious capital. He made it a political center by constructing his palace and other governmental buildings there (2 Sam. 5:6-12). He made it the Jews’ religious center by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, a story told at length in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 15 and 16. It was placed within the relocated tabernacle. Later, Solomon built the great golden temple, which David had wanted to build, and the Ark was placed in the Most Holy Place of that structure. The temple thus became the center of the city, which was the center of the nation.
In many of the psalms Jerusalem is lauded as a truly holy city, the city of God, for example, in the “Psalms of Zion” (Psalms 46, 48, 76, 84, 87), or the Songs of Ascents, which we are studying. But, alas, Jerusalem was still only an earthly city, and the people themselves were far from holy, which is why, in the end, the city was overthrown by God’s determined judgment and the people were deported to Babylon.
Identify the place of Psalm 122 in the psalter.
When did Jerusalem first achieve biblical prominence? How did the city become a religious center?
Read 2 Samuel 6. Why was it important to the Jews that the ark be relocated to Jerusalem?
Prayer: Pray that the leaders in your community will make wise and moral decisions in their positions as lawmakers.
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message, “Jesus in Jerusalem.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)