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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 122

Psalms 122

An introduction of two verses stands instead of a Title, announcing the object of the Psalm. The preceding Psalm was intended to be sung in sight of Jerusalem, and this one at the gates of the city, where the pilgrim train had halted for the purpose of arranging the solemn procession to the sanctuary. The main body of the Psalm is complete in seven verses, and these are divided into portions of three and four. Psalms 122:3-5 represents the glory of Jerusalem, the beautifully built, ecclesiastical, and civil capital of the nation; and Psalms 122:6-9 expresses wishes and prayers for its salvation, intimating that the salvation of Israel, and the maintenance of the beloved house of God, are intimately connected.

The title attributes the Psalm to David as its author; and internal evidence confirms this. The design of the Psalm can only be explained in connection with the times of David. Its design is to conciliate the affections of the people for the new capital; to procure for it that place in their feelings which it occupied externally. Psalms 122:3 takes for granted that Jerusalem had recently, for the first time, become a beautifully built city; and this was the case in David’s time. At all events, the description of Jerusalem, as a city beautifully built, well compacted, adorned with palaces, and fortified, here and Psalms 122:7, points to a time before the captivity. The matter, moreover, is put beyond a doubt, by the mention of the thrones of the house of David in Psalms 122:5, which presupposes the existence of the kingdom of David, and which it will not do to refer to poor Zerubbabel, who never was a king. The use also of the name Israel for the whole people, Psalms 122:4, shows that, at that time, the nation was an undivided whole, and the mention of the pilgrimage of all the tribes to Jerusalem, points most decidedly to a time before the division of the kingdom; as after that event Jerusalem ceased to be regarded by the ten tribes as their religious capital, and the pilgrimages consequently came to an end. It has, indeed, been attempted to evade the conclusions drawn from Psalms 122:3-5, by the idea that the Psalmist, in these verses, merely describes what had existed in former ages: “the procession of travellers to, the feasts brings vividly before the mind of the Psalmist the days under the ancient kings, when the tribes of Jehovah went up, as they now do again, to Jerusalem.” But Psalms 122:7 alone is sufficient to set aside this expedient; according to it, Jerusalem was at that time a splendid strong city, and, accordingly, it will not do to refer Psalms 122:3 to the past. Then this idea violently tears away Psalms 122:3-5 from its connection with the introduction, and with Psalms 122:6-9. A glory which was altogether gone was very ill adapted to call forth lively joy on entering the city. And the exhortation to pray for Jerusalem, in Psalms 122:6 ss., is deprived of the basis on which it rests, viz., the description of the glory and national importance of Jerusalem.

The reasons which have been adduced against the Davidic origin of the Psalm are of no force. The assertion that Psalms 122:2 is not applicable to David, but only to the pilgrims who approached the city from without, is set aside by the remark, that David here, as he frequently did (for example Psalms 20, Psalms 21), sung from the soul of the people. The mention of the house of the Lord, in Psalms 122:1 and Psalms 122:9, does not lead to the time after the building of Solomon’s temple, for it is undeniable, that even the early sanctuary was known by this name; comp. Psalms 5:7, Psalms 27:4, Psalms 55:14, and at Psalms 30:1. The assertion that pilgrimages to Jerusalem did not come into general use till some time after the reign of David, when uniformity of public worship had been completely established, depends upon the idea which is not at all borne out by history, that the directions contained in the Pentateuch, as to there being only one sanctuary, were not observed till a later age. It has been proved in the treatises on the Pentateuch, and the time of the judges, in vol. iii. of the Beitr., that, during the whole period of the judges, the people had only one sanctuary, and that to it were brought the sacrifices of the whole nation, and that the great festivals, especially the Passover, were celebrated in accordance with the directions of the law, Exodus 23:15-17, Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16. That the sanctuary in Jerusalem, under David, did in reality come exactly into the place of the earlier one at Shiloh, is clear from the fact, that the ark of the covenant was there “the heart of the Israelitish religion;” and, indeed, the ark of the covenant rising, as it were, from its grave (comp. Beitr. p. 48 ss.), as intimated by the circumstance, that, as soon as it was consecrated, sacrifices were offered before it, 2 Samuel 6:5; 2 Samuel 6:13. The matter finally is put beyond a doubt by the Psalms of David’s age, for they speak only of one sanctuary, the sanctuary at Jerusalem; comp. at Psalms 15:1. The old tabernacle, indeed, at Gibeon, still continued to exist, but only as a ruin. David did not act like the breakers of images; he respected externally the attachments of the people, but with happy effect he did everything he could to turn the regard of the people more and more towards Jerusalem: [Note: Calvin: “He knew that the safety of the church depended upon their worshipping God in purity, according to the requirements of the law, and also upon their acknowledging that seat of royalty which the same God had himself erected.”] and the Psalm before us, along with others, served this object—its design being to awaken love, devout love, for Jerusalem and its sanctuary. [Note: Ven.: “The scope is to prepare and excite the people to receive Jerusalem as the seat of royalty and religion, to seek to promote its peace and prosperity by all means, and cheerfully to celebrate divine worship there.”] There are, besides, distinct traces of solemn processions to the sanctuary in the time of David, Psalms 42:4, Psalms 55:14.

The mention of the house of David cannot seem strange. David had founded a new house, instead of the house of Saul, 2 Samuel 3:1. Even before the promise which he received through Nathan, he hoped and wished that he would continue to reign in his posterity (comp. at Psalms 21:4, Psalms 138:3), and after that promise he always looked upon himself as the founder of a family which was to last for ever, for example, Psalms 18:20.

Finally, the assertion that the language is that of a later age, has no further foundation to rest on than the ש occurring twice instead of אשר . This form, however, occurs in a much older song, that of Deborah; and, in the present instance, it need occasion very little difficulty, occurring, as it does, in a popular song, which consists of the language of ordinary life, and may be expected to contain forms which would afterwards appear in written language.

As far as concerns the time of composition, the Psalm takes for granted that Jerusalem had already become the ecclesiastical and civil capital. It cannot therefore have been composed before 2 Samuel 6; but it must have been composed shortly after that period, as its design is to render popular the new institution, to endear to the affections of the people the city “which was the bond of sacred union.”

Verses 1-2

Ver. 1 and 2.

A Song of the Pilgrimages by David. Ver. 1. I rejoice over those who say to me, “we will go to the house of the Lord.” Ver. 2. Our feet tarry in thy gates, O Jerusalem. The שמח with ב Psalms 122:1, constantly occurs in the sense of to rejoice over. The speakers are the object of joy, because of what they say. Every one says to another, “we will go to the house of the Lord,” and each one rejoices over the other saying so. Isaiah 2:3 illustrates the clause: “and many nations go and say, come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” This passage to all appearance alludes to the one before us; what formerly the pilgrim Israelites said (this is the meaning of the allusion) the heathen nations shall in a future age say to each other. The idea that the Psalmist does not include himself among the pilgrims, but that he gives expression to his joy for the purpose of strengthening the resolution of others, is inconsistent with the expression “to me,” and is contrary to the general character of the pilgrim-songs, which contain nothing of a purely personal nature. That the expression “we will,” is not to be considered as uttered at the beginning of the whole pilgrimage, but after the pilgrims had arrived at the gates of Jerusalem; that the going to the house of God here spoken of begins for the first time there, is evident from Psalms 122:2, to which the remark is applicable, “the Psalmist is already in spirit in Jerusalem;” this is still farther evident, as Psalms 122:3 shows that the city was really before the Psalmist’s eyes. Solemn processions through the city to the temple occur even in Psalms 55:14, Psalms 42:4; and the expression, “with joy and thanks,” in the latter passage shows that during these processions songs were sung in praise of the Lord. [Note: Luther: “It appears as if David said nothing great when he says: ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.’ For when we think only of stones, wood, and gold, we do not properly think of the temple. But the house of the Lord rather means this, that man is in the place in which God, being present, can hear, see, and feel, while there his word and his true worship are to be found. Solomon’s temple was not beautiful, because it was adorned with gold and silver; but its true beauty consisted in this, that God’s word was heard there, that God was called upon there, that there God was found to be gracious, a Saviour who gave peace and forgave sin. This is what is meant by beholding the temple, not as an ox or an idiot looks at it, not as the masquerading bishops look at the temple.” These words drawn deeply from the Scriptures may well be pondered by expositors as well as others who cannot comprehend how such expressions as the house or the ample of the Lord could be used before Solomon’s temple was built. The Scriptures deal with such matters more intellectually and more spiritually.]

Psalms 122:2 cannot be read according to some with marks of quotation. It completes the description of the situation; the pilgrims were already within Jerusalem, and were just going to the house of the Lord. The participle with היה denotes the continuance of the past stretching into the present, Ew. § 168, c., and intimates that a long stay was to be made at the gates where the people, arriving one after the other, assembled, and the procession was arranged. It was only the simple participle that could be used in expressing the present. Only there, in the immediate view of Jerusalem, was the proper place for singing the Psalm.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. Jerusalem, thou builded, as a city which is bound together. Ver. 4. There the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord— the ordinance of the Lord—to praise the name of the Lord. Ver. 5. For the judgment seats, the thrones are established there, the thrones of the house of David.

The whole of Psalms 122:3 is to be considered as an expression of wonder; for the article הבנויה renders it manifest that we cannot with Luther translate, “Jerusalem is built.” It is clear as day that we cannot translate with Gesenius and others, “thou who hast been rebuilt.” For to build is only used of restoration in those cases where a destruction had been formerly mentioned; and of this there is no trace in the passage before us, and Jerusalem is, according to Psalms 122:7, a fortified city of palaces. We may either take the building in the ordinary sense—in this case the expression must be immediately connected with what follows—or in an emphatic sense, for “thou well-built,” (a bad city is as good as not built); thus Nebuchadnezzar, in Daniel 4:27, says of Babylon, a city which had stood for a hundred years: is not this the great city Babylon which I have built; it is also said of David, 2 Samuel 5:11, “I have built Jerusalem.” The circumstance is decisive in favour of the latter view, that by it we obtain two parallel clauses, in harmony with all the other verses. That the expression “like a city which is bound together (the כ denotes Jerusalem as corresponding to the idea of such a city) is not to be referred to the union effected by David between the two divisions of the city which had hitherto existed apart, the fortress and the lower city, but to the magnificent architecture, is evident from the expression “ in thy palaces.” The first fact besides is altogether doubtful; the passage, 2 Samuel 5:9, “And David built the city round about from Millo (a part of Zion) inwards,” next to the city properly so called (comp. Thenius on the passage) does not refer to the union, but to the planting of the city with splendid houses. Some expositors have, without the least reason, considered the verse before us as expressive of the astonishment of the rustics and villagers when they came from the country to the capital for the first time, and compared it with its magnificent closely connected rows, of houses, to the irregularly built country villages, interspered with gardens and other spaces. This would be very childish. The object of astonishment is rather that the place which in former days, and up to a very recent period, had been so unsightly, should in such a short time have become a stately city. David leads on the pilgrims and all Israel to see in this a proof of the favour of God resting upon Jerusalem, and a seal of its election. A conclusion altogether similar to the one before us occurs in 2 Samuel 5:12, where, after the narrative of the building of the royal fortress by David, we read, “and David knew (Thenius: he was convinced of it by the prosperous completion of the royal-fabric) that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom, because of his people Israel,” comp. also 2 Samuel 5:10, with Psalms 122:9. Exactly in the same way as is done with the first basis here, the preservation of the magnificently-built Jerusalem is considered in Psalms 48:12-14, as a proof of the favour of God resting upon that city.

From the external splendour of Jerusalem the Psalmist proceeds in Psalms 122:4 to its internal glory: he praises its rank as that of the religious metropolis of the nation, the centre of the congregation of God. The additional expression, “the tribes of the Lord,” serves to exalt the dignity of the place of meeting. Luther: “he does not say simply the tribes, but he adds to this, viz., the tribes of the Lord, whom the Lord himself has chosen, that they might be his people before all other nations on the earth whose God he will be.” The short interjected clause, “a testimony for Israel,” instead of “agreeably to the precept given to Israel,” serves the same object. The עדות is frequently used of the whole revelation as given to Moses, comp. at Psalms 19:7, Psalms 78:5, in the passage before us in the same way, as in Psalms 81:5; the precept is meant which required all the males to appear three times a-year in the place of the sanctuary, Exodus 23:17, Exodus 34:3, Deuteronomy 16:16. For the dignity of the place great in proportion to the sacredness of the custom. In reference to the name of the Lord (Lampe: “the excellency of his attributes which he has revealed”) compare at Psalms 54:6.

Much ingenuity has been expended upon the “for” in Psalms 122:6. It intimates that Jerusalem owed its elevation to be the religious metropolis of the nation to its antecedent rank as the civil capital. At bottom there lies the view that both were inseparably connected; and indeed, in consequence of the intimate union between church and state, the separation would have brought great evils in its train. The law had been already laid down in Deuteronomy 17:8-9, that the supreme tribunal should be in the place of the sanctuary. Jerusalem was first raised to be the civil metropolis, it was the city of David, 2 Samuel 5:9, 2 Samuel 6:16; afterwards, and as the consequence of this, after David had learned from his divine victories that it was agreeable to the will of God, it became the city of God, 2 Samuel 6. As the שמה always means “from that place” (comp. Psalms 76:3), it is a concise form of speech, to be understood as: they have established themselves from that place, and they sit there. The sitting will not suit the thrones. The idea adopted by several is inadmissible, that it is used instead of “ standing,” and the idea is equally inadmissible that the words should be translated “they sit upon thrones,” for the impersonal nomin. will not suit, and the ישב is never construed with the accusative; ישב הכרבים is the sitter of the cherubim. The simplest idea is that the thrones for judgment, like our bench of judges, stands for the judicial power. Sitting is usually applied to this. As thrones in the plural are mentioned, we cannot think merely of the royal throne. All thrones, however, belonged to the house of David; for it was under the auspices of that house that all judicial sentences were pronounced. The twelve thrones on which, according to Matthew 19:28, the twelve apostles sit judging the twelve tribes of Israel, correspond. Compare also Isaiah 32:1.

On the basis of the description of the glory and dignity of Jerusalem, there rises the mutual exhortation of the pilgrims to pray for it, and the prayer itself. Ver. 6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those be at peace who love her. Ver. 7. Peace be in thy bulwarks, quiet in thy palaces. Ver. 8. For my brethren and friends’ sakes, I will say: peace be in thee. Ver. 9. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good. In Psalms 122:6 several expositors translate, “enquire after the peace of Jerusalem.” This is contrary to the usage of the language (in this case לשלום would have been the word, Genesis 43:27, and especially Jeremiah 15:5), contrary to what immediately follows, which does not contain any information but intercessory prayer, contrary to the corresponding expression, “I will seek thy good” in Psalms 122:9, and finally the sense is scarcely a tolerable one. Allusion is made to the meaning of the name of Jerusalem, which is compounded of ירוש and שלם , a peaceful possession, compare Psalms 76:2, where a similar allusion takes place. Besides, every effort is made in this and the following verse to produce alliterations on this name, a name so dear to David, and which he is anxious to render clear to the people, inasmuch as he connects with it the brightest possible ideas. [Note: Ven.: “The perpetual alliteration of the words with each other, and of all of them with the name of Jerusalem, produces an elegant effect.”] In the second clause and in Psalms 122:7 there follow the wish and the prayer which had called for in the first clause. That in the expression: may they be at rest who love thee, we are to suppose added “by means of the quiet which is afforded to thee,” is evident from the relation to the first clause and from Psalms 122:7, and also from Psalms 122:8, where the peace of Jerusalem appears as the condition of the peace of all Israel. Those who love Jerusalem are all true Israelites, for the mark of a true Israelite is love to the place of the sanctuary, the metropolis of the church.

The bulwarks and the palaces stand opposed to each as descriptive of the external circumference and the interior condition, exactly as in Psalms 122:7, and in Psalms 48:13.

In Psalms 122:8-9, intercession for Jerusalem is traced up to its source: it flows from love of the brethren and of God. For the well-being of the whole nation depends upon her well-being; and in her is the house of God. The brethren and the friends of the pilgrims are not the inhabitants of Jerusalem alone, but all the members of the people of the covenant. For Jerusalem belonged to them all; it was the beating heart in the body of the congregation. [Note: Calvin: “Lest any one should shrewdly object that David is in this way only establishing his own kingdom, he solemnly declares that he is not influenced by any private regard for himself, but that he embraces in his bosom the whole church.”] Her peace was, at the same time, the peace of the whole people; comp. Jeremiah 29:7, “And seek the peace of the city to which I have led you away captive, and pray for it to the Lord, for by its peace shall be your peace,” when, by a kind of parody, in altered circumstances, what is here said of Zion is applied to Babylon. The common translation is, “I will wish peace to you.” But that we must rather translate, “I will say, Peace be in thee,” (comp. Luke 10:5), appears from the doubled ב in Psalms 122:7, according to which the ב is here also a ב of place. Even “ to speak peace” never occurs in the sense of “to pray,” or “to wish for peace;” and the בך according to this view, can only mean “from thee,” which will not suit.

In Psalms 122:9, the conclusion turns back to the point with which the Psalm opened, the house of God. [Note: Calvin: “There is added a second reason, because, unless Jerusalem continue to stand, the worship of God will not remain entire, but will be destroyed. Therefore, if the safety of our brethren be precious to us, if religion lie near our hearts, the safety of the church, as far as it is within our power, must be attended to.”] The seeking of good to Jerusalem (comp. Deuteronomy 23:6), the striving and endeavouring to promote it (comp. at Psalms 27:4) is seen in the first instance, and chiefly in the intercession for it thereby occasioned. For our own strength can do nothing here; and the preceding verses had spoken of nothing but prayer.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 122". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-122.html.