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“Jerusalem! Jerusalem!”

Psalm 122
Bob DeGray
May 26, 2002

Key Sentence

God’s dealing with Jerusalem teaches us joy, worship and peace.


I. The presence in Jerusalem: joy (Psalm 122:1-2)
II. The history of Jerusalem: worship (Psalm 122:3-5)
III. The future of Jerusalem: peace (Psalm 122:6-9)


        The city of Jerusalem has recently dominated the news. That’s not unusual. Jerusalem has often been front page material in recent generations. In fact it has been a key piece of world real estate for three thousand years, so that every incident in Jerusalem sparks comment and speculation. This Easter, for example Jerry Falwell said: “I’ve visited Israel on 32 occasions. It is a place I adore. I urge that we not grow weary in well doing as we continue to pray for the peace of this land. While the Bible tells us there will be "wars and rumors of wars," we are also reminded not to be troubled (Matthew 24:6) because these occurrences point to the return of Christ. Please join me in committing to pray daily for the peace of Jerusalem”

        Larry Witham, writing in the Washington Times reported that “the bloody conflict in the Middle East is again turning some evangelicals to the Bible for texts that speak of a final cosmic battle in those ancient lands. As with the founding of Israel in 1948, the Six Day War in 1967, and the Persian Gulf war of 1991, the violence between Israel and the Palestinians is making some Christians think of a biblical showdown. "I see Israel as the only nation on Earth with a title deed to any real estate," said Hal Lindsey, who popularized Biblical prophecy in his 1970 book, "The Late Great Planet Earth." “God has made promises to the people of Israel, and God keeps His promises.”

        Capital Bible Seminary President Homer Heater, once a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, shares its "premillennial" view of the Bible, in which Christ will return and reign in Jerusalem for 1,000 years before the final judgment. “We do believe there is a future conflagration in the Middle East,” Mr. Heater said. “But is this it? I don't know.” Images of apocalypse in the Bible stretch from the Hebrew books of Jeremiah, Zechariah and Daniel to Matthew and Revelation in the New Testament. Many understand these passages to predict the return of Jews to Israel, the rise of an anti_Christ, a new world government and a final battle of Armageddon. Some Christians have recently cited Zechariah's prophecy that God will "make Jerusalem a burdensome stone" so "all the people in the earth gather together against it."

        On the other hand, Erin Zimmerman, a columnist for the Christian Broadcasting Network, recently visited Israel with evangelicals and was "surprised by the lack of detailed, 'date_setting' end_times speculation that was popular during the Gulf war." She said those who make contact with suffering Israelis and Palestinians "are concerned with their safety," and turn to the Bible to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." “They're becoming more aware that there's a human side to Armageddon,” Miss Zimmerman said. "For many Christians, I think the prophetic view is tempered by a new level of compassion where the Middle East is concerned."

        So what should be our attitude toward Jerusalem? What makes this city so important anyway, to God, to world politics and to us as individuals? We can answer some of these questions as we explore the third of our Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 122. We’ll learn that God’s dealing with Jerusalem teaches us about joy, worship, and peace. In the midst of political turmoil and end times speculation, these are still the things God wants to teach those with their eyes on Jerusalem: joy, worship, and peace.

I. The presence in Jerusalem: joy (Psalm 122:1-2)

        We see that Jerusalem calls forth joy in verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 122: I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." 2Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem. This third Psalm of Ascent is the first attributed to David and the first that specifically mentions Jerusalem. The compiler of the Psalms apparently felt it appropriate to include David’s words with other Psalms about ‘going up’ to Jerusalem.

        David, of course, was a key figure in the history of Jerusalem, and loved it like no other city, but it’s history predates him. We may first hear of it in the passage on Melchizedek, that mysterious king honored by Abraham. The Bible calls him “King of Salem”, which could be a short form of Jerusalem. We don’t for sure. A thousand years after Abraham, when Joshua led the people of Israel into the promised land, Jerusalem was one of the strongholds. It was defended by the Jebusites, and in fact was called Jebus. Not until David became king was this spot finally conquered, and David so admired it that he made it his capital. This was a good move, because it was centrally located and belonged to no tribe, so that no tribe could claim ownership of the capital city, just as no state can claim ownership of Washington, D. C.

        Jerusalem became the religious center of Israel. David brought up the Ark of the Covenant, the focus of the nation’s worship, and set it up within the walls of the city. He also planned to build a temple in Jerusalem, though in the end God told David to leave that work for his son Solomon. Even so, Jerusalem was ‘the’ place in Israel, in a way that Washington or New York have never been in America. It was the focus of both the minds and the hearts of the Jewish people, who if they could went up to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the feasts the Lord had commanded.

        It is the joy of that going up that is represented so clearly in this Psalm. “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” The second phrase makes it clear why David had joy, why those going up to Jerusalem were glad, why we should have joy. David is careful not to say ‘I’m glad to go to Jerusalem’ or even ‘I’m glad to go to the tabernacle’, but he says ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ meaning specifically ‘the place where God is’. The key to joy is the presence of the Lord. In the Old Testament that presence is symbolized and represented most strongly by the tabernacle, by the temple, and by the city of Jerusalem, which God had chosen. himself as his dwelling place. I’m not saying Jerusalem was the only place God showed up, even in the Old Testament. Solomon, as he dedicated the temple, said “But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

        It’s not that this was the only place you could know God’s presence, but it was a place where he promised to be present in a special way – so that every believer for a thousand years longed to go up and experience that joy. Psalm 84: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

        So the principle behind this verse is simply that there is joy in the presence of God. David knew this. He said in Psalm 16 “You make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy.” On this side of the cross we experience God’s presence differently than the people of Israel: we have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus, we don’t really need Jerusalem. Nonetheless, Jerusalem as a symbol of his presence should speak to our hearts so that we share with David the joy he found in saying “We are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” We rejoice as we stand in the Lord’s presence.

II. The history of Jerusalem: worship (Psalm 122:3-5)

        Jerusalem teaches us the joy of God’s presence. And as we think of it’s history, we also see that Jerusalem teaches us the privilege of worship. Verses 3 to 5: 3Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. 4That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel. 5There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.

We’ve already seen how David conquered Jebus, the city of the Jebusites, and made it his capital. After David’s death Solomon built the temple on Mt. Zion, along with a palace and several other important buildings. He also rebuilt and strengthened the walls of Jerusalem, which reached its first peak of power and beauty under his reign. It was of this small yet beautiful city - Mt Zion was only about a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide - that David wrote “Jerusalem is a city closely compacted together.” This probably means that Jerusalem was like a jewel, with every stone in place and every building and wall contributing to the unity of the whole. In fact, one of the early English versions of Psalm122 says “Jerusalem is a city at unity with itself.”

        Jerusalem is also where the tribes go up - all the tribes of Israel, to worship the Lord at the three yearly festivals laid down in Scripture. For example, from Deuteronomy 16: “Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name__you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you.”

        Jerusalem was the center of worship - in David’s time, in Solomon’s time, and beyond. For hundred of years the tribes went up “to praise the name of the Lord.” They worshiped the Lord through sacrifices and praised him with their voices and hearts. In fact nearly all Old Testament worship has as its implied or explicit setting that temple that Solomon built, that hill called Mt. Zion, that city called Jerusalem.

        The significance of Jerusalem was not reduced by the division of the kingdom at Solomon’s death. Jeroboam, first king of the breakaway northern kingdom, tried to make Dan and Bethel centers of worship, but the faithful stuck with Jerusalem. During the centuries from David to the exile, Jerusalem knew prosperity and poverty. Even after the northern kingdom fell, Jerusalem continued to be defended by God. In fact it was God himself, and no military power, that defeated the Assyrian army at its gates.

        Unfortunately that reprieve didn’t last long. The Assyrians never conquered Jerusalem, but the Babylonians destroyed it. Solomon’s temple was ruined, it’s furnishings seized, the ark of the covenant was lost, and Jerusalem became no more than a memory of past joy to the exiled people of God. It was during this time that Psalm 79 was written by Asaph: “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.” At the same time one of those exiled to Babylon was writing what became Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”

        After the exile, the desire of the returning clans was to rebuild the temple and the wall of Jerusalem. When they laid the foundation of the new temple, many of the old timers wept, remembering Solomon’s temple, and deploring the crude structure they were building. Yet when it was complete they rejoiced again, and made it the center of worship. Ezra 6 “The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of King Darius. Then the people of Israel – the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles – celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.”

        You and I should imitate this: we too should express joy in the presence of God in worship. As Eugene Peterson says in ‘A Long Obedience’, “Worship is the place where we obey the command to praise God. This command runs right down the center of all Christian worship. “A Christian,” wrote Augustine, “should be an alleluia from head to foot.” This is the truth of our lives. God made us, redeems us, provides for us. The natural, honest, healthy, logical response to that is praise to God. When we praise we are functioning at the center, we are in touch with the core reality of our being.”

        Jerusalem, as portrayed in Scripture, teaches us to worship. This is not the wimpy skimmed-milk worship that so often characterizes our churches. Rather it is worship in the presence of the divine, the one whose thrones of judgment still stand. We’re to worship the Lord with fear, reverence, awe and respect. We’re to come before him and bow down to proclaim his worth. Worship gets our eyes off ourselves and places them on Him. That Twila Paris song we sang models this well:
Lord Your name is above any other name, and forever will remain. So let the words
        of my mouth, and the thoughts in my heart, Let them praise Your name.
Lord Your throne is above any other throne, and forever will remain. So let the
        young and the old, let the high and the low, Let them praise Your name.

III. The future of Jerusalem: peace (Psalm 122:6-9)

        Jerusalem teaches us of joy in God’s presence. It teaches us to worship in his presence. Yet Jerusalem is more than symbol, more than history: it is in a literal sense our future, and the call of the last four verses is to pray for its peace. 6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May those who love you be secure. 7May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels." 8For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, "Peace be within you." 9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.

        Jerusalem is a compound word. The second half, ‘salem’ is from the Hebrew word for peace, ‘shalom’. Actually, ‘peace’ oversimplifies the meaning. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says “The general sense is of completion and fulfilment – of entering into a state of wholeness and unity.” Peterson says this is one of the richest words in the Bible: “You can no more define it by looking up its meaning in the dictionary than you can define a person by his social security number. It gathers all aspects of wholeness that result from God’s will being completed in us. It is a work of God that releases streams of living water in us and pulsates with eternal life.”

        So Jerusalem’s name means peace. When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem we pray that the city will live up to its name, will know unity, wholeness and fulfillment. The Psalmist prays this for the walls of the city and its citadels, for the house of God, and also for those who love Jerusalem, for his brothers and friends. He seeks an all-encompassing peace. Therefore we should see this as no small prayer, not so much a prayer for the current tensions in Israel, but more a prayer for the complete fulfillment of God’s plans for his people. Jerusalem will only experience this longed-for peace as the centerpiece in a complete reworking of the whole world system. When we pray for Jerusalem’s peace we are really praying for God to complete his work of redemption.

        Let me explain. After the building of the second temple Israel was under the political control of some world power - Babylonians, Greeks, Romans for hundreds of years. But Israel always sought autonomy and freedom of worship. Under the Maccabees, with the Greeks weakening, some autonomy was achieved. Then in 66 b.c. the Romans came. They ruled through locals, the most notoriously cruel of which was King Herod at the time of Christ. But Herod also rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem into one of the greatest buildings in the world. He even expanded the base of Mt Zion, and the remnants of that are the most sacred place in Israel today, the Wailing Wall.

        Yet Jerusalem was never at peace. The historian Josephus records at least a dozen wars which swept across Palestine during those centuries. The city where Jesus came in 33 A.D. was a hotbed of revolution and violent repression. Jesus knew the violence would continue. Luke records that as he approached Jerusalem he wept over the city and said, "If you, even you, had only known what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming."

        Thus he predicted continued bloodshed for the city of peace, and his prophecy was fulfilled forty years later when the Roman general Titus put down a bloody Jewish revolt and began a horrible and devastating siege of Jerusalem that ended in the destruction of the city. So completely demolished was Herod’s magnificent temple that to this day not one stone has been found on the Temple mount, though a few have been found at the base of the Wailing Wall where they were thrown by the destroyers. And the years since have been no kinder. In medieval times first the Muslims, then the Crusaders conquered the city, which was holy to both religions. It was the Muslims who built the magnificent Dome of the Rock on the site of the destroyed temple.

        In modern times Jerusalem has continued to be the center of conflict. After World War I Britain was given a mandate to govern Palestine, where many Jewish Zionists had settled. After World War II, horrified by the Holocaust, which had wiped out six million Jews in Europe, Britain left Palestine, and the United Nations voted in 1948 to establish a Jewish state. Then the violence really began. In 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 the Israelis defended themselves against various Arab countries and conquered four times their country’s original area. In the ‘67 war, Israel conquered the Arab part of Jerusalem and claimed the city as it’s capital. And though there have been no major wars since the Yom Kippur war in ‘73, the pace of violence has rarely slowed, as evidenced in recent years by the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

        So to pray for the peace of Jerusalem seems futile. It has never known peace. The prospects for peace seem dim. Yet the peace of Jerusalem is our future. Scripture predicts that Jesus is coming again, and that when he does he will reign in Jerusalem on David’s throne, and that after a thousand years he will establish a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem, a place where the presence of God becomes all our joy and calls forth all our worship. So the prayer for the peace of Jerusalem will be fulfilled not through man’s efforts but as a part of God’s larger plan for eternity.

        Let me mention a few verses that support this longer view of the peace of Jerusalem. First, Jesus is coming back to reign. He taught this himself, Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

        Second, Jesus will reign on David’s throne, which means he will reign in Jerusalem. The Old Testament make this clear. Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Verse 7: He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Isaiah 16:5 “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it– one from the house of David– one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

        Third, Jesus predicted the interim period in which we live. He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and said “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Jesus knows all about the conflicts going on in Jerusalem, and the larger conflict yet to come, described in the book of Revelation. But he promises that he himself is coming back to reign at the end of those troubles. He will establish peace during his long reign in Jerusalem, and then for eternity in the New Jerusalem which forms the heart of the new heaven and the new earth.

        So we do have peace to look forward to, to pray for. It is no small peace, but the ultimate wholeness of the whole universe re-created with Jerusalem at it’s center. This is what the book of Hebrews taught us to look forward to. Hebrews 11:13 “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth; . . . they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 12:21 “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

        The peace Jerusalem is our future. First, the present city of Jerusalem will only find peace after great turmoil when Jesus comes. Second, a New Jerusalem will be live up to its name for all eternity. Therefore when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we ought to focus our prayers on the soon coming of that ultimate peace, which is the only answer to the violence that begins in the hearts of fallen men and women. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for the present peace of present Jerusalem. Paul urges that “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone__ for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” But what I am saying is that any present reprieve for Jerusalem would be just that, a reprieve, preceding the final outburst of violence which will lead in turn to a final and lasting peace under Jesus.
        The promise of that peace is one of the great closing words of the Bible, one of my favorite of all Scripture texts. In Revelation 21 God brings peace to Jerusalem by bringing eternal peace to her people: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

        Scriptural Jerusalem is our joy because it speaks of the presence of God. Historic Jerusalem is a model for us of worship in the awesome presence of God. Future Jerusalem is our hope of peace in the eternal presence of God. When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem we pray that God’s agelong work of preparing a people for his presence would be completed, so that all his people might know his peace.