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Songs for Those Who Are Traveling Home

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Psalms 120–122

No matter where we are in life, no matter what challenges we are facing, we can rest in the assurance that the Lord is our Protector. Moreover, we can rejoice in the truth that we have immediate access to His glorious presence.


Songs for Those Who Are Traveling Home

Psalms 120–122


We’ve now arrived at Psalm 120, which begins a collection of fifteen psalms that are given the heading, “A Song of Ascents,” or “A Song of Going Up.”

This title comes from the fact that Jerusalem is at a high elevation there in the land of Israel. Back in Exodus 23 the Lord commanded all adult male Israelites to appear before Him during three significant festivals. That required making the trip to Jerusalem, which meant going up, or ascending, to the city. Many of them would bring their families along with them, just as Joseph and Mary brought Jesus in His early years.

Now, the practice of singing along the journey to Jerusalem began in ancient days—we’re not sure exactly when—and became a long-held tradition. The prophecy of Isaiah 30:29 reads:

You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel.

These psalms of ascent, then, were traveling songs, written for the Israelites to sing on their way to three annual feasts: Passover (Unleavened Bread), Pentecost (Weeks), and Tabernacles (or Booths).

Keep in mind that these fifteen psalms kept God’s people focused on reaching God, so to speak.  Jerusalem was not their destination. God was their destination, and worshiping Him was their focus.

Now when you read Psalm 120, you discover here in the opening verses that the author is troubled by the fact he is living in a world of deception, and frankly, he’s had about all he can take. He writes in verse 2, “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.” 

He is also grieving that he lives, not only in a deceitful world, but also in a depraved world. He writes in verse 5, “Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!”

The pagan influence of these people living in the far north of Israel (Meshech), as well as in the southeast (Kedar), had reached into the psalmist’s personal world. It might be that his neighbors had adopted the pagan lifestyles of these people.

So, as he travels toward Jerusalem to worship the Lord, he is troubled that his world is deceitful and depraved, but also that his world is dangerous. He writes, “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (verses 6-7).

Maybe you feel like that today. You love the truth, but people around you keep on lying. You want to live a pure life, but you are surrounded by impurity. You just want a little peace and tranquility, but everybody else seems to want to stir up trouble.

Beloved, that is the perfect time to make sure you are heading toward Jerusalem—that is, you are ascending to God through faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. You might be troubled or exhausted, but in spite of what surrounds you, you are choosing to surrender in worship to your living Lord. 

Now Psalm 121 immediately gives us the sense that the journey to Jerusalem is underway. The author writes in verse 1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” This verse is often misunderstood. Help is not coming from these hills.

As the pilgrims are traveling to Jerusalem, camping out at night, they are constantly looking out for robbers and wild animals. These hills represented physical danger.

But they also represented spiritual danger. Pagan places of worship were built on top of high hills. Idolatry and false worship that included sexual immorality and drunkenness were temptations for the Israelites. The travelers going to Jerusalem would want to steer clear of these high places of idolatry.

So, the psalmist asks the question, “Where am I going to find help as I look up ahead to these hills?” And he answers his own question here in verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Maybe today you are surrounded by unbelievers, liars, temptations, troublemakers. Your help is not up there in those hills; it’s in the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth.

The psalmist says here in verses 3 and 4 that the Lord neither slumbers nor sleeps. In other words, He never goes off duty. He is always on guard. As you head toward those dangerous high hills in life, God never dozes off. He doesn’t slumber or sleep—and that means you can. You can sleep at night. You can doze off and take a nap. Because God never sleeps, you can. He is always watching over you.

In verse 5, the author reinforces this idea as he writes, “The Lord is your shade on your right hand.” That is, the Lord is so close that His presence casts a shadow over you, like a shade tree on a hot afternoon. 

The psalmist adds in verse 6, “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” In ancient Israel, the sun was thought to attack people with heat, and the moon supposedly made people lose their minds.[1]

The point here is that day or night, no matter what kind of attack you are experiencing, your source of strength comes from the Lord. He created the sun and moon. You are not subject to them; they are subject to Him.

Now with that, we turn to Psalm 122, which David composed as a song to remind the travelers of the glory and power of God. 

David has come to Jerusalem with thousands of others during one of the festivals. And he couldn’t be happier to have so many friends who encourage him to worship the Lord. He opens in verse 1, saying, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

What a wonderful thing it is to have friends who want to worship the Lord with you. Historians tell us that by the time of Christ, Jerusalem’s population would swell to more than a million people as travelers arrived during these festival seasons. Verse 4 tells us why they all come: “The tribes go up . . . to give thanks to the name of the Lord.”

Then in verse 5, David begins to sing prophetically about the future role of Jerusalem in the coming kingdom: “There [in Jerusalem] thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.”

This future promise of the Lord was actually made to David back in 2 Samuel 7, and that promise included a “forever” King sitting on David’s throne in Jerusalem. That King is the Messiah, King Jesus. Over in Revelation 20, the fulfillment of this prophecy unfolds as Jesus sets up His thousand-year kingdom on earth, following the tribulation period and His return to earth with His redeemed, who will reign with Him.

Let me tell you something, beloved, the prophecies of the first coming of Jesus all came to pass—from the town He was born in, to the cross He died on. And we can be sure the prophecies of the second coming of Christ will all come true as well.

The invitation here in Psalm 122:6 to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” is a prayer that looks all the way down to Revelation 20, when Jesus reigns upon that throne at His second coming.

Beloved, there will be no peace in Jerusalem—no lasting peace—until that day when Christ returns and sets up His headquarters in Jerusalem and rules and reigns from His throne in that city. When you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, you are praying prophecy. You are praying for and longing for that lasting peace when Jesus returns one day.

[1] L. Ryken, J. Wilhoit, T. Longman, C. Duriez, D. Penney, and D. G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 566.

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