Psalm 122 Translation and comment

A song of degrees or ascents. for David

I was glad when they said to me

“Let us go to the house of Yahweh.”

Now our feet have gained a place

Before your gates, Jerusalem!

Jerusalem, built as a city

That is bound together as one:

The tribes go up to it, the tribes of Yah,

An institution in Israel

To give thanks to Yahweh’s name.

There seats of judgement were set

The seats of the dynasty of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem-

– May those who love you live at ease!

May all be well within your walls

And all secure within your castles.

For the sake of my brothers and neighbours I will say:

“Peace be upon you!”

For the sake of the temple of Yahweh our God:

I will pray for your good.

This is clearly a psalm from pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. The question is: does the psalm belong to the time of the first temple, before the Babylonian exile? It is possible, because it certainly reflects that time and place. On the other hand it may be written after the exile when the city and temple were still half destroyed, looking back to a better time for comfort and hope. Or it may belong to the later time of the second temple, when perhaps not so many tribes came to the temple festivals.

I take the second of these options, because I see the psalm as looking back in order to look ahead. The joy of the pilgrim is seen in the past but it points to something which will be restored.

The focus on Jerusalem expresses a commitment to restore the Holy City and its Temple, as a centre of worship, and the Davidic dynasty as the legitimate rulers of Israel. It is a short and apparently simple psalm but is carefully constructed and beautifully worded in Hebrew. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” is a relevant injunction today, when there is no temple or seats of just judgement but only a secular city which treats its Muslim population as second class citizens at best.

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