“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
‘May you have peace.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”
This psalm is one of David’s songs of ascent, probably written to be sung as God’s people ascended on their trip to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem, after all, is on a high hill, and there is no way to approach the city without ascending. This fact, and this psalm, never meant a whole lot to me until I actually visited Jerusalem. I had valued these pieces of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, but I had not truly understood the meaning and significance of a song meant for ascent.
On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more about that beautiful city’s significance to God’s people from before David’s time to the present. During my trip to Israel several years ago, I was looking forward to visiting Jerusalem, and I knew it would be a powerful experience. I also knew about the importance and sacredness of this city to so many around the world. But honestly, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of walking its streets. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history, and passion present there. The sense of culture is incredibly rich; history greeted me at every turn; and nearly every corner features an expression of faith.
And at the center of it all is the site of the ancient temple: lovingly built, destroyed, rebuilt, reviled, revered, mocked, contested, and excavated for more than 3000 years. Seeing the temple within the city walls helped me understand so much about significance of this site in Scripture. The temple that stood there was high atop a mountain, towering over valleys below. It was huge, visible to everyone, and infused with the indwelling presence of God. It gave hope, guidance, purpose, a sense of unity, and faith to God’s people. A holy place, indeed!
It’s truly impossible to describe the experience of seeing the remains of that temple and the city that surrounded it. Jerusalem is a capsule of much of human history—and God’s ongoing work among people—packed into a larger dose than I could swallow at once, much less communicate. But as our group ascended the temple steps—many of which are the same steps Jesus and his disciples walked on—our devotion leader read Psalm 122. And I understood a bit of why God’s people were and are drawn to the place where his presence was made manifest. I felt small in the presence of a holy God who has reached down to people and lovingly called them to himself throughout all ages.
Turning around and looking down from that spot, I realized it’s no wonder David focused on Jerusalem in this song. All pilgrims would have passed through its gates, then its narrow streets, to reach the temple. Then, looking down from that holy place, they would have seen the city flowing around them, houses hugging the hillsides.
It’s no wonder David prayed for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem “for the sake of the house of the Lord our God” and “for the sake of my family and friends.” The security of the city meant the security of the temple, and peace in its spiritual center meant peace for everyone in the nation.
They say that after you visit Israel, you’ll never be the same. It was true for me, and one of the many ways that visit challenged me was in hearing this Psalm of ascent as I climbed the ancient temple steps and prayed for peace in Jerusalem, this spiritual microcosm of the world. A prayer without answers, prescriptions, or solutions. A prayer without the arrogance of believing I know what is best. A simple prayer for peace and the best from God’s hand.
Do you pray a similar prayer for the well-being of our nation, our churches, and our global community? I can’t wait to see the day when God truly does bring lasting peace to Jerusalem–and to the whole world. In the meantime, we don’t always know what’s best for the world around us, and conflicting priorities can make peaceful resolution seem impossible. But as God’s people, for the sake of God’s glory and the well-being of all the people God loves, it’s always appropriate to pray for peace and desire what is best in God’s eyes.
Like everyone, we are tempted to limit our vision for the good life to what would make our own lives better (or more comfortable or easier or more apparently successful). Our prayers might change if, instead of wanting just what seems best for us and to us, we were to truly seek the peace and well-being of everyone. We don’t have to know what that means. We don’t have to have all the answers or stop grieving over the fact that people can, do, and will turn their backs on God. We simply have to agree with what God wants. And he will change our hearts when we do. He will help us see the world a little more like the way he does. The closer we get to God’s holiness, the more we long for peace and well-being within the city that surrounds us.
From where we stand right now, if we open our eyes, we can see the whole world. And we are in the house of the Lord.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.