O Jerusalem!

An exposition of Psalm 122 by Ps John Nelson on the Sabbath 9 January 2005
Prepared for publication by Mrs Leong Lay Keng

This psalm was sung by pilgrims on their journey to the Holy city for the thrice annual feasts. As each company approached the city they would be joined by many others from all parts of the nation, each tribe represented by its devotees. For some this would be a time of reunion with old friends and relatives. Others would find themselves obliged to share the road and the city with strangers to whom they were united in a common faith.

Here were families from Dan in the north to Gilead in the east. The intervening centuries since the occupation of Canaan had seen the tribes settled in their inheritance with each developing its own culture. Each tribe had its distinctive character as foretold by Jacob as he lay a-dying. The inability of the Ephraimites to pronounce Shibboleth is an evidence of the peculiarities which developed with each tribe.

Yet at the feasts these men and women, boys and girls from the diverse tribes would mingle and be reminded that they were all God’s covenant people, his church, and brethren despite their differences.

1. Delighting in The House of God

1 I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.

That gladness had its origin in the day that he was brought out of the bondage of sin and unbelief in which he was born, the day when he was taken from the fearful pit and miry clay that would have been his death, and had his feet set upon the rock of eternal truth and righteousness. He had learned that all the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle were but types of the one great sacrifice that God had promised would be made by the one who was to come from his loins according to the flesh.

So David was glad, glad of his salvation, glad of the way the Lord had led and protected him, glad at the advancement he had been given, glad at the prospects of the dynasty he had founded and of the glorious things spoken of his house when he was so undeserving of the least of these mercies.

And this gladness of the king was all the more intense because it was warmed at the coals of godly communion. There is an enhancement of the joy when it is helped by the warmth of others. The coals glow more brightly when raked together in the hearth. Would that we were more mindful of this. Remember too that the converse is also true – when the numbers of the godly are depleted in his house so those that attend have less encouragement in their work.

The pleasure of the psalmist in the solemnities of worship was a good indicator of his gracious heart. When men find no pleasure in this employment and begrudge the time they spend at it, it calls into question their sincerity in professing themselves among the Lord’s people. If we have no pleasure in this work now, how can we look forward to hereafter when this shall be the work of eternity?

2 Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.

As the pilgrims gaze upon the city with joyful anticipation, they address the city as if it was a person, for the city of Jerusalem is a type of the church of Christ, which is a living entity. The wonder of it was that in this city God had been pleased to place his dwelling place with men. There were other cities more expansive, more magnificent, more powerful, more adorned with the art of man. But Jerusalem was precious beyond compare, for she had the living God as her chief ornament and the saints as her officers.

Do we count spiritual Jerusalem as that place to which we desire admittance? Are we anxious to enter her gates through admission into the fellowship of the visible church, partaking of her ordinances and sacraments. Friend, if you are content to sit in the pew but do not desire to be a professing disciple of Christ, are you not remaining outside of Jerusalem? I bid you to come within her gates and sample the sweetness and grace of her God.

And you will note that the pilgrims were able to stand within her gates. They had a blessed assurance that the God of the city would receive and welcome them in his sanctuary, that he invited them to come to him and would in no wise cast them out. The very name of the place gave them encouragement to hope in his mercy – Jerusalem "the habitation of peace", peace with the God who dwelt there in Jerusalem.

2. The Unity of the Church

3 Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:

The ancient city of Jerusalem was contained within encircling walls for defence and security. Within those walls the citizens dwelt in what we would describe as high density housing. The environs of Jerusalem had to cater for all the priests when they were serving their monthly term of duty as well as thousands of Levites who attended the multifarious tasks that the operation of such a complex as the temple required.

But there was a compactness of a different sort envisaged for this city. It lay in the harmony of the people of God. The word rendered compact here is the same as we find given as "couple" in the directions for the making of the tabernacle:

"And thou shalt make fifty taches of gold, and couple the curtains together with the taches: and it shall be one tabernacle" (Ex 26:6).

The picture that emerges is that of the unity of the many parts that made up the tabernacle. Those taches of gold were emblems of the love that was to exist within the community of the people of God in the spiritual tabernacle of the church, binding them together into one body. We find the same truth expressed in the New Testament where the word compacted means "knit together", "united – in association or affection":

"From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:16).

4 Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.

Those tribes with their peculiarities and distinctions were yet part of the one nation of Israel. Their differences and tribal loyalties were not to keep them from displaying their essential unity as the people of God by coming together to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Note that isolationism and excessive individualism is contrary to Christ’s purpose for his church. How sad the fragmentation among those who profess to hold the same standards of doctrine and worship. Can such division be honouring to God? Is this not destructive of the compactness of Jerusalem?

We are called to fellowship with the head and in him with the body – lively stones built into a spiritual house (temple) which means being in close communion with one another.

We are to remember that it is the Lord, the master builder, who chooses in his infinite wisdom which stones we shall be set beside, and we are to rejoice in his judgement and determination.

Sinful unity

There is a unity which is sinful because it is at the expense of holiness and truth. We may not make unity an absolute above the glory of God. Paul opposed Peter when he saw him not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). He advised separation from those who were heretics. (Titus 3:10-11)

But jealousy for truth may be used as a cloak for pride, stubbornness, determination to have our own way, unwillingness to consider the views and insights of others, or even laziness – it being easier to maintain a party spirit than to search out a matter. "The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason" (Prov 26:16).

Jehu was a man who boasted of his zeal for the Lord and he wrought great slaughter among the worshippers of Baal, yet he continued in the sins of Jeroboam (2 Kgs 10:31). How easy it is to point to the mote in our brother’s eye and not regard the beam in our own. Let us be jealous for the truth, but let it be with all humility and trembling, acknowledging our own proneness to fall and praying much for wisdom to discern our own hearts in the matter.

And let us remember the counsel of the apostle: "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference…" (Jude 1:21-23).

The testimony of Israel

Then see what it is that united these tribes; it was the testimony of Israel, and giving thanks unto the Lord. They did not say, "We went to Jerusalem last year, the tribes should come to our city this time" No, they gladly went to Jerusalem for the testimony of God was there.

This testimony we may think of in a comprehensive sense; - the Ten Commandments in the ark (taught of sin), the ordinances of divine worship (taught of salvation), and the teaching ministry (sanctification). And their assembling at the house of the Lord was in itself a testimony of the grace and faithfulness of the living and true God.

Giving of thanks goes with testimony – they should be mingled together. As we hear and learn of the ways of God in his house, so we are to respond with our heartfelt thanks and praise of his grace, wisdom, power, justice, holiness and truth.

When their eyes were on the testimony of Israel, upon the revelation that Jehovah had vouchsafed to them, and when they gave humbled thanks to him for this and all other blessings, then they were drawn more and more into the bonds of unity and love.

3. Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. 7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palace.8 For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.

There is great emphasis on peace of the church. Whilst not at any price, yet a great price is set upon it. We may not part with absolutely anything to maintain peace but be prepared to part with our right to obtain peace.

Consider the inspired words of the apostle Paul:

"I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Rom14:14-21).

We must not compromise one iota over God’s rights, but over our rights, we should be willing to part all for peace.

Peace is to be actively sought and promoted. Contention in the church is often due to the cause of righteousness but "… the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (Jas 3:13-18).

Peace And Prosperity Go Together

"They shall prosper that love thee" (v. 6b). Those that promote the peace of the church prosper; if not materially, spiritually. Writing to the saints at Philippi Paul commends their love for him and their fellowship in the gospel and he prays for their spiritual prosperity (Phil 1:9-11).

"Peace be within thy walls" (v. 7a). The strongest walls will not protect a city when there is disharmony within. The wall of Jerusalem is more slain by factions than by Romans. The most tightly framed constitution of a church will not keep her if she be full of strife and bitter envying.

"Prosperity within thy palaces" (v. 7b). Rulers enjoy love and loyalty of their people when they seek the good of the church.

"For my brethren and companions’ sakes I will now say, Peace be within thee" (v. 8). Love for the brethren ought to encourage the cultivation of an honourable peace. See how Paul had such a love for the saints’ welfare and prosperity: "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil 1:23-24).

Richard Clerke has well said:

"God would have his Church the house of peace; and his temple there David might not build because he was a man of war; but Solomon his son, who had his name of peace, must build it" (1634 CHS).


8 Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.

He began by being glad to go up to the house of the Lord. Now he ends by seeking the good of Jerusalem. It is because of the house of the Lord our God. Because it is the church of Jesus Christ, his body, those for whom he poured out his life’s blood, that we seek others’ good.

Who would dare to trouble the church when it is the house of the Lord our God?

The presence of Jehovah, our God, endears to us every place wherein he reveals his glory. Well may we seek her good within whose walls there dwells God who alone is good. Amen.