A Song of Ascents.
Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
how he swore to the Lord
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
“I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
“Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!”
Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy.
For the sake of your servant David,
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.”
For the Lord has chosen Zion;English Standard Version
he has desired it for his dwelling place:
“This is my resting place forever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on him his crown will shine.”
Understanding this psalm and how it applies to us today was a bit of a journey for me. When an Old Testament passage talks about the relationship between God and the tribes of Israel, we know the New Testament teachings lead us to understand that God wants a relationship with each one of us. The first half of this song seemed to take me further off-course, however. The psalm speaks so much to what King David and the Israelite tribes had done for God that it made me wonder what the motivation was in writing those verses. I had to keep going to get beyond my false impression that the tribes had decided they had earned God’s favor through their pious acts and were demanding God respond as they wished.
The key insight to interpreting this psalm is to focus in the middle of the passage. That is not what we do today. We’re trained to receive the set up to the story at the beginning, then follow as the story builds through the middle of the narrative until the dramatic climax late in the book. We are trained to focus on the beginning and the end of the story. For this psalmist’s readers, the most important part was in the middle.
That pivotal middle point in this psalm is the phrase, “For the Lord has chosen Zion.”
That turns the meaning of the first part of this psalm right-side up. The tribe’s response was no longer to earn the favor of their deity, but instead to perform acts of love to the One that had first loved them. Because we know this was one of the Songs of Ascents, we know this psalm was used by those making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so we affirm that the essence of true and acceptable acts of worship are seen in actions that demonstrate our sincere love to God. True worship is not about the location in which it is held, or the format and design of the worship services, or the qualifications of the worship leaders. Worship is about the openness of the worshippers to be loved by God and to love God in response.
Worship, then, is putting our love for God ahead of our own goals and desires. Certainly David wanted one of his sons to be King of Israel after he died, but David loved God more, and God, in love, assured David that his sons would reign.
Worship is trusting God in our uncertainties. God promised to “satisfy [Israel’s] poor with bread.” If we think about that phrase, we might also recall the saying “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” We like to identify problems and solve them the way we think is best, and there are times when God leads us to do that. First, however, is to trust God, especially when God’s solution is not our solution.
Worship is recognizing God all around us. In the promise “Her priests I will clothe with salvation,” we have an intentional contrast to the instructions in Exodus 28 for the proper garb of priests. Additionally, the word used for “priests” doesn’t refer to the “official” Israelite priests but instead to anyone who does priestly duties, such as being a mediator between people and God and being a servant of God and of those who worship. God wants us to act as priests, to live out our worship, to share worship, and and to encourage others in their worship.
Finally, worship is affirming that God’s timing is best. Did you catch the intention of the phrase “a horn to sprout for David”? Those making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem would have known that the four corners of the altar in Jerusalem were called horns, and were made of horns. They also knew that nothing would grow out of a horn. It is made of keratin, like human fingernails. God, the Giver of Life, promised new life out of the lifeless. Isaiah repeated this same promise in a more familiar passage in Isaiah 11: “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse.” Both Isaiah 11 and Psalm 132 are prophesies about the coming Messiah. But consider when this psalm was written, about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. God fulfilled the promise made to David when God knew it was the right time.
As we read this Psalm, as we take a few minutes to join the pilgrimage with those traveling to worship in Jerusalem, we recognize that true worship is found on the journey. Worship does not require a temple, for worship is all around us. When we express our devotion and love for God in how we carry out the small details of our lives, God is with us in our worship.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.