Archive for March, 2016

Songs of Ascent: Arrival


I remember the first trip that I had planned for myself. I was traveling to Victoria, BC to visit some good friends. There was a lot of preparation for this trip – I was in the midst of intense planning that didn’t seem like it could afford two weeks off. There was paper work to get in place and meetings to happen. A couple of days before I left, a meeting happened that jeopardized the whole project. My journey to Victoria started in a state of confusion, being overwhelmed and wondering if God was truly with me. I imagine that is how some of the Israelites felt as they journeyed from Meshech and the desert to Jerusalem. A journey that started with the Israelites asking hard questions, proclaiming “woe is me” and wondering where God was in all of this as Jerusalem stood far away.

After a five hour flight, the plane descended into one of the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen. The sun glistened on the waters and the colours of pink, orange and purple were brilliant – so brilliant that I can still picture that moment in my mind. Once landed, I was greeted by my friends who ran over to me. I had arrived – and it was wonderful. I remember being so filled with happiness that I was practically jumping for joy. I had made it in my journey to Victoria and it was good.

Today’s Psalms of Ascent are ones that celebrate having reached Jerusalem and how good that was. I invite you to turn with me to your pew Bibles.


We begin today by looking at Psalm 132. This psalm stands out in the Songs of Ascents. It’s a longer psalm than the others and doesn’t seem to be a song in the same way. It seems to be a reenactment of a story that the Israelites had known well (2 Samuel 6-7). David had been trying to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The Ark was where God was believed to dwell. When the ark was present in a person’s home, that family was blessed. When the ark was present in battle, that nation would be strong. It was considered holy – so holy that irreverent acts led to death. David struggled to bring this ark to Jerusalem, which is what the psalmist is referring to when he asks God to remember how David was deeply oppressed and brought low by this task.

David also wanted to build a house for the Lord – a Temple. Let’s pause for a moment. The psalmist tells us that David swore to the Lord, that he vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:

“I will not enter my house

or go to my bed,

I will allow no sleep to my eyes

or slumber to my eyelids,

till I find a place for the Lord,

a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (NIV)

David had decided that God needed a house. And David had decided he would not rest until God had a house.

The plan seems well-intentioned. Let us go into His dwelling place; Let us worship at His footstool (NRSV). It would be a place of worship. Where the priests would be clothed with righteousness and the godly ones sing for joy.

The story in 2 Samuel (7:5-7) tells us what God thought of this plan. God gave a vision to Nathan the prophet:

Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent… Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built Me a house of Cedar? (NRSV)

David’s plan is backwards. God had always directed where the Ark of the Covenant would go by the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day (Wilcock, pg. 241). God does not need David to build a house for Him. Instead, God has chosen Jerusalem to be his resting place. God has chosen to bless the people of Israel by making Jerusalem his home.

And it is good. God will abundantly bless Jerusalem with provision, satisfy the needy with bread. God will clothe the priests with salvation and the godly ones will sing aloud for joy.

I wonder… are there times in our own lives when we insist on doing things our way and God has other plans? Perhaps God wants to bless us with his presence and more than what we imagined and we need to surrender our own desires and plans to God.

Psalm 132 also points forward. During God’s response to David, the Lord makes three references to the future leadership on the throne of David. First, he says Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. Second, that his sons shall sit upon your throne forever. And that in Jerusalem, the Lord will cause the horn of David to spring forth. This latter reference also means to blossom, perhaps playing on the words to spring forth. It is a reference for giving birth. There is also a reference to preparation for God’s anointed one – which is sometimes translated as Messiah.

Here we see a reference to the coming of Jesus. God will bless the line of David and through David will bring the anointed one, the Messiah. Through this Messiah, the enemies will be clothed with shame but the Messiah’s crown will shine. This coming of the Messiah will be good. The Lord will make his dwelling place among the people for ever and ever. The hungry will be fed, the searching will be blessed. There will be singing and dancing in joy among the godly ones.


Arriving in Jerusalem, with God abiding there and promising to send continual blessings through the anointed one is a glorious thing. What a different place the Israelites are in from the beginning of their journey! Here we move into our next psalm. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! The Israelites prior to this journey would likely have been scattered. Jerusalem would be a point when all the Israelites would gather together in community.

Imagine for a moment how good it feels when someone returns to the church for a visit after moving away. It is a time of rejoicing and celebrating in one another’s lives. It’s a time to catch up and see what God has done. Now imagine the joy that would be experienced if all Christians came and gathered together to share what God has done in their lives and to celebrate each other. How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!

The psalmist likens this joy to two different images. The fragrant oil upon Aaron’s head is spilling over his head and down past the edge of his robes. This image of Aaron’s beard may be strange for us. For the Israelites, they would have connected themselves with the patriarchs, with family lines. The image of precious oil coming down Aaron’s beard was a poetic way of saying that the line of Aaron and all who are connected with him are blessed.

The second image is the mountain of Hermon which experienced significant air moisture and dew. The unity of the Israelites gathering was like the dew of Hermon overflowing and coming down upon the mountains of Zion. The dew is so great that it cannot be contained.

Here as the Israelites journey up to Jerusalem, the blessings of God are coming down. The psalmist mentions this coming down of blessings three times, giving us a sense that this community is overflowing with blessings and goodness (Wilcock, pg. 244).


And now the Israelites have gathered in blessed community and much like we are gathered here today, they gathered to worship the God of all blessings. So I invite you to say psalm 134 with me.

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord

who minister by night in the house of the Lord.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

and praise the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion,

he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

The journey ends with a call to worship – we are to bless the Lord. Day and night, we are to thank him, to praise him, to worship him.

And the Lord who made heaven and earth blesses us. The Lord that brought us safely to this day and to this place of worship, blesses us. The Lord who brings us into community, blesses us.


How do we bless the Lord? One author writes that “to bless God means to recognize his great richness, strength, and gracious bounty and to express our gratitude and delight in seeing and experiencing it” (Piper). At the end of morning prayer, the leader says “Let us bless the Lord” and the rest of us respond “Thanks be to God”. In our liturgy, we recognize that all that we have experienced in worship has been given to us through God’s grace.

How do we bless the Lord in our everyday lives? As we attend to our jobs that demand much of our time? As we care for our family members day and night? Or perhaps some of us here today are called to bless God in the midst of want and need – whether that be needing a job or wanting a family or something else? How do we cultivate gratitude in our daily lives?

How do we become a community in which all people are welcomed into our midst and experience the precious oil and the dew of Hermon over flowing? Is our community one in which the stranger, the outsider can find a home? People who are not like us? Who look different? Act different? Believe different? The journey of ascents was likely for Israelites – but the horn of David, the one whose crown will glisten – came for all people. Christ came so that all may experience the blessings of God. After all, this is God’s home and God will decide who will dwell in his holy house.


Today, as we end our time with the psalms of ascents, let us look back over the past few weeks and the journey that God has taken each of us individually and as a church collectively. Let us celebrate and bless the Lord for all he has done and for bringing us to this day, to this point in our journey. Let us give thanks for His presence that he blesses us with. Let us give thanks for one another and the beautiful community we have here. And let us worship the Lord in his house today and every day. Amen.