Psalm 122: Joy Filled Children

Young children love family reunions more than the adults who host them. Children are focused on who will be there, who will they play with, who will tell the best story, who will remember their name, who will lift them high off the ground to say, “Look how big you are!”

It is good we start life as children, we might never learn joy otherwise.

Psalm 122 reminds the whole church it is our calling to be the joy-filled children of God. “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (v.1). To us belongs the joy that comes from leaving the world behind and going home to the Lord. Together.

Like the other Psalms of Ascent (120-134), Psalm 122 is a pilgrim psalm. It is sung by a congregation on the move. A congregation ascending the mountain of God. A congregation of happy festive children, whose happiness lies not behind in a world that is passing away, but ahead and above, in the Jerusalem above, her true and forever home.

The Jerusalem of Psalm 122 is not the city that killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her. The Jerusalem here is the one Paul spoke to the churches of Galatia about: “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Gal. 4:26). 

The many local churches have one mother, but she is not constituted from the stuff of earth. She is above and so her pilgrim children are born from above. Her precious cornerstone is also from above, the man from heaven, Jesus, the Son of God. The mediator of a new covenant. Raised to glory, he is enthroned in her, making this Jerusalem “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22).

Now we know why “Let us go up” is the happiest call God’s pilgrim children can hear. It is a summons for the whole family to unite, all the tribes of Israel, and come home to the city of God, a city firmly established by David’s greater Son.

In his presence there is no enmity, no strife, no condemnation, no exile. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore. As the one Spirit from above gives birth to these children, the one Lord who occupies David’s throne desires them to come home, welcoming their praise (122:4). Upon his exaltation the ruins of the city were rebuilt (122:3). All his believing children are now summoned to make haste to the peace and safety of his heavenly dwelling.

But why then a summons to pray (122:6)? Because, before the days of Messiah, the pilgrim children of God prayed in expectation of his coming. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem then was to pray for Christ to come; it was to pray the throne of David’s kingdom would be established forever by the enthronement of David’s greater Son (122:5; 2 Sam. 7:1-14). But now, in the fulness of time, the Jerusalem above has been perfected and established by its King. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem now is to pray for the church in Christ, the congregation of God’s pilgrim children.

But isn’t she on the earth and the true Jerusalem above? Yes, but we must hold fast to scripture’s two-age eschatology. The “born from above” church on earth only has her being from her mother, the Jerusalem above. This was Paul’s point in Galatians 4:26. The church on earth takes her identity from her place in heaven with Christ, for God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Our feet are already within her gates (122:2).

To pray for the peace of Jerusalem then is to pray the congregation of pilgrim children below walk in the light and power of her existence in Christ above. We don’t pray for her to prosper in earthly bounty but in heavenly bounty, the life of the risen Christ. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

To sing Psalm 122, calling out v. 8, “Peace be within you,” is to pray heaven’s constancy to be ever more upon the church for such constancy belongs to her in Christ. As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, to pray Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven is to pray “that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart; and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things, with the like humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy, as the angels do in heaven.”

John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.


John Hartley