This week I begin a new section: Specific Psalms.
Why begin with Psalm 132?
- I’ve been reading through the Psalter, and this is where I was when I needed to choose the first psalm to write about: plain and simple.
- As I was reading, the Lord sparked my interest in this psalm. Is it a coincidence that the last post of my previous series on the Psalter ended with Psalms 132? Perhaps the Lord is saying that he wasn’t finished yet.
- This is a Lenten psalm, according to The Orthodox Study Bible (Bibliography), and we are currently in the season of Lent.
- This psalms brings together in one place several aspects, or threads of interest, in the Psalter generally. It combines in one psalm: Messiah, reported direct divine speech, a view of the relationship between Father and Son, enemies, intercessors, the Ark, and specific prophecy. This post will not cover all these topics.
- Psalm 132 displays similarity with The Lord’s Prayer.
With eighteen verses, Psalm 132 is of medium length. It was not written by David. It is not an intimate psalm. Other than the reported speech of God himself, no use is made of singular first person, meaning that this is a group, or corporate, psalm.
1 Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
2 how he swore to the Lord
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 “I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 “Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!”
8 Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
9 Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy.
10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
11 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.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.”
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14 “This is my resting place forever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16 Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
17 There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
18 His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on him his crown will shine.”
(English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.)
Three proper names need explanation:
1. Ephrathah (6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;) refers to a place name, whose exact location is not agreed upon by scholars. Some say a small town outside of Bethlehem or even Bethlehem itself (Ruth 4:11; Micah 5:2; Genesis 35:19); some say Bethel; and others say a district of Ephraim, location of Shiloh, where the Ark first rested (Bonar, 402).
2. Jaar is also a place name. (6 … we found it in the fields of Jaar). A reasonable explanation is that this term meaning field or wood, stands in for Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:1), where the Ark rested in the house of Abinadab for twenty years after the Philistines released it and David rescued it. The reader can easily imagine Abinadab’s allotment containing both fields and woods, or forests.
3. Zion. Zion is a very large and meaningful word in the Psalter. It can signify a particular mountain on which Jerusalem is built (Psalm 78:68; 135:21; 68:16), the early City of David, the temple mount, the city of Jerusalem, God’s chosen Israel (Easton, Psalm 51:18; 87:5), and in Christian times, the Church (Easton, Hebrews 12:22), the Heavenly City of Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 14:1), and Christ himself (John 2:19-22). Verses 13-16 of this psalm, referencing Zion, have been set to music and are currently sung in worship settings (YouTube lyrics and music).
4. The Ark was a “holy box” (International Children’s Bible) located in a fabulous tent the Israelites had constructed during their exodus from Egypt through the wilderness. God would meet with Moses inside the tent above the Ark, which was also called “the mercy seat,” because this is where God revealed his mercy and compassion for his people (Exodus 40:20; Hebrews 9:3-5). During the period of judges, the Ark had been lost in a battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). The Philistines could not keep it very long, because God was cursing them for having it in their possession (1 Samuel 5-6:1). They mounted the Ark on a cart and sent it back to Israel (1 Samuel 6), where it remained with Abinadab (see number 2 above), who lived in the fields or the woods, perhaps both. After twenty years (2 Samuel 7:2), David, who had become king, reclaimed the Ark (2 Samuel 6) and eventually made all the preparations for a glorious temple to house it. Solomon, his son, built the temple using all the resources of talent and substance his father had collected (1 Kings 6:1-8:66).
Psalm 132 is located and labeled in the Psalter with other songs of ascent. Jerusalem was built on hills, the southeastern bearing the name Mount Zion. Pilgrims from all over the kingdom would travel yearly to the temple in Jerusalem to worship there. Because the first person plural “we” is not identified, the reader can assume the pilgrims are speaking. This is one of the psalms they most likely sang as the temple in all its splendor came into view (Mark 13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” ESV).
The excitement of the pilgrims for their journey expresses itself as intercessory prayer for Messiah (in Hebrew), who is God’s “anointed,” (Christos in Greek) (vss. 10, 11, 17-18).
1) The prayer begins with the pilgrims asking God to “remember” (vs 1). Remember, Lord, your servant David who pleased you so much because of the zeal and humility he expressed in his desire to build you a house, a permanent dwelling place for the Ark of your presence (see 4 above, The Ark). Verses 2-5 give details of David’s humility and zeal in placing the Lord above himself.
2) David’s zeal was contagious. It spread to all the people. They recount their excitement to worship God at the location of the Ark (verses 6-9).
3) God’s anointed, the Messiah, the descendant of David, becomes the new subject of intercession in verse 10, which repeats the intercession of verse 1, with that difference now in view. The pilgrims rehearse God’s promise in regard to Messiah in verses 11-12. Verse 13 gives the reason why God made the promise: he desires Zion to be his habitation forever. The thought is implied that if God is going to inhabit Zion, there must be a King there who is faithful to him. God’s relationship to his King is described in verses 17-18. God has many great blessings planned for his King.
Psalm 132 A Model for Prayer
1. This intercessory psalm teaches us to pray Scripture. Our requests should be based upon the clearly expressed will of God. The pilgrims’ understanding of God’s will is stated throughout their prayer. They recount God’s will by quoting his past statements. God speaks his will in first person in verses 11-12 and 14-18, and his statements in these verses concur with other portions of Scripture. When we pray God’s will as revealed through Scripture, as the pilgrims did in Psalm 132, we can be certain that we perceive his will correctly. The following two verses reinforce the importance of praying God’s will:
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
2. This psalm teaches us to pray out from our personal history with God. These pilgrims knew their history, and they knew how that history agreed with the will of God. They remind God of this history and his promises to them in the first portion of the psalm. Then, in the second portion of the psalm, God replies that his will towards them has not changed.
3. So, as the pilgrims walk up the hill in the long ascent to Jerusalem, their place of worshipping God, they prepare their hearts by means of song and prayer to meet him there.
Similarities with the Lord’s Prayer
Jesus taught his disciples to pray by means of giving them a model prayer commonly known as the Lord’s prayer. In it, he taught them to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” (Matthew 6:10). This is exactly what Psalm 132 demonstrates. In Psalm 132, the pilgrims pray for God’s kingdom to come and for his will to be done.
Psalm 132 as Poetic Literature
Psalm 132 is a remarkable piece of poetic literature:
Psalm 132 makes liberal use of quotation. Thirteen of its eighteen verses contain direct or reported speech. The psalm’s speech panels give a dramatic immediacy to the poem. There is reported speech by David (verses 3-5), reported speech by God (verses 11-12), recollected first person plural speech (the worshipers in verses 7-9), and a second block of reported or direct speech by God (verses 14-18).
Adding to the sense of dramatic immediacy is the first person recollection of the people’s excited response to historical events (verses 6-7).
2. Remarkable Compactness and Brevity
In eighteen verses, this psalm sums up nearly the entire history of the Old Testament, moving from the inception of God’s dwelling with his people to its eschatological, or end times, conclusion. The centerpiece of Old Testament history is the temple of God, his dwelling place among his chosen ones, Israel. The centerpiece of the New Testament is the temple of God, which is Christ and his church, God’s eternal dwelling place among his chosen of all humankind.
3. Poetic Devices Reinforce Spiritual Content
The image of the pilgrims ascending the mountain corresponds poetically with the Bible’s progression through history, a metaphorical rising of thought and purpose from the strictly concrete-literal of the Old Testament to the spiritual-literal of the New. The poem itself is like a pilgrim’s journey. Temporally, the poem is set mid-way in the stream of God’s realities. The speakers in the poem look back upon God’s promises at the beginning of the Ark’s history, while at the same time praying forward to their fulfillment. We as readers look back upon the beginning of the fulfillment, which took place with Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. And even while we look back upon Christ’s first coming, we, like the pilgrims in the psalm, look forward and pray for the final fulfillment of God’s promise (the often repeated already/not yet of prophecy and faith). The prayer of Psalm 132 will ultimately be fulfilled with Christ’s second coming. We who pray this psalm today are united with those pilgrims of Israel’s past who prayed it yesterday. The unity is centered in the person of Messiah, God’s anointed, Jesus Christ.