He sings of himself and his mission. He is on his way to the feast, to the Passover, but he is the Passover Lamb, and these are his songs. He sings of his trials, his trust, and his anticipation of triumph. Along with 113-118 these are especially “Anthems of the Dying Lamb”(as Phillip Ross titled his book on Psalms 113-118). And he sings to us—assuring us of the outcome of his journey to Jerusalem. Listening to him sheds new light on all these psalms, and it helps us with the psalms that don’t quite make it into our favourites.
Many of us have our favourite pieces of music pulled together into a playlist on Spotify or on our phones. If we’re heading off on a journey, or we need to unwind, we set it to play. Within the book of Psalms there is a playlist for a journey. Psalms 120-134 all bear the heading “A Song of Ascents”—commonly understood to be songs sung as the Jewish people made their way to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts.
OT scholar, Alec Motyer, describes the collection as “possibly the loveliest single group of psalms in the whole Psalter”.
Among them are some of our great favourites—Psalm 121 sung at the start of many a significant journey; Psalm 122 with its joyous delight in gathering to worship; Psalm 124’s celebration of a great escape; the mighty cry from the depths of Psalm 130.
The whole collection is one of a journey. Starting far from home, they take us repeatedly towards Jerusalem, and eventually to the Lord’s house itself. Rescued, redeemed, returned, restored, rejoicing.
Alec Motyer points out that they are loosely clustered in groups of three with the first describing some element of stress or distress (trial), the second pointing us to our all-sufficient God (trust), and the third psalm in each case brings us home (triumph). This is the broad pattern for the first four triads, but in the fifth we find it all climaxing in the togetherness of God with his people unitedly serving him—home at last.
This journey theme is why they resonate so much with us. They are grittily realistic—no wide-eyed optimism here. In this world believers are slandered (120), catastrophe looms (124), saints are scorned (123), injustice threatens to reign (125), tears flow (126), and sin engulfs (130). But God is always sufficient, and the hope of home is always present. They fit our experience and our longings. They are perfect songs for the journey.
But what if there was another reason to love them even more?
What if they weren’t so much written for us, but for someone else on a journey?
Come with me and walk beside a group of men travelling south from Galilee to Jerusalem. One man is striding out in front with focus and determination. And as he walks he sings—they all do—these Psalms of Ascent. Listen to him sing them, because you will hear them sung like never before. They were our Saviour’s ‘Playlist’, his songs for the journey, before they were ours.
He sings of himself and his mission. He is on his way to the feast, to the Passover, but he is the Passover Lamb, and these are his songs. He sings of his trials, his trust, and his anticipation of triumph.