Songs of Ascent

U2's second album, "October," 1981

U2 from their second album, "October," 1981

Songs of Ascent: Psalms 120-134


When I speak of the “Songs of Ascent,” I am not referring to an upcoming U2 album, but to a collection of songs from one of the oldest repertoires in history: the Hebrew Psalter.  This collection begins with psalm 120 and concludes with psalm 134. Most are listed as anonymous, but four are attributed to David and one to Solomon.

Whereas the psalms have been a part of my life since childhood (I learned number 23 before I could read), the deep emotional touch from within the ancient Word was not released to me until much later. I recall after encountering Charles I. Allen’s book, God’s Psychiatry, that I read psalm 23 in a way that I had never before considered—like a prayer back to God. Thus, I began to read the other psalms in the same way. Some, like the imprecatory (curse invoking) psalm 109, were not as conducive for such a discipline, but others were incredibly suited as prayers and meditations.

Charles I. Allen's "God's Psychiatry"

"God's Psychiatry" by Charles I. Allen

Within the 150 biblical psalms, 10% were especially set apart to be used by those who visited Jerusalem during holidays (holy days). [1] We tend to refer to these journeys as pilgrimages, and pilgrims continue to venture to the Holy Land, today. Since Jerusalem was physically located on a mountain, people would ascend to the city; but for the serious believer, this was not merely a physical climb, but a spiritual venture, vertically toward God Almighty.

I like to think that all believers in Jesus, the Messiah, are “pilgrims,” whether we participate in an actual pilgrimage, or not, since we are moving toward our heavenly home. Like Abraham, we are “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).”  The Scriptures teach that believers in Jesus have dual citizenship: “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).”

It is good for believers, today, to not only recognize the spiritual and vertical

Jerusalem songs of ascent

The Songs of Ascent in Hebrew at the entrance of David's City in Jerusalem

journey that we are on, but to grow in their faith, as those ancient brothers and sisters of ours did. I began to believe in Jesus in 1973. Since that time, some of those who were instrumental in my spiritual growth have turned away from the Church and even our Lord. I don’t judge them, but I do recognize a warning through their example. I need to remain “active” in my faith. “Faith” is an action, and when it is not exercised, it dies. Not every Jewish believer participated in the pilgrimages. Those who did were exercising their faith by leaving their work behind, traveling to Jerusalem, and worshiping God. Our faith needs to be active, too.

Active faith is the kind that works, not in order to obtain salvation, but because salvation has already been obtained through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. In Jesus, we have already attained our place in heaven, yet while we live on earth we can find ourselves bored. There is the continuous onslaught of temptation from the world, the flesh and the devil, and we need to arm our minds and hearts in order to stand against these foes. Paul wrote about our heavenly position to the Colossian church in this way:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

In our spiritual pilgrimage as Christians, we, too, need to set our hearts and minds on things above. As psalm 123 opens:

1 I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven. …..

our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy.

It is my intention that these brief essays on the Songs of Ascent would encourage us to lift our eyes to Him who is in Heaven, and look for His mercy to be shown in and through our lives.

Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for today! I thank you that as a believer in Your Son, Jesus, I have the promise of eternal life in heaven.

Help me, today, to value the gift of salvation. Help me, today, to focus upon You, and consciously continue my spiritual journey.

I love you,


[1] By the time of Jesus, it is estimated that about 80,000 people lived in Jerusalem. During religious festivals, the population could swell to over 300,000.

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