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The “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134)

June 22nd, 2008

Models in Pilgrimage for the People of God

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come”

(Hebrews 13:14)

Years ago, we learned that the Psalms were classified into categories.  Among these categories are the so-called, “Songs of Ascent” (Ps. 120-134); a total of 15.  We are composing this brief church bulletin article in the hope that the joy and appreciation which we have lately found from associating these Songs of Ascent with our own pilgrimage to the heavenly city may equally come your way (see 1 Peter 2:11; Ps. 119:19).

The old British literary critic, Matthew Arnold, said something about poetry at large, that certainly applies to the Hebrew poetry of the Psalms: “The best poetry will be found to have a power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us, as nothing else can. A clearer, deeper sense of the best in poetry, and of the strength and joy that can be drawn from it, is the most precious benefit which we can gather from a poetical collection”

(“The Study of Poetry,” 1880). The Songs of Ascent , we are persuaded, have this very power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us.

We can almost hear these songs being sung by the ancient pilgrims of faith, enroute to Jerusalem. This grouping opens with a worshiper far from the holy city and among a pagan people (Ps. 120). The final song is a blessing upon the pilgrims as they return to their homes- changed and reaffirmed in their faith that Zion is with them wherever they go (Ps. 134). Here, then, is a model for Christians, today, who seek the city to come.

-Robert M. Housby

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