As we noted when looking at Psalms 120 and 121, the collection of psalms running from 120–134 were grouped together after the return from the Babylonian exile. It is agreed that the purpose of the collection was for use by pilgrims travelling to the annual feasts in Jerusalem. No doubt, they would see a big difference between the beautiful city that existed before the exile and the smaller city that existed after it. One function of Psalm 122 was to remind the pilgrims that it was not the size of the city that was the main issue. Instead they were to rejoice in what existed in Jerusalem (the beneficial rule of God) and what took place there (the worship of God).
The psalm is a reminder of several benefits that come through gathering with God’s people. Verses 1 and 2 highlight the wonderful reality of sharing public worship with those whom God has rescued from spiritual danger. When the pilgrims stepped within the city gates they found themselves within a secure environment. The city was surrounded with walls, which gave protection to the inhabitants. Similarly, public worship is a reminder of the security of God’s people, that they have been delivered from their sins and are no longer under the judgement of God. We should look round the gathered congregation and note those whom God has set free – they are visible signs of his delivering power.
Moreover, entering Jerusalem gave to the pilgrims the opportunity of observing the various buildings of the city (v. 3). The psalm indicates that it was a well-designed city. When we gather in public worship, we enter a city full of interesting sites. I once heard a sermon in which the preacher imagined a tour of this city and he took us to the museum (where our history can be observed), to the town hall (where our names are written on the city register), to the hospital (where our spiritual wounds are cured), to the council chamber (where we have access to the Ruler of the city), etc.
In verse 4, the psalm mentions the unity of God’s people. Whatever their background, social level, intellectual abilities, age, they were together. When we apply this to the visible church in New Testament times, we can see the importance of unity in the professing people of God as it is displayed on a weekly basis by a local congregation.
Also in verse 4, the psalmist draws attention to the twofold purpose of gathering in Jerusalem. One was to listen at Israel’s testimony (the place where the priests instructed the people about God and his purposes) and the other was to give thanks to God. This is a reminder that public worship is a two-way event, an interaction between God and those who worship. There has to be instruction by those whom God has gifted for this role and there has to be a response from the congregation, that of thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness.
The importance of corporate prayer is mentioned in verses 6 and 7. Prayer is to be made for two details: peace and prosperity. It is impossible for spiritual prosperity to be known if there is no desire for peace.
In the closing verses the psalmist highlights the need of personal dedication (vv. 8-9). He devotes himself to saying and doing only the things that make for peace. As far as his fellow-worshippers are concerned, his speech will focus on peaceful words, with the aim of giving to them a spirit of contentment and concord. Similarly, his actions would always have the aim of the prosperity of God’s kingdom.
Why this emphasis on peace? Because Jerusalem (Salem) is ‘the city of peace’ where the Prince of peace reigns, where the peace of God rules in the hearts of the inhabitants because they are reconciled to him. That is what going to church should be like.