Jerusalem Archeological Park Temple Steps – Jerusalem, Israel
On the south side of the Temple platform is the step area that would have led into the Temple. Pilgrims for close to 1,000 years would ascend these stairs as they made their way up for the holiday festivals. The Israelites were required to come three times a year to this Sanctuary. As they journeyed, the Psalms of Ascent would be recited.
The steps themselves were arranged in such a way as to create a rhythmic march as you made your way up them. Some stairs were merely hacked out of the mountain, while others were formed elsewhere and brought to this location. Regardless, the idea was to help the pilgrim as they recounted these important Psalms and focused on the God with Whom they were about to commune.
The Psalms of Ascent include Psalm 120 through 134. These 15 Psalms are all fairly short with just a few verses each. They are called the Psalms of Ascent because pilgrims to the Temple would recite them as they climbed the hills leading to Jerusalem (and ultimately the steps in front of the Temple).
Psalms 120 starts off with the psalmist focusing on his troubles, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord.” His focus is upon himself and his worries. The thought here is that the traveler upon leaving his home for Jerusalem would very much have his thoughts be on the cares and trials of this life.
Psalm 121 begins with, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” The sojourner, as he makes his way up to Jerusalem, begins to turn his attention away from himself and instead turns toward his redemption.
Psalm 122 builds upon this. As other pilgrims join him on the way, he begins to be encouraged. “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the House of the Lord’.” The thought here is clear. As they make their way up to Jerusalem, they are drawing closer to the Temple –the place of God’s special presence on earth.
Psalm 123 finds the traveler now focusing more on the Lord: “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us.” The reality of God, His interaction with us, and protection for us all serve to inspire. The journey is a hard one, but it acts as a reminder of the provision of the Lord. The writer of Psalm 125 captures this thought: “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which can not be removed, but abideth forever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even for ever.”
As the traveler journeys closer to Jerusalem and up its steep hills, he becomes more consumed with thoughts of the Lord and less concerned with the affairs of this life. In the words of Psalm 127, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it: except the Lord keep the city, they watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalm 128: “Blessed is every one who fears the Lord and walks in His ways.”
The writer of Psalm 133 bears out the importance even the journey has had. It has knit pilgrims together in a close bond of fellowship. The lessons for life are obvious, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
Finally, this set of Psalms builds as a crescendo would. As Mount Zion is finally reached by the travelers, the journey culminates at the Temple of God and its signifying of the close fellowship that the Lord God Almighty desires with us: “Behold, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who by night stand in the House of the Lord.”