Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is expressly ascribed to David, though it is not known why it should be classed among the "Songs of Degrees." On the supposition that these were used by the pilgrims in "going up" to Jerusalem to worship, and that they were sung by the way, this psalm would be particularly appropriate, and is one of the very few, in the entire collection of fifteen, that would be appropriate. This psalm evidently was used on some such occasion, and is beautifully suited to such a design. There is no reason to doubt that it is a composition of David, but it is not now possible to ascertain at what period of his life, or on what particular occasion, it was composed. DeWette has endeavored to show that the psalm must have been composed at a later period in the Jewish history than the time of David. His arguments are:
(1) that these "Psalms of Degrees" mostly pertain to a later period, and yet that they are closely connected together in sense;
(2) that the language indicates a later period than the time of David;
(3) that the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was not instituted until a later age than that of David;
(4) that the mention of the "thrones of the house of David" Psa 122:5 indicates a later age; and
(5) that Jerusalem is represented Psa 122:3 as a city already built - probably, as DeWette thinks, referring to Jerusalem as rebuilt after the captivity.
It will be found, however, in the exposition of the psalm, that there is no part of it which is not applicable to David and his times.
I was glad - It was a subject; of joy to me. The return of the happy season when we were to go up to worship filled me with joy. The language is expressive of the, happiness which is felt by those who love God and his sanctuary, when the stated season of worship returns. The heart is drawn to the house of prayer; the soul is filled with peace at the prospect of being again permitted to worship God. Who the speaker here is, is not known. It may have been David himself; more probably, however, it was designed by him to be used by those who should go up to worship, as expressive of their individual joy.
When they said unto me - When it was said unto me. When the time arrived. When I was invited by others to go. The announcement was joyful; the invitation was welcome. It met the desires of my heart, and I embraced the invitation cheerfully and joyfully.
Let us go into the house of the Lord - Up to the place where God dwells; the house which he has made his abode. If the psalm was composed in the time of David, this would refer to the tabernacle as fixed by him on Mount Zion; if at a later period, to the temple. The language will admit of either interpretation. Compare the notes at Isa 2:3.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem - We shall enter the sacred city. It appears now in full view before us - its walls, its palaces, its sacred places. We shall not stand and gaze upon it at a distance; we shall not merely be charmed with its beauty as we approach it; we shall accomplish the object of our desire, and enter within its walls and gates. So the believer approaches heaven - the New Jerusalem above. he will not merely admire its exterior, and look upon it at a distance; but he will enter in. He draws nearer and nearer to it, and as he approaches it when he is dying, its beauty becomes the more charming to his view, and the joy of his heart increases as he now feels the assurance that he will "stand within its gates:" that he will enter there, and dwell there forever. So said Dr. Payson, when approaching the end of life: "The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odors are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere - pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering with unutterable wonder why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm." Works, i. 407. See also the exquisite description of the glories of heaven, familiar to all, as described by Bunyan, as the Christian pilgrims were about to cross the river of death.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together - literally, "joined to itself together;" that is, when one part is, as it were, bound closely to another part; not scattered or separate. The walls are all joined together; and the houses are all united to one another so as to make a compact place. The ground occupied by Jerusalem never could be large, as it was surrounded with valleys, except on the north, and hemmed in with hills, so that, from the necessity of the case, when it became the capital of the nation, it was densely crowded. This, moreover, was usual in ancient cities, when they were made compact for the sake of defense and protection.
Whither the tribes - The twelve tribes of the children of Israel.
Go up - To the great feasts and festivals of the nation. See Exo 23:17. This language of going up is such as would be used anywhere respecting the capital of a nation - as it is now of London; but it was literally true of Jerusalem, since it was elevated far above most parts of the land.
The tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel - The "ark of testimony;" the ark within which were the tables of stone, containing the law considered as God's testimony or witnessing as to justice, right, equity, duty, truth. See Exo 16:34; Exo 25:16, Exo 25:21; Exo 40:3, Exo 40:20; Exo 30:6, Exo 30:36; Exo 31:18.
To give thanks unto the name of the Lord - To worship Yahweh - the name often being put for the Being himself. A main part of Hebrew worship was praise, and hence, this is often put for the whole of worship.
For there are set - Margin, Do sit. The Hebrew is, "For there sit thrones for judgment." They are established there; or, That is the appointed place for administering justice.
Thrones of judgment - Seats for dispensing justice. The word throne is now commonly appropriated to the seat or chair of a king, but this is not necessarily the meaning here. The word may denote a seat or bench occupied by a judge. The meaning here is, that Jerusalem was the supreme seat of justice; the place where justice was dispensed for the nation. It was at once the religious and the civil capital of the nation.
The thrones of the house of David - Of the family of David, who performed the office of magistrates, or who administered justice. The family of David would naturally be employed in such a service as this. This office, Absalom - who had not been appointed to it - earnestly desired, in order that he might secure popularity in his contemplated rebellion. "Oh that I were made a judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!" Sa2 15:4.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem - The prosperity, the welfare of Jerusalem - for peace is everywhere the image of prosperity and happiness. Compare Psa 51:18. This is the language which those who were going up to the city - to the house of the Lord - addressed to each other, expressing the joyful feelings of their hearts at their own near approach to the city. It breathes the desire that all would pray for the peace and prosperity of a city so dear to their own souls; where the worship of God was celebrated; where God himself dwelt; where justice was administered: a city of so much importance and so much influence in the land. To us now it inculcates the duty of praying for the church: its peace; its unity; its prosperity; its increase; its influence on our country and on the world at large. It is a prayer that the church may not be divided by schism or heresy; that its members may cherish for each other right feelings; that there may be no jealousies, no envyings, and no jars; that the different branches of the church may regard and treat each other with kindness, with respect, and with mutual recognition; that prosperity may attend them all.
The shall prosper that love thee - Or rather, They shall have peace that love thee; or, May they have peace that love thee. The word prosper conveys an idea which is not in the original. The Hebrew word means to be "secure," "tranquil," "at rest," spoken especially of one who enjoys quiet prosperity, Job 3:26; Job 12:6. The essential idea is that of quietness or rest; and the meaning here is, that those who love Zion will have peace; or, that the tendency of that love is to produce peace. See Rom 5:1. The prayer was for "peace;" the thought in connection with that was naturally that those who loved Zion would have peace. It is indeed true, in general, that they who love Zion, or who serve God, will "prosper" (compare the notes at Ti1 4:8), but that is not the truth taught here. The idea is that they will have peace: peace with God; peace in their own consciences; peace in the prospect of death and of the future world; peace amidst the storms and tempests of life; peace in death, in the grave, and forever.
Peace be within thy walls - The word here rendered walls, means properly an host, an army; then a fortification, an entrenchment, especially the ditch or trench with the low wall or breastwork which surrounds it. Gesenius, Lexicon. It refers here to the fortifications or defenses around Jerusalem.
And prosperity - Peace; the same word which is used in the previous verse, and expressing the same idea - that of tranquility.
Within thy palaces - This word properly means a "fortress," "castle;" then, a palace, a residence of a king or a prince, Kg1 16:18; Kg2 15:25; Isa 25:2. The idea is, that such places abounded in Jerusalem; and the prayer is, that in those abodes of power, where the rulers of the land resided, there might be peace. The particular reason for this prayer is suggested in the following verse.
For my brethren and companions' sakes - Because they dwell there; or, because they go up there to worship; or, because they love thee, and find their happiness in thee; or, because they are unconverted, and all my hope of their salvation is to be derived from thee - from the church, from the influence of religion.
I will now say, Peace be within thee - I will pray for thy peace, for thy prosperity, for the blessing of God upon thee - because their good, their comfort, their hope of salvation, depends on thee - on the influence which shall go out from thee. So the Christian prays that the church may prosper - that the divine blessing may rest upon it - that there may be in it harmony, peace, love, and zeal - that a blessing may attend the preaching of the gospel - not only because he loves it, and seeks his own comfort and edification in it, but that his friends and kindred - his wife, his parents, his children, his neighbors - those whom he loves, and whose salvation he desires, may be saved. This expresses the true feelings of piety all over the world; this is one of the grounds of the strong love which the friends of God have for the church - because they hope and desire that through the church those most dear to their hearts will find salvation.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good - Because of the sanctuary within thee; because that is the place where God is worshipped. The principal attraction in thee is the fact that in thee is the place where the worship of God is celebrated. It is this which gives its main importance in my view to the place; it is for this, and because I desire its influence to be perpetuated and extended, that I seek thy prosperity. This expresses a deep feeling in the mind of a pious man. To him the church of God is the most important of all objects, gives the principal interest to a place, and is everywhere to him the chief attraction. The church does more to adorn a place than anything else; it is that which exerts the best influence on a place, and sends the best influence abroad; it is that which to him is the source of chief comfort and delight. His heart is there; his main delight is there; his arrangements will be made so as best to enjoy the privileges of the sanctuary; and his plans of life will all contemplate the welfare, the extension, and the influence of the church of God. It is religion which in his view is the chief ornament of a place; religion which in any community is the principal fountain of its happiness and prosperity; religion which is the central and controlling influence on the private dwellings, and the public institutions, of a nation.