Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
A Well-Wishing Glance Back at the Pilgrims' City
If by "the mountains" in Psa 121:1 the mountains of the Holy Land are to be understood, it is also clear for what reason the collector placed this Song of degrees, which begins with the expression of joy at the pilgrimage to the house of Jahve, and therefore to the holy mountain, immediately after the preceding song. By its peace-breathing (שׁלום) contents it also, however, touches closely upon Psa 120:1-7. The poet utters aloud his hearty benedictory salutation to the holy city in remembrance of the delightful time during which he sojourned there as a visitor at the feast, and enjoyed its inspiring aspect. If in respect of the לדוד the Psalm were to be regarded as an old Davidic Psalm, it would belong to the series of those Psalms of the time of the persecution by Absalom, which cast a yearning look back towards home, the house of God (Psa 23:1-6; Psa 26:1-12, Psa 55:15; Psa 61:1-8, and more particularly Psa 63:1-11). But the לדוד is wanting in the lxx, Codd. Alex. and Vat.; and the Cod Sinait., which has ΤΩ ΔΑΔ, puts this before Psa 124:1-8, ει ̓ μὴ ὅτι κύριος κ. τ. λ., also, contrary to Codd. Alex. and Vat. Here it is occasioned by Psa 122:5, but without any critical discernment. The measures adopted by Jeroboam I show, moreover, that the pilgrimages to the feasts were customary even in the time of David and Solomon. The images of calves in Dan and Bethel, and the changing of the Feast of Tabernacles to another month, were intended to strengthen the political rupture, by breaking up the religious unity of the people and weaning them from visiting Jerusalem. The poet of the Psalm before us, however, lived much later. He lived, as is to be inferred with Hupfeld from Psa 122:3, in the time of the post-exilic Jerusalem which rose again out of its ruins. Thither he had been at one of the great feasts, and here, still quite full of the inspiring memory, he looks back towards the holy city; for, in spite of Reuss, Hupfeld, and Hitzig, Psa 122:1., so far as the style is concerned, are manifestly a retrospect.
The preterite שׂמחתי may signify: I rejoice (Sa1 2:1), just as much as: I rejoiced. Here in comparison with Psa 122:2 it is a retrospect; for היה with the participle has for the most part a retrospective signification, Gen 39:22; Deu 9:22, Deu 9:24; Jdg 1:7; Job 1:14. True, עמדות היוּ might also signify: they have been standing and still stand (as in Psa 10:14; Isa 59:2; Isa 30:20); but then why was it not more briefly expressed by עמדוּ (Psa 26:12)? The lxx correctly renders: εὐφράνθην and ἑστῶτες ἦσαν. The poet, now again on the journey homewards, or having returned home, calls to mind the joy with which the cry for setting out, "Let us go up to the house of Jahve!" filled him. When he and the other visitors to the feast had reached the goal of their pilgrimage, their feet came to a stand-still, as if spell-bound by the overpowering, glorious sight.
(Note: So also Veith in his, in many points, beautiful Lectures on twelve gradual Psalms (Vienna 1863), S. 72, "They arrested their steps, in order to give time to the amazement with which the sight of the Temple, the citadel of the king, and the magnificent city filled them.")
Reviving this memory, he exclaims: Jerusalem, O thou who art built up again - true, בּנה in itself only signifies "to build," but here, where, if there is nothing to the contrary, a closed sense is to be assumed for the line of the verse, and in the midst of songs which reflect the joy and sorrow of the post-exilic restoration period, it obtains the same meaning as in Psa 102:17; Psa 147:2, and frequently (Gesenius: O Hierosolyma restituta). The parallel member, Psa 122:3, does not indeed require this sense, but is at least favourable to it. Luther's earlier rendering, "as a city which is compacted together," was happier than his later rendering, "a city where they shall come together," which requires a Niph. or Hithpa. instead of the passive. חבּר signifies, as in Exo 28:7, to be joined together, to be united into a whole; and יחדּו strengthens the idea of that which is harmoniously, perfectly, and snugly closed up (cf. Psa 133:1). The Kaph of כּעיר is the so-called Kaph veritatis: Jerusalem has risen again out of its ruined and razed condition, the breaches and gaps are done away with (Isa 58:12), it stands there as a closely compacted city, in which house joins on to house. Thus has the poet seen it, and the recollection fills him with rapture.
(Note: In the synagogue and church it is become customary to interpret Psa 122:3 of the parallelism of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem.)
The imposing character of the impression was still greatly enhanced by the consideration, that this is the city where at all times the twelve tribes of God's nation (which were still distinguished as its elements even after the Exile, Rom 11:1; Luk 2:36; Jam 1:1) came together at the three great feasts. The use of the שׁ twice as equivalent to אשׁר is (as in Canticles) appropriate to the ornamental, happy, miniature-like manner of these Songs of degrees. In שׁשּׁם the שׁם is, as in Ecc 1:7, equivalent to שׁמּה, which on the other hand in Psa 122:5 is no more than an emphatic שׁם (cf. Psa 76:4; Psa 68:7). עלוּ affirms a habit (cf. Job 1:4) of the past, which extends into the present. עדוּת לישׂראל is not an accusative of the definition or destination (Ew. ֗300, c), but an apposition to the previous clause, as e.g., in Lev 23:14, Lev 23:21, Lev 23:31 (Hitzig), referring to the appointing in Exo 23:17; Exo 34:23; Deu 16:16. The custom, which arose thus, is confirmed in Psa 122:5 from the fact, that Jerusalem, the city of the one national sanctuary, was at the same time the city of the Davidic kingship. The phrase ישׁב למשׁפּט is here transferred from the judicial persons (cf. Psa 29:10 with Psa 9:5; Psa 28:6), who sit in judgment, to the seats (thrones) which are set down and stand there fro judgment (cf. Psa 125:1, and θρόνος ἔκειτο, Rev 4:2). The Targum is thinking of seats in the Temple, viz., the raised (in the second Temple resting upon pillars) seat of the king in the court of the Israelitish men near the שׁער העליון, but למשׁפט points to the palace, Kg1 7:7. In the flourishing age of the Davidic kingship this was also the highest court of judgment of the land; the king was the chief judge (Sa2 15:2; Kg1 3:16), and the sons, brothers, or kinsmen of the king were his assessors and advisers. In the time of the poet it is different; but the attractiveness of Jerusalem, not only as the city of Jahve, but also as the city of David, remains the same for all times.
When the poet thus calls up the picture of his country's "city of peace" before his mind, the picture of the glory which it still ever possesses, and of the greater glory which it had formerly, he spreads out his hands over it in the distance, blessing it in the kindling of his love, and calls upon all his fellow-countrymen round about and in all places: apprecamini salutem Hierosolymis. So Gesenius correctly (Thesaurus, p. 1347); for just as שׁאל לו לשׁלום signifies to inquire after any one's well-being, and to greet him with the question: השׁלום לך (Jer 15:5), so שׁאל שׁלום signifies to find out any one's prosperity by asking, to gladly know and gladly see that it is well with him, and therefore to be animated by the wish that he may prosper; Syriac, שׁאל שׁלמא ד directly: to salute any one; for the interrogatory השׁלום לך and the well-wishing שׁלום לך, εἰρήνη σοί (Luk 10:5; Joh 20:19.), have both of them the same source and meaning. The reading אהליך, commended by Ewald, is a recollection of Job 12:6 that is violently brought in here. The loving ones are comprehended with the beloved one, the children with the mother. שׁלה forms an alliteration with שׁלום; the emphatic form ישׁליוּ occurs even in other instances out of pause (e.g., Psa 57:2). In Psa 122:7 the alliteration of שׁלום and שׁלוה is again taken up, and both accord with the name of Jerusalem. Ad elegantiam facit, as Venema observes, perpetua vocum ad se invicem et omnium ad nomen Hierosolymae alliteratio. Both together mark the Song of degrees as such. Happiness, cries out the poet to the holy city from afar, be within thy bulwarks, prosperity within thy palaces, i.e., without and within. חיל, ramparts, circumvallation (from חוּל, to surround, Arabic hawl, round about, equally correct whether written חיל or חל), and ארמנות as the parallel word, as in Psa 48:14. The twofold motive of such an earnest wish for peace is love for the brethren and love for the house of God. For the sake of the brethren is he cheerfully resolved to speak peace (τὰ πρὸς ἐιρήνην αὐτῆς, Luk 19:42) concerning (דּבּר בּ, as in Psa 87:3, Deu 6:7, lxx περὶ σοῦ; cf. דּבּר שׁלום with אל and ל, to speak peace to, Psa 85:9; Est 10:3) Jerusalem, for the sake of the house of Jahve will he strive after good (i.e., that which tends to her well-being) to her (like בּקּשׁ טובה ל in Neh 2:10, cf. דּרשׁ שׁלום, Deu 23:6, Jer 29:7). For although he is now again far from Jerusalem after the visit that is over, he still remains united in love to the holy city as being the goal of his longing, and to those who dwell there as being his brethren and friends. Jerusalem is and will remain the heart of all Israel as surely as Jahve who has His house there, is the God of all Israel.