A Deeper Look at Psalm 122: Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

We go up to Jerusalem – always up.

A Song of Ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced when they said to me,
“Let us go to the House of Adonai.” (Psalm 122:1)

The uniqueness of Jerusalem

It doesn’t matter where we are in Israel, we always say we’re going “up” to Jerusalem. Like so many things in God’s word, there is a literal meaning (in terms of altitude – it’s on Mount Zion) and also a spiritual meaning: we ascend to meet with God. Psalm 122 starts off with a phrase that means they physically ascended the hill of the Lord, but it also carries a spiritual significance. The entire Psalm continues to pour out truth on multiple levels.
Jerusalem, as Yehuda Amichai once put it, is a “port city on the shore of eternity”. It is like a portal to that which is beyond this material world, up into the heavenlies. Why? Is Jerusalem a super-spiritual city? Not in and of itself, no. God was willing to destroy it, along with his own temple more than once. But it is holy because God chose it. Like his own chosen people. God chose Jerusalem to be the geographical location from which he would redeem the world; it is the location of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. That event happened in a specific time and a specific place, but the results flow into eternity. It is also the place he is coming back to! So Jerusalem is God’s chosen city in real time and space, but the significance and effect is eternal.

A city joined together

Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem—
Jerusalem, built as a city joined together. (Psalm 122:2-3)

Now here’s a funny phrase: “built as a city joined together”.
(כְּעִיר, שֶׁחֻבְּרָה-לָּהּ יַחְדָּו)

Other translations try to capture the meaning of the Hebrew words in different ways: “bound together”, “knitted together”, “compact together”, “solidly joined”, “solidly united”, and Young’s Literal Translation says “joined to itself together”. The word “חֻבְּרָה” appears only once in the entire Bible – here.
The word “haver” (חבר) means friend and has the connotation of joining together. Like the curtains in the tabernacle were joined together (Exodus 26:11 says they must be joined together, that they may be “one”). Here in this verse, Psalm 122:3, it says that Jerusalem is connected or joined together, not with another thing, but together with itself – חֻבְּרָה-לָּהּ יַחְדָּו.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Mas.Taanit 5a), Psalm 122:3 is brought to prove that since Jerusalem is “knit” or “compacted” together, there must be two of them. The Hebrew word חבורה includes in it the word and concept of חברה or friend, companion, thus Jerusalem must have a companion; another Jerusalem in heaven. This can also be seen in the spelling of the word Jerusalem in Hebrew – the suffix indicates that it is a pair. A pair of Jerusalems.
But here’s another thing. Although Jerusalem was designated to be an international city by the UN in 1947, the war of 1948 resulted in Jordan conquering East Jerusalem and Israel taking the West. Jerusalem was divided into two – until 1967 when the city was joined back together. It was solidly united – a city joined together to itself.

A city for everyone

There the tribes go up,
the tribes of Adonai
—as a testimony to Israel—
to praise the Name of Adonai.
For there thrones for judgment are set up,
the thrones of the house of David. (Psalm 122:4-5)

The whole land of Jerusalem was split up into tribes, but this city was accessible to everyone. All the tribes came, just as the UN designated Jerusalem to be a corpus separandum in 1947 – an international city for all nations. No other city in the world has been set aside to be “international” like this, belonging to everyone!
The connection between the events of 1947, 1948 and 1967 and the phrase in Psalm 122 was not lost on Israeli educator and politician, Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Neria, who spoke about the need for Jerusalem to be for all of Israel, not just for certain groups and sections of society. He speculated that in 1948, Israel would have fought over the city even between themselves, but that in 1967 we were more united and able to make it a city accessible to everyone.[1] 

In the Jerusalem Talmud (Hagigah 2,6) Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says it’s a city that “makes all Israel friends”. What is it that’s so special about Jerusalem that it can make all Israel friends? Because it belongs to everyone.
Today that includes Jews, Arabs and people from all over the world.

The multi-layered meaning of asking for “shalom”

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem—
“May those who love you be at peace!
May there be shalom within your walls—
quietness within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:6-7)

Shalom, as we know, means “peace”. But the root of the word also means “complete”. it conveys a notion of wellbeing and also contains the word “paid for”. The very name Jerusalem contains the root letters – complete, paid for, peace. It is no accident that it was in Jerusalem that Yeshua paid for our sins and brought us peace with God.
In verse 6 it says that we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We long to see tranquility, absence of strife, wellbeing… but additionally, we can ask that Jerusalem would be complete, whole, united. There are a number of different words in Hebrew for peace – shalom and shelva are used here. Different words are used to reinforce the theme, and to encourage us to think of different kinds of peace, different meanings of peace: inner peace, peace with God, and peace with one another as a contrast to division and war.

Brothers and friends

For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I now say: “Shalom be within you.”
For the sake of the House of Adonai our God,
I will seek your good. (Psalm 122:8-9)

Here again, we see the theme of friendship, brotherhood, and companionship repeated, as it was started in verse 6 – Jerusalem having a “companion”, joined together with itself. This is the way to peace and unity: tranquility, wellbeing and physical “togetherness”.

Jerusalem is supposed to be a city joined together to itself both physically and in terms of relationships. Today it is a global byword for division, the very opposite of God’s stated desire, but when Yeshua comes to rule and reign, it will be as He purposed it to be – a place vibrant with reconciliation between God and man, and also between us as people.

We can ask God to redeem the broken relationships between Arab and Jew, Isaac and Ishmael – and even between Yeshua’s own disciples there are many fractured relationships… we can pray for healing and the restoration of relationships in God’s chosen city – that we would seek good for one another, not evil. Like a joined up wall with no gaps or breaches.

There is a temple above, a heavenly Jerusalem, and a divine plan

Although the enemy is working overtime to bring the opposite of “shalom” in Jerusalem, we can pray for the beauty of God’s kingdom rule to come down and meet the reality here on earth just as Yeshua taught us to pray:
“Therefore”, says Yeshua, pray in this way:”

‘Our Father in heaven,
    holy is Your name.
Your kingdom come,
    Your will be done
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’
(Matt 6:9-13)

Amen to that.

[1] Ronen Neubert, לגעת בזמן : החגים כחוויה בעולם המדרש, (Mishkal 201משכל 6), p.281

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