Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
Dear friend in the Messiah,
The last several weeks have been incredibly difficult as we grapple with the violence and conflict in Israel. This crisis began on Saturday, October 7. Because it was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and it was the Sabbath, the Israelis were thoroughly unprepared to fight as they were resting and celebrating the holiday. It was also the fiftieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, when Arab invaders chose Yom Kippur in 1973 because they knew the Israelis would be fasting, attending synagogue, and ill- prepared for the attack.
On October 7, 2023, at 6:30 am, more than 1,500 Hamas terrorists broke through the Gaza border into Israel and began slaughtering more than 1,400 innocent men, women, and children, including almost 300 soldiers.
Hamas fired missiles into southern Israel and killed and kidnapped the Israelis in their path. At the southern kibbutz of Kfar Aza, the terrorists murdered more than 100 civilians, decapitating some, including babies! They murdered at least 260 young people at a music festival. Though our staff are safe for the moment, they personally know people, including Holocaust survivors and young adults, who were killed. Some of our volunteers, staff, and their children are now on the front lines of the war.
This unprecedented massacre of Israelis reminds me of the dire need to pray for Israel and work toward peace for all people in the Middle East. In Psalm 122:6, we are commanded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I hope we all take this mandate for prayer seriously. Please pass this along to your family, Bible study groups, and local congregations. The more we pray, the greater we will experience God’s blessing.
Psalm 122:6 is an often-quoted verse, but the entire psalm has a richness and depth I invite you to explore with me.
THE PSALMS OF ASCENT
Psalm 122 is considered one of the psalms of ascent. These psalms are known by this term because the children of Israel probably sang them as they climbed the craggy and dangerous paths toward Mount Zion to celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals: Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles. King David is usually recognized as the author of this beautiful piece of divinely inspired poetry.
The psalms of ascent include Psalms 120–133. Thematically, this section of Psalms begins with repentance and concludes with the psalmist extolling the virtues of community. You might be familiar with the beginning of the last psalm in this group, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Ps 133:1).
There is a pattern to interpreting the Psalms. Most commentaries or Bible studies on the Psalms identify the central theme as worship. Indeed, there is much in Psalm 122 about worship, as in verse 1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps 122:1). Then we read, “To give thanks to the name of the Lord” (Ps 122:4b), which could specifically refer to the offering of thanksgiving sacrifices at the Temple, not simply to singing songs of thanksgiving.
However, a closer reading of the psalm reveals the real focus is the destination of the pilgrims— Jerusalem. The great theme of Psalm 122 is Jerusalem: where their feet are standing (v. 2), built compactly (v. 3), to which the tribes go to give thanks (v. 4)! This city is the home of the Temple, where sacrifice and all other forms of worship took place. David’s intent was to highlight the city. There is no reason for us to do any differently or read other meanings into the words of the text.
THE FIRST FIVE VERSES
There is much to learn from the first five verses of Psalm 122. They set the scene by describing a pilgrimage whereby members of the tribes of Israel were obedient to God and traveled to Jerusalem to worship the Lord—probably on one of the three great pilgrimage festivals. The phrase “give thanks” may very well refer to the thanksgiving offerings outlined in Deuteronomy 16:16–17:
Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.
Then, in verses 3–5, the psalmist refers to the tight-knit construction of the city, thrones of judgment (referring to the courts), and thrones of David (referring to the role of the Davidic kings). All these images lead to the appeal for prayer in verse six.
A FOCUS ON VERSE SIX
The psalmist instructs the pilgrims: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’” (Ps 122:6).
The psalmist calls upon the people of God to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The very name Jerusalem includes this hope for peace. The English term -salem in “Jerusalem” comes from the Hebrew word shalom—peace, wholeness, and completeness.1
When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are praying not only for the cessation of temporal hostilities (such as terror and missile attacks, the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians), but most of all for the return of the Messiah— the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Our hope is for the personal peace of those who live in the Holy Land!
A COMPARISON BETWEEN PSALM 122:6 AND GENESIS 12:3
The blessing attached to this call to prayer is important and harkens back to the Abrahamic Covenant, in which God promised blessings to those who bless Israel and Jewish people. As the Lord told Abraham, “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
God’s promise to Abraham is clear: The reward for blessing Israel is blessing! However, the benefits God had in mind are not primarily materialistic. The fulfillment of this promise comes to us in many shapes and forms and should not be limited to what this world offers. When we are in a right relationship with Him and obedient to His Word, the blessings we receive will be myriad!
Psalm 122 parallels the Abrahamic Covenant as David promises those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem will “prosper.” Curiously, the promise is for those who “love Jerusalem,” and therefore, we understand the prayers are motivated by love for God’s holy city, as the psalmist writes, “May they prosper who love you” (Ps 122:6b).
The Hebrew term for “prosper” is shalah, which can easily be translated as “have peace and quiet.”2 The prosperity described is a quality of soul and life. This calmness enables those who love Jerusalem to enjoy a similar personal peace as enjoyed by God’s chosen city.
If we bless Israel, we are participating in unfolding God’s promises to Jewish people, directly impacting Gentiles. One of the ways we can bless Israel and Jewish people is to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. When we do, we will receive what money can never buy—God’s presence in our lives—the very source of peace and prosperity!
THANK YOU FOR PRAYING
 William Lee Holladay and Ludwig Köhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Based upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, corr. impr. 1991, reprinted (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 371, 73.
 Ibid, 370
Lessons in Thanksgiving
from the Hebrew Bible
Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Jewish festivals, including the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). He is the consummation of the holiday as He is God in the flesh who “tabernacled,” or lived, among us. As John wrote, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
This beautiful verse echoes the Tabernacle the Israelites built in the desert. Just as God dwelt with His people in the Tabernacle, God dwells in the flesh with His people through Jesus. Jesus is the true Tabernacle, God’s manifest glory and presence, foreshadowed by God’s glory and presence by which He led His people through the challenges of the wilderness.