Psalm 121: Marching to Zion

psalms-121-1-2

Re-posted and modified below is the blog entry from last year’s anniversary of 9-11:

The Verse of the Day for September 11, 2014 is a familiar passage from one of the most recognized Psalms of David:

Psalm 121: 1-2:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

Bishop KC Pillai, a converted Hindu, dedicated his life to enlightening students of the Bible regarding Orientalisms or customs and practices from the Eastern sectors of the world that so clearly influence our understanding of Scripture. Pillai and other scholars point out that the first verse of Psalm 121 is often rendered as a statement when in actuality it should be a question. In contrast to the rendering of in the verse 1 in the King James Version which opens with “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help”, Pillai suggests that the verse should be read: “Shall I lift up my eyes to the hills? From whence comes my help?” The answer follows in verse two: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

This particular psalm is said to be among the Psalms of Degrees or Songs (Psalms) of Ascent. Psalms 120-134 comprise a “hymn book” from which pilgrims sang as they were ascending Mount Zion, the highest point in Jerusalem, the place of celebration of the annual feasts mandated by God for the Children of Israel. Paul Stroble, in his blog devoted to this psalm points out that “Clift McCann writes in The New Interpreter’s Bible that these psalms are all short enough to be memorized and several contain references to everyday life, implying that these psalms reflect the experiences of everyday people traveling or arriving at Jerusalem.”

Stroble, also mentions that various writers refer to Psalm 121 as “the psalm for the journey of life,” and “the psalm for sojourners.” He continues his discussion of the merits of this psalm that he finds especially meaningful “because of the comfort of its promises as one travels literally and figuratively.”

One of my favorite musical compositions inspired by Psalm 121 is offered by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

In its rendering of Psalm 121:1 the Amplified Bible makes reference to Mount Zion:

 I will lift up my eyes to the hills [around Jerusalem, to sacred Mount Zion and Mount Moriah]—From whence shall my help come?

Indeed, Zion is the ultimate destination of those pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem and those sojourning through life. Eleven years ago when I most providentially found myself in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, I heard a life-changing teaching on the spiritual significance of Zion in a believer’s life, and the message inspired this poem:

Zion

For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.

Psalm 132:13

 

To ascend the holy hill, the quest to reach Mount Zion,

To dwell in that high mountain, a place of untold beauty.

Still onward and upward in this lifelong journey,

I situate myself in an accurate position,

As my obedience activates the blessings of God.

My spirit overflows and floods my heart with new song.

 

With all that is within me, I yearn to sing the Lord’s song,

As I migrate upward from Babylon to Mount Zion,

Up to Jerusalem, the place of the Temple of God,

The place where I shall worship God in all of His beauty.

I am ever moving toward that ultimate position,

Knowing both anguish and joy in my perfecting journey.

 

I am moving toward a place of wholeness as I journey

From an alien land where I could not sing the Lord’s song,

As I arise to a more elevated position,

To stand on the Rock, the chief cornerstone, laid in Zion,

Where I shall behold the Lord in His resplendent beauty

And see more clearly revelation from the heart of God.

 

Great and glorious and wondrous is the City of God.

We celebrate the goodness of God along this journey.

The Lord, our God, has fashioned the perfection of beauty.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised with joyful song.

God displays His passion for Jerusalem and Zion:

He reigns over all the earth from this lofty position.

 

The grace of God flows freely from the highest position,

From the exalted place of the tabernacle of God,

Who has set His King upon the holy hill of Zion.

The sons of God shall be blessed and refreshed on their journey,

Teaching each other with psalm and hymn and spiritual song.

Ascend to worship at the transcendent throne of beauty.

 

The stone once rejected is now the stone of great beauty.

The chief cornerstone has become the foremost position.

The Rock of our Salvation fills our hearts with a new song.

Glory and honor and power and wisdom to our God,

Who strengthens and sustains us with power on our journey

To our destiny, perfected in a place called Zion.

 

The Lord, the Almighty God, is enthroned in great beauty.

As we journey, we maintain an accurate position,

For from Mount Zion flow countless blessings and endless song.

I recall a familiar hymn from childhood “We’re Marching to Zion” which turns out to be one of the hymns composed by Isaac Watts. The simple lyrics and rousing melody have become much more meaningful within the past 11 years. Here is a rousing rendition of the classic hymn recorded live with the Gaithers:

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