Perhaps you have noticed that for the first 14 days of each month, the fifth psalm read is something called A Song of Ascents. What “a song of ascents” exactly, and why is it relevant to us?? These 14 chapters were songs that were used by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for the annual festivals that God had commanded them to keep in Leviticus 23. They made 3 trips to Jerusalem in the spring and 3 trips in the fall. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill. Jews traveling to Jerusalem for one of these annual festivals traditionally sang these songs on the “ascent” or the uphill road to the city. Just think: Joseph and Mary would probably have sung these psalms as they went up to Jerusalem with the young Jesus. Jesus and His disciples would have sung them as they went up for the feasts.
There is also a correlation for us today as the life of the disciple should be one of ever-increasing maturity. The journey should be an upward, Godward life, consistently advancing from one level to the next. The content and themes of the Songs of Ascents focused the pilgrims’ minds on the purpose of their journey and prepared their hearts to worship God when they reached Jerusalem. Likewise, for us today, the themes of these songs can help us in our pilgrimage through our Earthly journey of life. What we find in these 14 chapters can help us press on when we grow tired. They can inspire us when we are tempted or feel discouraged. Above all, they help keep us focused on the God who is at the heart of our true home and who is also with us on the journey.
These chapters that are defined as the Song of Ascents became part of the joy of the journey … they were often repeated and known by heart. They, in essence, became heart cries to the Living God by those who feared Him. Focused time on God. And yes, this is also what we accomplish each month as we journey through the entire book of Psalms; all 150 of them. We are on a journey of seeking, learning, and worship. And each trip through the Living God peels back a layer, and we unearth an AH-HA moment, or the Lord speaks to our life circumstances through his Words here in Psalms. BTW … Psalms are considered to be a book of poetry … Yet these chapters were written by real men struggling with real pressing problems to the point of death. One of my favorite Bible teachers David Pawson says: "So when God addresses us with poetry, we know that he is communicating his feelings from his heart to our hearts. Understanding Hebrew poetry can be a key to understanding the very heart of God."
The theme of each Song of Ascent offers much encouragement for those who seek to worship God today:
Psalm 120: God’s presence during distress
Psalm 121: Joyful praise to the Lord
Psalm 122: Prayer for Jerusalem
Psalm 123: Patience for God’s mercy
Psalm 124: Help comes from the Lord
Psalm 125: Prayer for God’s blessing upon His people
Psalm 126: The Lord has done great things
Psalm 127: God’s blessing on man’s efforts
Psalm 128: Joy for those who follow God’s ways
Psalm 129: A cry for help to the Lord
Psalm 130: A prayer of repentance
Psalm 131: Surrender as a child to the Lord
Psalm 132: God’s sovereign plan for His people
Psalm 133: Praise of brotherly fellowship and unity
Psalm 134: Praise to God in His temple