Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The home of the author of this Psalm was in the country, at a distance from Jerusalem. He recalls the joy with which he heard the invitation of his neighbours to join the company of pilgrims (Luke 2:44) going up to one of the great Feasts (Psalm 122:1). He describes the overwhelming impression made upon his mind by the sight of the city as they halted in its gates (Psalm 122:2-3), and by the recollections of its ancient glories as the religious and civil centre of the national life (Psalm 122:4-5). With a burst of heartfelt enthusiasm he bids men pray and prays himself for its future welfare (Psalm 122:6-9).
The Psalm may best be explained thus, as the meditation of a pilgrim who, after returning to the quiet of his home, reflects upon the happy memories of his pilgrimage. This is the most natural interpretation of the past tenses in Psalm 122:1-2, ‘I was glad’ … ‘Our feet were standing.’ Many commentators, however, render ‘Our feet are standing,’ and regard the Psalm as uttered at the moment when the pilgrims have reached their goal.
The Heb. text, with which agree Cod. א of the LXX, Aq. and Symm., adds of David to the title: but it is omitted by other MSS of the LXX, by the Targ., and by Jer. The addition may have been suggested by Psalm 122:5; but the Psalm cannot have been written by David, for the Temple is standing, and the opening words are clearly those of one who has to travel to it from a distance; nor even in the time of the monarchy, for Psalm 122:4-5 appear to look back across the Exile to a distant past. Most probably it belongs to the time of Nehemiah, when the walls had been rebuilt, and means taken to provide the city with an adequate population. Psalm 122:6 ff. may perhaps be explained from Nehemiah 11:1 ff.
 The use of the relative שׁ (sh) in this Psalm (Psalm 122:3-4) and in Psalm 124:1-2; Psalm 124:6; Psalm 129:6-7; Psalm 133:2-3; Psalm 135:2; Psalm 135:8; Psalm 135:10; Psalm 136:23; Psalm 137:8-9; Psalm 144:15; Psalm 146:3; Psalm 146:5, points to a late date, though “our imperfect knowledge of the history and usage of שׁ” makes the argument an uncertain one (see Driver, Lit. of O. T.6 p. 450): and the use of the participle and verb substantive as in Psalm 122:2 (‘were standing’ = עמדות היו), though not unknown in the earlier stages of the language, becomes common in later books, and is characteristic of Nehemiah.
A Song of degrees of David. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.1. The Psalmist recalls his joy when his neighbours summoned him to join in the pilgrimage to the sanctuary.
I was glad] The A.V. rightly follows the Ancient Versions in translating the verb as a past.
Let us go into &c.] Rather, We will go to the house of Jehovah. Cp. Isaiah 2:3.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.2. Our feet shall stand] The verb cannot be rendered thus. It may mean ‘have been and still are standing,’ hence R.V. are standing; or were standing, which is the most natural rendering. The somewhat unusual combination of the participle with the substantive verb may be an indication of the lateness of the Psalm (the idiom is common in Nehemiah), but it gives prominence to the idea of duration (Driver, Tenses, § 135. 5). It suggests that when the pilgrims reached the city gates, they halted for a while, spell-bound by the sight of its magnificence, and by the memories of its ancient glories.
2–4. The arrival of the pilgrims, and the impression produced by the sight of the city.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:3. The exclamation of the pilgrims. Jerusalem that art built up as a city which is compacted together, lit. joined together for itself. This is generally understood to refer to the restoration of the city: the walls have been rebuilt, the ruined houses repaired, the gaps and vacant spaces filled up; the city once more presents an aspect of unity, continuity, solidity, widely different from the dilapidated condition in which Nehemiah found it (Nehemiah 2:17; Nehemiah 7:4). But the verb is used metaphorically as well as literally (e.g. Psalm 94:20), and it is possible that the sight of the restored city is to the poet’s eye an emblem of the mutual harmony of its inhabitants or of the unity of the nation. Such a sense is suggested by Coverdale’s beautiful rendering that is at unity with itself, which seems to be a paraphrase of the Vulg. cuius participatio eius in idipsum, LXX ἧς ἡ μετοχὴ αὐτῆς ἐπιτοαυτό, ‘whose fellowship is together.’ This rendering however presumes a slightly different reading of the text.
The Targ. interprets the words of the heavenly Jerusalem—‘Jerusalem which is built in the firmament like a city that is united together upon earth.’
Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.4. Whither the tribes went up, (even) the tribes of Jah,
(As) a testimony for Israel,
To give thanks to the name of Jehovah.
The perfect tense might denote “custom in the past continuing into the present” and so be rendered go up, but it is more natural to take it as referring to the ancient custom of the days before the Exile. The poet idealises the past and forgets the division of the nation. The practice of pilgrimage to the Temple at Jerusalem is called a testimony, i.e. a law or institution which bore witness to Israel’s relation to Jehovah as His people. Cp. Psalm 81:4-5; Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16.
For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.5. For there were set (lit. sat) thrones for judgement] For throne cp. Psalm 9:4; Psalm 9:7. The poet is still looking back to the times before the Exile. Jerusalem was the centre of the nation’s civil life as well as of its religious life. Reference is made to a supreme tribunal at Jerusalem in Deuteronomy 17:8 ff.
the thrones of the house of David] The king appears to have been assisted in his judicial functions by members of the royal family. Cp. Jeremiah 21:11-12. If the verb in the preceding line is taken as a present (are set), ‘thrones of the house of David’ must mean tribunals exercising a jurisdiction corresponding to that of the royal family in ancient times.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem] This is probably the right rendering; but the phrase might also be rendered Inquire for the welfare of J., greet or salute her, the customary salutation being “Is it well (lit. peace) with thee?” or “Peace be unto thee.” Cp. Jeremiah 15:5. The rendering of the LXX, “Ask now for Jerusalem the things which belong unto peace,” contains the phrase (τὰ εἰς εἰρήνην) used by our Lord as He entered Jerusalem (Luke 19:42, τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην). May not the whole Psalm have been in His mind at the moment, as Psalms 137 appears to have been (v. 44, ἐδαφιοῦσίν σε καὶ τὰ τέκνα σου ἐν σοί), suggesting a pathetic contrast between the peace which might have been her lot, and the doom of her enemies which she was blindly dragging down upon herself?
they shall prosper] Better, may they prosper (R.V. marg.).
that love thee] The reading may thy tents prosper (cf. Psalm 118:15), found in one MS, but in no Ancient Version, is at first sight attractive. But the prayer for the prosperity of those who love Jerusalem follows naturally on the invitation to them to pray for her welfare. Contrast the anathema on those who hate Zion in Psalm 129:5. The expression may have been suggested by Lamentations 1:5, “her enemies prosper.” The words for lover and enemy in Heb. differ by one letter only (אהב—איב).
6–9. The recollection of the past glories of Jerusalem leads the Psalmist to pray and bid others pray for her future welfare. A new era of hope seems to be opening before her.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.7. walls … palaces] The same words are found in Psalm 48:13. Chçl denotes the outer wall or rampart: armôn includes all conspicuous buildings, such as forts and towers as well as palaces.
There is an assonance between the words for ‘peace’ (shâlôm) and ‘prosperity’ (shalvâh) and the name Jerusalem. Whether the name of the city is etymologically connected with the root shlm is doubtful; but the sound of the name suggests the words for peace and prosperity, and the Psalmist prays that the nomen may be an omen, and that Jerusalem may enjoy the peace of which her name is an augury.
For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.8. For my brethren and companions’ sakes] Not, for the sake of the nation in general, though doubtless the welfare of the nation was dependent on the welfare of the metropolis: but for the sake of those dwelling in Jerusalem, to whom he feels himself attached in the bonds of closest fellowship. There may be a reference to the circumstances described in Nehemiah 11:1 ff. Some difficulty was found in securing a sufficient population for the city: ten per cent. of the country people were chosen by lot to come into the city; and others volunteered to reside there. “And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem.”
I will now say] Let me now say, Peace &c.: or more probably, Let me now speak peace concerning thee, i.e. pray for thy welfare.
Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.9. For the sake of the house &c.] Dear as Jerusalem is to him as the centre of the nation’s civil life, it is yet dearer as the centre of the national religion.
I will (Let me) seek thy good] So Nehemiah 2:10, “a man to seek the good of the children of Israel.”