Psalm 122 – “A Pilgrim’s Hymn to Jerusalem”

Hebrew-English text

I. Outline

1a. Superscription
1b-5. Joyous recollection
    1b-2. Account of pilgrimage
    3-5. Praise of Jerusalem
6-9. Hymn to Jerusalem

II. Comment

Ps. 122 is a two part Hymn to Jerusalem, said by an individual and addressed to a congregation (see the 2nd person plural address in v. 6a). Due to its language and placement in the shir hama’alot unit (Ps. 121-134), it was probably said by a pilgrim on his journey to – or arrival at – Jerusalem. The psalm contains two sections: (a) a joyous hymnic recollection of previous pilgrimages, and (b) a hymn directed to Jerusalem itself.

The psalm begins with pilgrimage language in v. 1, “Let us go into the house of the Lord” (cf. Ex 3:18; Zech 8:21; Isa 2:3 for similar calls to worship), and continues with v. 2’s “Our feet stood in thy courts, O Jerusalem.” Verses 2, 6-9 address Jerusalem directly, a phenomenon found elsewhere in the psalter and in late prophetic literature (e.g. Ps. 87:3; 137:5; Zech 9:9; Lam 2:13-14).

The psalm has a few pronounced literary features. Verses 6-7 and 8-9 are both structured as parallel doublets, and there is a doubling of shevet in v. 4 and kisse’ in v. 5. There might be intentional alliteration of the letter shin in vv. 6-7 (occurs 6x), probably because of the shin found in the word “Jerusalem.” Some scholars believe that the psalm was created around an ABCB’A’ chiastic structure:

A. the house of the Lord (v. 1)
B. Jerusalem (vv. 2,3)
C. the house of David (v. 5)
B’. Jerusalem (v. 6)
A’. the house of the Lord (v. 9)

There is no consensus about the psalm’s date of composition. While the reference to the tribes ascent to Jerusalem in v. 4 might indicate an early preexilic date, it could also indicate a late date (i.e. it is a paean to the “glorious days of old”). Also, the particle shin, which appears in vv. 4-5 and is usually found in late Biblical Hebrew, might indicate a later date for Ps. 122.

A form-critical analysis of Ps. 122 might be able to explain two of its peculiarities. The city is referred to as “there” in vv. 3-4, and other “Zion psalms” use the same language (e.g. Ps 87:6; 133:3). Also, while the second section is primarily a hymn to Jerusalem, v. 6a contains a 2nd person plural imperative, “Pray now for the peace of Jerusalem.” This correlates to other “Zion psalms” which have 2nd person plural imperatives towards their ends (e.g. Ps. 48:12-14; 76:12).