An Introduction To The Songs Of Ascent: Part Two

[Note:  This post is part of a series [1] on the Songs of Ascent]

Before we can have much to say about the Songs of Ascent themselves, it is worthwhile to introduce the contents of the Songs of Ascents themselves.  As we will be spending at least some time discussing the themes, authorship, organization, and structure of the Songs of Ascents, as well as briefly summarizing and commenting on their contents in future installments of this series, it would be worthwhile to note that this series will not attempt a detailed commentary on each of the Songs of Ascents, as that is a part of a separate project [2], or attempt to duplicate what writing has already been done about this series elsewhere [2].  What will be done here is to place the Songs of Ascents and to comment briefly on their authorship insofar as it can be determined.  The translation we will be using for this is the New King James, except where otherwise noted, as is commonly the case.

Psalm 120:  A Song Of Ascents

In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me.  Deliver my soul, O Lord, form lying lips and from a deceitful tongue.  What shall be given to you, or what shall be done to you, you false tongue?  Sharp arrows of the warrior, with coals of the broom tree!  Woe is me, that I dwell in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!  My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace.  I am for peace; but when they speak, they are for war.

Psalm 121:  A Song Of Ascents

I will lift my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Eternal, who made heaven and earth.  He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.  The Eternal is your keeper; The Eternal is your shade at your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Eternal shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  The Eternal shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

Psalm 122:  A Song of Ascents, Of David

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Eternal.”  Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!  Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Eternal, to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Eternal.  For thrones are set there for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:  “May they prosper who love you.  Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.”  For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, “Peace be within you.”  Because of the house of the Eternal our God I will see your good.

Psalm 123:  A Song of Ascents

Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.  Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Eternal our God, until He has mercy on us.  Have mercy on us, O Eternal, have mercy on us!  For we are exceedingly filled with contempt.  Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorn of those who are at ease, with the contempt of the proud.

Psalm 124:  A Song of Ascents

“If it had not been the Eternal who was on our side,” Let Israel now say—“If it had not been the Eternal who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul.”  Blessed be the Eternal, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.  Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Eternal, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 125:  A Song of Ascents

Those who trust in the Eternal are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Eternal surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.  For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity.  Do good, O Eternal, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.  As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways, the Eternal shall lead them away with the workers of iniquity.  Peace be upon Israel.

Psalm 126:  A Song of Ascents

When the Eternal brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.  Then they said among the Gentiles, “The Eternal has done great things for them.”  The Eternal has done great things for us, and we are glad.  Bring back our captivity, O Eternal, as the streams in the South.  Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 127:  A Song of Ascents, of Solomon

Unless the Eternal builds the house, they labor in vain who built it; unless the Eternal guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows, for He gives His beloved sleep.  Behold, children are a heritage from the Eternal, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

Psalm 128:  A Song of Ascents

Blessed is everyone who fears the Eternal, who walks in His ways.  When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.  Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Eternal.  The Eternal bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life.  Yes, may you see your children’s children.  Peace be upon Israel!

Psalm 129:  A Song of Ascents

“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth.”  Let Israel now say—“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth; yet they have not prevailed against me.  The plowers plowed on my back; they made their furrows long.”  The Eternal is righteous; He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked.  Let all those who hate Zion be put to shame and turned back.  Let them be as the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand, nor he who binds sheaves, his arms.  Neither let those who pass by them say, “The blessing of the Eternal be upon you; We bless you in the name of the Eternal!”

Psalm 130:  A Song of Ascents

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Eternal; Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If you, Eternal, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  I wait for the Eternal, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—yes, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Eternal; for with the Eternal there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption.  And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 131:  A Song of Ascents, of David

Eternal, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.  Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in the Eternal from this time forth and forever.

Psalm 132:  A Song of Ascents

Eternal, remember David and all his afflictions; how he swore to the Eternal, and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:  “Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house, or go to the comfort of my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Eternal, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”  Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of the woods.  Let us go into His tabernacle; let us worship at His footstool.  Arise, O Eternal, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength.  Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let Your saints shout for joy.  For your servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of Your anointed.  The Eternal has sworn in truth to David; He will not turn from it:  “I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body.  If your sons will keep My covenant and My testimony which I shall teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forevermore.”  For the Eternal has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place:  “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread.  I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.  There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.  His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon Himself His crown shall flourish.”

Psalm 133:  A Song of Ascents, of David

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.  It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Eternal commanded the blessing—life forevermore.

Psalm 134:  A Song of Ascents

Behold, bless the Eternal, all you servants of the Eternal, who by night stand in the house of the Eternal!  Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Eternal.  The Eternal who made heaven and earth bless you from Zion!

A Note On Authorship And Compilation

Admittedly, when it comes to authorship, the Songs of Ascents are not typical of the book of Psalms as a whole.  For example, of the fifteen songs, the authorship of only four of them is given in scripture–three of them psalms of David and another a psalm of Solomon.  The rest of the psalms do not have any author given whatsoever.  Despite the fact that the authorship of these particular psalms is more obscure than most sections of scripture, though, there is a clear unity that demonstrates that the psalms were written with certain similar themes in mind and also were compiled with a clear perspective of the Persian period.  There are at least a few elements that demonstrate either similar authorship or deliberate mimicry, such as the two anonymous psalms in the series that feature a very similar feature of partial repetition of letting Israel say something in the beginning in both Psalms 124 and 129.  Other connections exist, in that several of the psalms point to God’s help as coming from the hills and others focus on the role of God as creator of heaven and earth.  These similarities point to a compilation of psalms being the work of one person or one group of person, at some point in the early Persian period when the second temple had been constructed and when the returning Judeans were aware of the fact that their continued presence in the holy land depended on their obedience to God.  Next, let us summarize the psalms and bring out the themes and connections between them in greater detail that allow us to understand this section of psalms as a coherent whole, and closely related both to the festivals of God as well as to the place of Jerusalem in particular.


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Music History, Musings, Psalms and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An Introduction To The Songs Of Ascent: Part Two

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Songs Of Ascent: Part Three | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: A Long Obedience In The Same Direction | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: The Days Of Unleavened Bread And The Problem Of Khol Ha-Moedim | Edge Induced Cohesion

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