We can summarize the spirit of worship in these 15 psalms through two verses in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). These verses recognize an overwhelming difference between the events on earth and the glorious reign of God in the heavens. Here on earth injustice, sin and oppression run rampant; in the heavens justice, holiness and glory abound. The disciple who prays the Lord’s Prayer longs for the reign of God in the heavens so much that he cries out for His reign to break forth here on earth. When this happens, His name is hallowed / sanctified.
We find this same passion in the Songs of Ascent: may the righteous, merciful and glorious reign of Yahweh in the heavens manifest itself and overcome the injustices and sin that His people suffer on earth. Here on earth, things do not go as they should: “Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue… Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace… The plowers plowed upon my back; they made their long furrows” (Psalm 120:2, 6; 129:3). Therefore, the faithful look to Yahweh: “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy on us” (Psalm 123:1-2).
These 15 psalms are not content with looking toward God in a general sense. They call Him “Lord” (Adonai) only once, “God” three times and “the Strength of Jacob” twice. But they call Him “Yahweh” (LORD) 54 times, crying out for a response to Him who always was, is and always will be, to Him who was, is and always will be faithful to His covenant, to Him who responded, responds and always will respond to His people in mercy. They cry out to Him with the same name that He declared to them as blessed recipients of His covenant with their forefathers.
And they hope in Him: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him (Psalm 126:5-6). They continue to trust His faithfulness and mercy even though they may not see evidence of them for decades: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:4-5). They continue to hope in Yahweh even though they may not see the answer to their prayers for generations: “The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128:5-6). They continue to trust because they know that He who gave the promises is faithful to fulfill them: “O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:3).
In the midst of all this, His people are encouraged as they see their harmony in worship, together as one family in Yahweh: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1). “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) As His people gather obediently with forgiven and purified hearts in genuine devotion, they realize that Yahweh’s justice and mercy are reigning over them. Despite their differences, when they gather in Yahweh’s name, the kingdom of heaven begins to manifest itself, and they worship Yahweh: “The tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD” (Psalm 122:4). In this way, the Israelites in the temple (and we in the church) find our geographical place transformed into Yahweh’s dwelling place, where He reigns in righteousness and justice (Psalm 132:14-18).
May the prayer and worship in our churches also manifest a desperation with a world that does not know Yahweh, a fervent desire for His glorious and just reign and a secure hope in His covenant. May we grow in harmony as we lift up our petitions and praises to the same God through whom we are saved.