On Monday Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted
For the senator this was a good political move. It will stir his base and none can argue a prayer for peace. Points all around.
And yet this vexes because it plays into a common misreading of the psalm to which it refers, a misreading which often poisons evangelical political thinking.
The Psalms of Ascent, of which Psalm 122 is one, were hymns of hope sung by Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for one of Israel’s annual feasts. Jerusalem was their focus because it was where God’s house was.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (1, 2)
Jerusalem fills the psalmist’s heart not as a piece of real estate or civic entity but as the place where God is. It was a place of worship and a place of justice. It was held in his heart as the place where things are as they are supposed to be.
Jerusalem— built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. (3-5)
This is the psalmist’s vision, but it is an idealized vision. He is aware of the city’s inability to effect all he longs for and so his hope is seated in Jerusalem as a symbol of what God will and can do when he dwells among his people, not in the city itself.
The failure of the physical Jerusalem moved Jesus to tears.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
Jesus did not weep for the city per se (cities don’t throw stones) but for the people the city represented. The city stood as the symbol of the people among whom God was determined to dwell, the people who bore his covenant promises. And so Jesus spoke of the destruction of the city (which came) and the consequent re-centering of those covenant promises in his church.
The psalmist is making a pilgrimage to a city which would fall under judgment and eventually be destroyed. But the hope his pilgrimage represented would not be touched. It would be relocated.
We all ache to be in that place where God is. The Jerusalem the psalmist longs for and is heading for and longs to be a part of is a society in which worship is unfettered, where judgment is rich with justice and mercy, and where God’s people are one. We long for the garden, for that deep impulse to be in naked fellowship with our God and with one another, and it is a longing that will be fulfilled. But it will be fulfilled by a city God brings from above, not one that is built on earth.
In the meantime, the hope and the prayers encouraged by this psalm are not for the protection of the residents and political stability of a city in Israel, appropriate though such prayers might be. The prayer this psalm encourages is for the peace of that people and that place where God’s worship is now centered, and where now God’s purposes of justice and unity are now worked out. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the stability, purity, and prosperity of the church.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is not what Sen. Rubio had in mind.