15 PSALMS of ASCENT – pdf download

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THE SEASON OF OUR JOY!

Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be akh sameach – altogether joyful.

~ Deuteronomy 16:15

There were 15 steps leading from the Women’s Court in the Temple up to the Court of Israel and the entrance to the Holy Place. The Levitical choir would pause on each step to sing one of the Psalms of Ascent. It’s likely that King David composed these psalms for that very purpose. A daily reading and meditation on each of the 15 Psalms helps to  make the spiritual Ascent from the 1st of the new Hebrew year to the 15th – the joyous celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles!

Download Shir la’Ma’alot, the Psalms of Ascent,  to read on your journey to Joy –
Tishrei 1 (Rosh Hashanah) – Tishrei 15 (Sukkot).

Shir la’Ma’alot – Psalms of Ascent

PSALMS of ASCENT – week 15 – PSALM 134

HEARTS OF GRATITUDE AND BLESSING

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The fifteen steps have been ascended; hearts have been prepared, and a profusion of joyful praise has welled up, ready to pour forth in worship.

“Come bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
That stand by night in the House of the Lord!”

 In the original context of the Temple, as sacrifices could only be brought and offered during daylight hours, the general public would congregate in the Temple courts during the day. After the early evening prayers, when most people returned home, the Levitical priesthood remained behind and, in accord with a roster that was set, would serve as watchmen on the walls through the night.

After the destruction of the Temple, commentaries compare the “night” to the long, dark night of exile. Although forcibly separated from His chosen Holy Dwelling Place of Zion, the loyal servants of the Lord continued to stand in worship of G-d and to lift up their hands in faith and hope towards the place of His Sanctuary in Jerusalem. Throughout the centuries of exile, and to this very day, Jews who physically are outside of the Land of Israel turn to face Jerusalem when they stand to pray. Thus, day and night, from all corners of the globe, a steady steam of prayer, supplication and thanksgiving is directed towards Zion. In return, the Lord, who hears and answers prayer and who neither slumbers nor sleeps, sends forth His blessings.

 “The Lord will bless you out of Zion; Maker of heaven and earth.”

 Our Creator still pours out His blessing from His holy hill. It is He, Maker of heaven and earth, the Source and giver of life to all things, who even now is at work to fulfill all His promises and the purposes of His Word. He is watching over His Word to perform it and is working out His plan of Redemption for Israel and all the nations from Zion, at the heart of which is His City, Jerusalem.

In the Hebrew verse,  יברכך יהוה מציון  –  Ye’varechekha Adonai mi’Tzion –  The Lord will bless you from Zion, the last letters of the three words form the word כהן – Cohen or priest. *1 The chief role of a cohen-priest is to bless the Lord and to extend His blessing upon the people in a particular way. In Jerusalem this Passover, we witnessed an annual public Birkat Cohanim – Priestly Blessing. Thousands gathered to the Western Wall, where hundreds of cohanim, covered in their prayer shawls, raised their hands to recite the Aaronic Benediction over the people.

The well-known and beautiful blessing, of Numbers 6:22-27, is echoed in the structure of this psalm, which is the shortest of the Psalms of Ascent. Both are composed of three lines. The Priestly Blessing places G-d’s Name upon the people and of the 23 words of Psalm 134, five are G-d’s Name YHWH – יהוה. Also, each of the three verses of the Psalm include the word ‘bless’.

In our great High Priest, Yeshua, we too can rise to our calling as priests in the Kingdom of G-d, and with grateful praise and in constant communion with Him, be those who faithfully extend His blessing to others. In this regard, another interesting facet of this last verse is that, in Hebrew, the pronoun “you” is singular. The focus has moved from all Israel to the individual. Then, in the last phrase that refers to the Maker of heaven and earth, we are reminded that the G-d of Israel is indeed the Creator of all and His ultimate will and purpose is to bless all nations and people from His now restored and rebuilt Dwelling Place of Zion.

May His Shalom, as you walk in closer unity with Him, fill your days and guide your steps as you now move forward to take the next step He has perfectly planned for your life.

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~Keren Hannah

 

*1 The Torah Anthology, The Book of Tehilim; 255

PSALMS of ASCENT – week 14 – PSALM 133

 BLESSING POURED OUT FROM ON HIGH

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Mount Hermon on Israel’s North Eastern border

The series of the 15 Psalms of Ascents concludes with the two short Psalms of 133 and 134. Both psalms begin with Hinei or Behold, which in Scripture usually is an indication of the sovereign intervention of G-d within a situation. The two are beautiful songs of praise, befitting the arrival of the Levitical musicians and singers at the summit of their ascent to the entrance court of the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem. As such, they gloriously transcend time and space and to this day the songs are raised in joyful praise in many congregations.

The opeining verse of Psalm 133 is one of the Hebrew verses that likely is known by many Christians around the globe: Hinei ma tov u’ma’naim shevet achim gam yachad! It is translated as: ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together [in unity].’ The Hebrew word yachad intimates a united togetherness; a harmonious oneness that is reflected in the word ‘one’ – echad. How good it is when brothers, people, neighbors, who dwell together physically, also can dwell in unity of heart and spirit. Proverbs 27:10 reads, “For better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far off.” This carries a meaning that a good neighbor who is nearby can be of more immediate practical assistance than family who are far away geographically. It can also be understood as a friend who is like-minded or caring of heart is better than a blood relative who is in opposition to you and is distant and uncaring in attitude.

At times it may be preferable, for the sake of peace and to avoid ill-will and competition, if two parties are separated by distance. However, in a good social order, which is in accord with Biblical values, every person should show genuine concern for others and should interact openly and honestly. If each one extended care and help where possible to one another in an attitude of loving unity, rather than one of envy, self-aggrandizement and strife, all would benefit and not only would it be tov, “good,” it also would be naim, “pleasant.”

Such truly caring communities are rare in this world of brokenness and selfishness and David employs rich imagery of the motion of descent to describe the depth of blessing and joy that true unity engenders; not only to those involved but also to the heart of G-d. The medium of the first is oil – the precious oil of anointing that is poured on the head of Aaron, the High Priest. Oil is smooth and soothing and a symbol of abundance and gladness, as we see in the beautiful verse in isaiah 61:3,

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”

The connection with Aaron is fitting in this context, for he became known as Rodef Shalom, the one who pursued peace between brothers. Whenever he became aware of strife between two people he would caringly intervene and do what he could to settle any argument; to put things right and promote unity. This extends to a wider picture of all Israel as the oil trickles down his beard and reaches the collar of his robe. From there it would touch the shoulder straps and the breastplate he wore that carried precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The stones were united as one and he would carry them over his heart into G-d’s Presence when he performed his service in the Holy Place of the Temple.

The second simile, “…like the dew of Hermon that comes down upon the mountain of Zion,” intimates the downward movement of the precipitation of moisture that is supplied through the provision of G-d.  In the hot, dry climate of Israel, rain and the provision of life-giving water is a great blessing. The origin of blessing is thus from “on High.” Rain, snow and dew collect on Mount Hermon in the north and move down or flow to Mount Zion, which is on the same central mountain range. In Psalm 132, we were reminded that Zion was chosen by G-d as His eternal dwelling place. His desire always is for His House to be a place of Shalom Bayit, of pleasant harmony and unity. And from there His blessings of anointing and life, of joy and refreshing, flow forth.

Read in the context of the Temple, this picture brings to mind the ceremonial climax of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall. The High Priest collected water in a golden jug from the Pool of Siloam and in joyful procession brought it up to the Temple. There, he poured it on the Altar of Sacrifice in gratitude for the blessing of life that came from Above and in trust, at the end of a long, dry summer, for the winter rains to come. Prophetically, we are told by the prophet Zechariah in connection with the Coming Day of the Lord: “Then, everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.” Again we see the relevance of man’s actions and G-d’s response.

For from there, from Zion in Jerusalem, His chosen and eternal dwelling place, and in the good and pleasant unity personified by Aaron and brought to fullness in our great High Priest Yeshua, who constantly intercedes on our behalf before our Father’s Throne of Grace and Mercy on High, He commands the eternal blessing of life forevermore.

HaleluYah!

PSALMS of Ascent – week 13 – PSALM 132

THE DAVIDIC DYNASTY

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During the years of his reign, King David faced many moments when his kingship and kingdom were threatened. Psalm 132 is a prayer and reminder, as it were, to God and himself, of the immutable bond and covenant between the Almighty, the Davidic line and the capital, Jerusalem. David also stresses the troubles he had undergone and the efforts he had made in seeking the right place for the building of God’s house, the securing of the Ark, and the ammassing of all the materials necessary for building. He anticpates that God will enter His dwelling-place , where he and the people “will prostrate ourselves at His footstool” (verse 7). As glorious as the Temple would be, in regard to the great glory of God, it could only represent His “footstool”. In comparison, the heavens are called, “the throne of the Lord” (Isaiah 66:1).

This is the only psalm that refers directly to the Ark of the Covenant (v.8), the piece of Tabernacle furnishing that symbolized the Shekinah Presence of  God. The text also reflects the journey of the Ark, which first was housed at the village of Ya’arim; here referred to as s’dei Ya’ar, the “fields of Ya’ar” (verse 6). This was situated near the town of Bethlehem Ephrata, the birthplace of King David and of the Messiah of the line of David. As we know from the Biblical narrative, later the Ark was brought up to Jerusalem by David with great rejoicing and celebration, where it was kept in temporary housing until it  finally was moved to its “resting place” in the innermost Holy of Holies in the Temple built by Solomon.

The reign of the Davidic dynasty lasted 400 years until the destruction of the First Temple. Verse 12 sets a stipulation for the earthly descendants of David in order to retain the kingship: “If your sons will keep My covenantal decree that I teach them, then their sons also, for all time, shall sit upon your throne.” Only David and Solomon ruled over all Israel. Their successors fuctuated in their obedience to God’s commands, not recoginizing Him as the true King over all, and would reign only over the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Benjamin until the country was overtaken by the Graeco-Roman Empire.

In spite of the destruction of the Second Temple and the loss of rulership over the Land, David has the assurance of God that He has chosen Zion and He promises:

“This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have deired it” (verse 14).

He continues to promise that  He would bless with provision all who came to His House and the needy would always have bread. The priests would be clothed with deliverance and the righteous ones filled with songs of praise! This is a refrain of the prayer of Jacob when he stopped at Mount Moriah to sleep on his flight from Esau and vowed that if  God would “…give me bread to eat and clothing to wear” (Genesis 28:20) and would return him to his Father’s House, which can well  be seen as a prophetic reference to the site of the Temple, “then the Lord shall be my God.” If God would sustain him and return him to this land of his father Isaac, then he would be assured of the faithfulness and sovereignty of God.

Verse 17 records a beautiful promise of God regarding HIs Dwelling place in Zion:

“There I will cause pride [keren, a horn of provision and power, shofar] to sprout for David, for I have prepared a lamp [ner, a candle, light of truth, menorah]  for My anointed [Meshichi, My Messiah].

From David’s line would arise the Messiah, the anointed king of God. The splendor of Messiah will become evident in that very place.  Jerusalem, the City of David in Zion is also the City of the Great King, from where His glory and might will become evident to all when, as promised in the final verse: “His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon Him will His crown shine.”

HalleluYah!
~Keren Hannah

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Artwork: Baruch Nachshon, Israel

PSALMS of ASCENT – week 12 – PSALM 131

PSALM 131 – TRANQUILITY

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Although one of the shortest psalms, comprised of only three verses, Psalm 131 is considered by many to be among the most imaginative and beautiful. The focus of the first verse  is humility, which sets the foundation for the rest of the  psalm. Interestingly, the numerical value of the Hebrew word meaning humble (anvah ענוה) is 131 (70+50+6+5).

Of all people, the great King David had reason to harbor pride in his heart. When he was anointed by the prophet Samuel as the one chosen by God to be king over Israel, he could well have lorded it over his surprised brothers. As a young boy he also gained fame when he stood up to and killed the giant Goliath, which understandably might have given rise to a sense of pride and ‘haughtiness’ of attitude. In every situation, however, including when as a young shepherd he killed a lion with his bare hands, he attributed his success to God. “It was the Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion” (1 Sam. 17:37). Througout his reign and all his victories in battle, as well as the great celebration of the return of the Holy Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he did not take any glory for himself but kept his eyes and his heart always focussed on the Lord.

Together with his other accomplishments, David also was a gifted man of deep spirituality and great intellect, as evidenced in his writings and poetry. He received wondrous revelations of God’s will in his design of the Temple and the details of its decoration and construction. He also was an inspired musician and composed the music for the Levitical choir and musicians and trained them in their performance of it. Yet, here in verse 1 he says, “I do not aspire to things too great or too wondrous for me.” He did nothing to aspire to greatness; all he undertook to do was simply in obedience to his Lord through implementation of the talents and abilities he was given by Him.

Verse 2.

David affirms his lack of reliance upon his own strength and understanding in the administration of his position of high authority and in all his actions. He does not, as a result, allow any of the demands and challenges that inevitably arise to cause him any anxiety or distress, or to trouble him unduly. He has calmed and quietened his soul with the knowledge that the Lord is his master and provider. He proceeds to draw the beautiful and soothing picture of “a weaned child” resting upon its mother. The simile is all the more poignant coming from a man of such might and standing.

A weaned child is not instantaneously calm. When an infant is weaned from its mother’s milk, it suffers the separation, and experiences concern relating to the loss of its source of food and much crying and agitation can ensue! Once the realization is made that the mother still is there and attending to all its needs, and there is an abundant provision of other nourishing food, the child calmly and contentedly can rest in the arms of its mother once again. We too can rest in the hands of our Father God, who promises, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13).

Verse 3.

In the last verse, David the king calls out to his people with the heart of a father for his children,

“O Israel, hope in the Lord, from this time forth and forever!”

Even if they are guilty of rebellion and idolatry, with Him there is abundant forgiveness and redemption (130:7). David’s fervent prayer is that they too can turn to the One who is the sole source of hope, the Giver of good things, the Lord who cares and protects as a Shepherd does His flock and who draws us to Himself in constant lovingkindness. Therein lies Israel’s hope and the hope of all mankind.

 

~Keren Hannah

PSALMS of ASCENT – week 11 – PSALM 130

 

Psalm 130 – Sin, Forgiveness and Redemption

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Making the ascent to the eleventh step, David is overcome by the awareness of his own weakness and the remnants of sin in his human nature. He has faced the blatant wickedness and the painful persecution of his enemies with strength and resolve; now, as he takes another step closer to the Shekinah Presence of G-d, sheltered in the Holy of Holies, he is aware of how far his soul still must climb to attain the holiness his spirit longs for.  In comparison with the holiness and beauty for which he was created by the Holy One of Israel, he acutely feels the depths of his own fallen humanity. The psalm expresses King David’s only-too-human reflections on repentance and forgiveness, doubt and assurance, distress and optimism. Qualities that succinctly, and humorously, are reflected in a Yiddish saying: “Please G-d! Help me get up! I can fall down by myself!”

The main body of the psalm is personal in application. David is in despair over his own sinful nature. Verses 2 – 4 are a plea that the Lord will hear his cry for mercy amd he declares, “Forgiveness is Yours.”  The declaration affirms the reality that, while in imitation of Him we need to forgive one another’s sins and failings in our interactions on earth, only G-d is the ultimate source of full forgiveness.  This truth is powerfully illustrated in the scenario when the prophet Nathan confronts David over his adultery with Batsheva and the murder of Uriah her husband. In the shock and realization of the scope of his sin, ‘David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die…” (2 Samuel 12:13-14).

Verse 5 : ” I hope – kiviti li – my soul hopefully waits , and in His Word I hope.”

The central themes of sin, repentance, forgiveness and redemption, and the concept of “waiting on the Lord” for His response and assurance, all emphasize the need for, and the possibility of, communication with our Father in Heaven. The beautiful metaphor in verse 6 of one waiting on Him “more than the watchman waits for the morning,” captures the experience of the night watch. The “dark night of the soul” is a time of despair at sin, whether in oneself – calling for repentance and acceptance of forgiveness – or in those around us – calling for forgiveness and intercession on their behalf.

It is a lonely, dark time that can include moments of fear and a strange combination of anxiety and peacefulness. Underlying it all is the certainty that, no matter how long the hours of waiting may seem, the dawn will break through. In the constant faithfulness and lovingkindness of our G-d who redeems, the first rays of light will break through the darkness and the morning will come.

Therefore, when we cry out to G-d from the depths of our trouble, and of our hearts, we can do so in hope and with trust that He hears our cry. The Hebrew word kiviti, in verse 5,  is derived from the same root as tikvah – hope. The national anthem of the modern state of Israel is ‘HaTikvah‘ – ‘The Hope’, which alludes to the trust in the promise that the rebuilding of the Land of Zion and Jerusalem by a free Jewish people is the step towards G-d’s full redemption of Israel and the nations.

Indeed, in the last two verses, David moves the focus from himself to Israel. As their king, he feels inextricably bound up with his people and the cry from his heart is as much on their behalf as for himself. In a stirring plea and prophetic word of proclamation, he concludes with a prayer our hearts can deeply affirm today:

“O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.
And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

Selah and Amen.

PSALM of ASCENT – week 10 – PSALM 129

PSALM 129 – A  Plea and Prayer in Suffering

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“Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth,” let Israel now say…

Most scholars associate this psalm with the time of the Babylonian exile. In truth, it can well apply to all the periods of suffering that Israel, as a people, have endured “from my youth” and up. Historically, the time of Israel’s youth is considered the time of slavery in Egypt, when the bondage indeed was bitter. Sadly, subsequent times of suffering can be traced throughout history to the present day. “Many a time have they afflicted me.” Who are “they” – the cause of the affliction? They are the nations; those who forcibly attacked and took Israel captive or those in whose midst a homeless Israel found herself when fleeing destruction.

God made the powerful pronouncement to our first forefather, Abraham, of the reality that would accompany the Covenant that He was forging with him and his descendants to come in Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses, or dishonors, you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their family, who became the nation Israel, and those who would descend from them through the Covenants of God and spread to the nations of the earth – all carry the promise of God with them that as each nation extends blessing to them, the nation in turn can be blessed by God Himself. The converse also is true. Those nations who in their hatred of the God of Israel and His people curse, or allow the dishonoring of Israel, will in turn incur the curses of the Almighty.

To be God’s covenant people carries the great honor of knowing Him and being bound in intimate relationship with Him. This honor includes the responsibility of bearing His Name and representing Him in the earth. A negative result of this bond is the fact that one becomes a target for the enemies of God, who will malign, attack, and viciously destroy His children wherever and whenever they are able to do so. A prime example of this hatred also can be  traced back to the Exodus from Egypt – to the enemy Amalek the Edomite, who had no compunction in specifically targeting and attacking the weaker and more defenseless of the Israelites.  Exodus 17:16, tells us: “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” However, first He assures us in verse 15: ” I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” May it be so.

“…but they have not prevailed against me!”

By the grace and enabling of God, the Creator and sustainer of all, Israel can say in the face of the relentless affliction imposed by enemies who have risen up in an attempt to destroy her and wipe her from the world’s map “…but they have not prevailed against me!” Israel still stands strong, sovereignly restored and flourishing in her Land and honors the One God – may His Name be blessed and His Kingdom be extended forever and ever. Amen.

“The plowers plowed my back, they made long their furrows.”

Verse 3 conveys a painful image. The phrase, ‘furrows on the back,’ brings to mind the welts and cuts of a whip – the wounds suffered by Yeshua himself and of many a slave at the hands of cruel masters. The metaphor more diectly applies to oxen that are used for plowing. The furrows to be plowed are in a straight line and only when the end is reached can the oxen rest and renew their strength. The longer the furrow the more weary they become. Israel were treated by their enemies like animals of burden, used for the benefit of the cruel masters who deliberately ‘made long their furrows.’

However, in extension of the metaphor, the Lord in His mercy and righteousness ‘cut the cords of the wicked.’  When the cords that fasten the yoke to the backs of the oxen are cut, the oxen cannot continue to plow.  Enslaved, bound and weary, Israel could not have saved herself. Only the intervention of God in cutting the cords of bondage enabled freedom and relief from suffering.

“Let them be ashamed and turned back, all who hate Zion.”

Zion, together with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, symbolizes the whole people and nation of Israel. The Psalmist prays that all the enemies will become ashamed of their senseless hatred and be turned back from their brutal attacks. David knows that those who curse Israel will themselves be cursed and the final verses of the psalm are a soft response to the harshness of the enemy.

Grass that grows on rooftops is purposeless, it cannot take root and draw nourishment and is quickly scorched and withers in the heat of the sun.  No crop can be harvested by the reapers, who cannot then be blessed by passersby with: “The blessing of the Lord be upon you; we bless you in the Name of the Lord.”

The negative picture subtly reinforces the vision that David and all Israel long for, as represented in Ruth 2:14, when Boaz customarily blessed the reapers with, “The Lord be with you.” A  picture of a peaceful Israel, settled in her own Land of fertile fields, where farmers work and reap, and people greet one another, and the nations who bless them, with:

“The blessings of the Lord be upon you; we bless you in the Name of the Lord.”

Amen.

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PSALMS of ASCENT – week 9 – PSALM 128

The ninth step upward is a step of Blessing – from Home to Jerusalem

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The introduction reminds us that this short and tightly constructed song is a “Psalm of Ascent” – Shir la’Ma’alot, which are the songs written, or chosen, by King David to be sung by the Levitical musician-priests as they ascended the fifteen steps of the staircase from the large, communal gathering place of the Temple Court and drew closer to the Holy Place and the intimate Holy of Holies, which housed the Presence of God. The songs, also, could  well have been sung by the thousands of pilgrims who regularly made their way up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festivals. The psalms include a verse of prayer for the winter rains that raise up the underground water supply, so vital  to Israel’s well-being. On a personal level, they serve to reinforce the assurance that no matter the depths of despair we may experience due to the trials of life, when we cry to Him our faithful God will always raise us up and strengthen us in His unfailing love and compassion.

Psalm 128 begins where Psalm 127 ended, with the concept of אשר – osher – contentment, fullness, happiness. Psalm 127 closed with Ashrei ha’gever, ‘happy is the man’ and 128 begins, Ashrei kol yireh HaShem. ‘Happy are all those who fear the Lord.’ The two songs share the emphases of household, city, labor, children, and the promise of reward.  A difference in 128 is the statement that fear, or awe and reverence, of God and “walking in His ways” are the keys to the greater happiness.  The personal and family blessing is extended to the flourishing of the whole nation and, at its heart, the beautiful city of God – Jerusalem.

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The growth and spiritual progression from the individual, to the household, to the nation is reflected in the physical life cycle from the union of husband and wife, to the children and grandchildren. All culminates in Shalom – wholeness, peace and joy – upon all Israel.

Grapevines and Olives

In this idyllic state of being and blessing, the husband is assured that he will have labor and the ability to provide for all his family needs. The comparisons of the wife to a grapevine  and the children to olive saplings are rich and interesting similes. The plants are two of the seven major species of Israel found in Deuteronomy 8:8. In fact, the psalm is a precis of this eighth chapter.   Together with the other five, grapevines and olives are central to biblical as well as modern agriculture in Israel. Apart from providing fruit for consumption, the vine produced the wine for the Kiddush, the sanctification and setting apart of Shabbat and the Festivals, and the oil from the olive supplied the fuel for the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple and candles or lamps for the Sabbaths.

Seven Species

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As the home is a small sanctuary and the table represents the altar, the vine and olive saplings are beautiful images of a wife being “deep within your house,” bearing the holiness – kedusha – at the heart of the home, and the children bringing light and blessing. This does not mean that a wife must be confined to her home, as some have interpreted, for a grapevine though firmly rooted in place can send forth branches that reach out and provide the blessing of sustenance and shade to those who have need.  Children, too, need to be nurtured in the home and also educated in preparation to go forth confidently and productively into the wider world. Interestingly, both plants can be cultivated indoors and then transplanted outside, which underscores the progression from home to wider community and from nation to all the world. Thus we see the mother image meld into Zion and Jerusalem and the children into bnei Yisrael, the children of Israel. An echo is found in Isaiah 66:13, “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

If children are the saplings, the strong olive tree from which they spring is the father. In verse 4, “Behold for thus shall the man who fears the Lord be blessed,” the use of the word הינה – hineh – see – behold! –  indicates a form of Divine intervention. It is an assurance to the gever, man, whose responsibility it is to work, and to provide and care for his wife and children and, on the wider scale, for the men of the community and nation to extend protection and care  for the more vulnerable women and children, that when they live in fear of God and choose to emulate Him by “walking in His ways” then His blessings will abound to all. Then he will see Shalom in his home, and the flourishing of Jerusalem filled with ongoing generations and שלום על ישראל – Shalom al Yisrael – Peace upon Israel!

May it be so, in our generation and lifetime. Amen!

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PSALMS of ASCENT – week 8 – PSALM 127

A Step of Trust in the Lord’s Sovereign Enabling.

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The introductory sentence, ‘A Song of Ascents; of Solomon,’ alerts us to the fact that, in context, the well known first verse applies to the Holy Temple – the House of God – that David’s son Solomon would build. In wider application it also refers to the House of David, the royal dynasty that God promised would last for all generations. David makes it clear, however, that all these things are dependent on the help of the Almighty Himself and are not the result of human endeavor alone.

Verse 1    If the Lord will not build the House, the builders labor at it in vain; if the Lord will not guard the city, the watchman was vigilant in vain.

Historically, in accord with David’s stirring speech to the people of Israel in 1 Chronicles 28, it is reckoned that King David composed this psalm after Nathan the prophet had informed him that although David had made all the preparations and collected all the gold, silver and brass that was needed, he would not build the Temple but rather his son Solomon would (2 Samuel 7).

David confirms the words God had spoken: “And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son, to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. He said to me, ‘It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be
his Father” (1Chr. 28:5-6).

Throughout all his many life experiences, beginning with the slaying of the Philistine giant Goliath, David knew and understood the truth that all our endeavors are only accomplished according to God’s will and with the Lord’s sovereign enabling.
David, therefore, was confident that Solomon would not build the House “in vain,” for God had desired it and had presented the blueprint and given detailed instructions for the work. In addition, he trusted that God would watch over Jerusalem, for He had chosen to place His Name there, as confirmed by Nehemiah (1:9),  and also had commanded that David and Solomon set their thrones in His city.

To make a personal application, the Psalm pertains to building the ‘house’ our Father has planned for the unique, individual life of each of His children. In one’s relationships, in marriage and the home one builds, Divine help is needed; particularly regarding the raising of children whom, as we are told in verse 3, are “…a heritage of the Lord.”

Verse 2  It is in vain for you who rise up early , who sit up late, who eat the bread of sorrows; yes, He gives to His beloved one(s) sleep.

Again in context, the allusion here is to those who were plotting to wrest the throne from David and Solomon but who had failed, namely Absalom and his allies, and also Adoniyah (cf Psalm 127:2).* Solomon, however, is referred to as ‘beloved of God.’ “Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel” (Nehemiah 13:25).

No matter the plans of those who desired to take the kingship from him, Solomon could rest peacefully knowing that God was in control. We, too, when we entrust our lives into His care, can rest peacefully trusting that “the One who neither slumbers nor sleeps” is watching over us and working on our behalf even while we sleep.

Verses 3-5  Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord; 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 a quiver full of them; they will not be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the gate.

Children are a great blessing and reward to a family and, when they are raised to know and serve God, they are a “heritage of the Lord.” David rejoices knowing that Solomon will preserve his royal dynasty and trusts that the heritage of the Lord also will be preserved. We now can rejoice, knowing that it is indeed through the lineage of David that Messiah was born in the lowly town of David’s birth and in the last days will return to take up His holy throne again in Jerusalem, the royal and glorious City of God.

Children are compared to “arrows” for good reason. In this masculine metaphor, just as a warrior does not randomly and thoughtlessly scatter his arrows, so it is a father’s responsibility to direct his children towards worthy, godly goals and purposes for the life that God has given them. Again, as we are reminded in the psalm, parents constantly need look to the Almighty “Warrior” without whose help and guidance their ‘arrows’ will go astray and ‘miss the mark’.

In Jewish tradition, this verse also is applied to teachers and their students. The input of teachers into the life of children is of great importance. A good teacher places high value on the life of each student and views each one as caringly as possible. For best effect, education needs to be implemented in one’s youth. While continued study and learning is valuable at every age, the education of children, by their parents in particular, is vital  – for, just as a warrior cannot retract an arrow once it is launched, once they are older and leave home, one cannot retrain a child “in the way he should go.”

To conclude the psalm and the analogy, we may then say: ‘Happy is the man and the woman, the father and the mother, and the teacher, whose life is a quiver full of such arrows.’ When they stand in the gate of the city – the general meeting place where affairs of the citizens are deliberated – they need not fear the taunts of any enemy.

David is referring to the enemies who aimed to take his and Solomon’s crown, but we can apply it to the enemy of our souls who delights in taunting with threats and falsehoods in his plans to ‘dethrone’ us from our rightful place as children of the King. With our hand in His Almighty hand and our trust in His sovereignty we can happily step forward and continue to build the house He desires and has planned for us – for His eternal glory.

Selah ~ Amen.

~ Keren Hannah

Footnotes:

* The Torah Anthology, The Book of Tehillim V, Yalkut Me’Am Lo’ez; 204

PSALMS of ASCENT – week 7 – Psalm 126

A Step of Faith and Courage

Gabriele Brauer

 

The well-known and loved Psalm 126 traditionally is recited in Jewish homes at major festive meals before the Grace After Meals blessings. Today, in Israel, the psalm also is read on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, in celebration of God’s modern day, miraculous restoration of His people to His Land.

The high esteem in which the psalm is held by some is expressed by author Feivel Meltzer,

“If we might compare all Biblical poetry to peaks of high mountains, and if many psalms articulate heartfelt longings of strength, softness, clarity and honesty such as a normal mortal could not achieve – still we would deem this psalm the highest of these peaks, the greatest of such articulations.” *

The beautiful verses carry some ambiguity, however, and there appear to be two distinct halves to the psalm. The first, verses 1-3, describes the return to Zion and the second is a prayer, which, although bearing some apprehension also expresses reassurance. The context of the psalm is a time of exile, likely the Babylonian Exile during the 6th Century.     Personally, I see it as a song of faith; an anticipation of what will be; a flame of a dream in the heart that warms and energizes those in exile to believe and trust for their return home in the perfect timing of God. A promise that will stand strong no matter the obstacles and difficulties that might hinder and block the way.

Verses 1 – 3

The first verses indeed describe the vision and future hope, the “dream” of the fulfilment of God’s promise that the Land, at whose heart stands Mount Zion, is the eternal inheritance of  the family and nation of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In recollection of the past deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, those in exile, in “a strange land,” confidently can say,

“The Lord has done great things for us. We are happy!”

Verses 2 and 3 also include a hope that the redeeming power of the God of Israel, His restoration of His people to His Land, would be noted by the nations as a testimony to the truth of HIs Word and the prophetic promises therein. See, for example Isaiah chapter 52, which is so pertinent to our present day.

Verse 4 

The prayer here is for a sudden and speedy restoration – “…like afikim, watercourses or springs in the Negev [South].”

The Negev is an arid, desert area in the south of Israel. It only receives limited rainfall during winter. At times, however, when heavy rains fall in the higher northern areas, sudden floods occur as the collected rainwater gushes down the dry wadis (river beds). The phenomenon is instant and dramatic.  In the ‘winter’ of their separation from their homeland, the exiles long for a miracle of sudden deliverance that would come soon.

Verses 5 – 6

These verses proclaim the beautiful reassurances that have sustained both God-honoring Jews and Christians alike as they have gone forth, in accord with the purposes of God, whether by choice or by circumstance, to carry the Word of God and knowledge of Him to the nations of the world.

The Holy Scriptures often are compared to seed that carries life. For example, Isaiah 55:10-11,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

Also, in the gospels, e.g., Luke 8:4, Yeshua tells the parable of a sower who goes out carrying and dispersing seed, not knowing whether it will take root and grow and produce fruit or not. Likewise, the responsibility of those who are privileged to know the God of Israel and to enjoy the abundant blessing of His Presence and the life and treasure of His Word is simply to carry it with them and to share the “seeds” of the knowledge of God as they go.

Often this is a thankless task, and many tears of pain and intercession may be shed, but the promise of verse 5 stands firm:

“Those who sow in tears will will reap in exultation, bearing his sheaves.”

Nothing done for the sake of His Name and the extension of His Kingdom is done in vain. Every small deed and seed sown is precious in His sight and will bear eternal and joyous reward.

HalleluYah!

~Keren Hannah

 

* Feivel Meltzer, The Aspects of the Book of Psalms (Hebrew), Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1983. Translated by Benjamin J. Segal.

PSALMS OF ASCENT – week 6 – Psalm 125

 

 JERUSALEM has mountains round about her, and the Lord is round about His people from this time forth and forever.

Beitar Elite from Gush Etzion - Elchanan

*

Ascending to Psalm 125 an unshakable trust in the Lord is proclaimed.

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever!” (NKJV)

What joy to linger at this verse for a while and allow the truth of the statement to settle deeply in one’s heart.

Enemies might cause surface destruction and desecrate, or even break down and destroy God’s House – the Holy Temple, but nothing man can do can change the fact that the physical place –  Mount Zion, His City Jerusalem and His Land of Israel –  are His alone, chosen and set apart for His Presence and sovereign purposes. Also unchangeable is the fact that He chose to give Mount Zion, Jerusalem and the Land to His people Israel as an inheritance for all eternity.

When Israel is settled in her rightful place in the Land she must defend it, to the best of her ability, against those who attack and aim to claim it by force for their own selfish purposes. Too often, throughout history, nations who are mighty in their own strength have conquered and overcome the physically smaller and vulnerable nation of Israel. Though they proudly set themselves up on God’s holy hill of Zion, Israel can rest assured that the evil ones will one day fall and she will be restored to her rightful place; just as we have been privileged to witness in recent generations.

If the “rod of wickedness” does rest upon Israel, albeit temporarily, the psalmist adjures them to remain righteous and to not rise up with excesses in rebellion against cruel foreign occupiers, nor to take up the evil ways of their rulers. This echoes the serious concern and warning expressed in Deuteronomy, chapter 7. God’s main concern always is for the well being of His people.

Verse 4 is a prayer that God will do good to those who determine to remain righteous and faithful to His Word and ways, holding firmly to their trust in Him in the midst of a world  filled with violence, unbounded evil, and deceit. There will be those who choose to turn from God’s way of truth and loving-kindness (chesed ve’emet) and who will place their confidence in the power of man and the crooked ways of the world. The Father knows, however, those who are upright in heart, who have their trust rooted in Him. For such, who remain Israel, His people, the final crowning verse promises:

שלום על ישראלShalom al Yisrael! – Peace upon Israel!

True, eternal, boundless Shalom in Him who loves us with an eternal love and who has promised to enthrone His King on Mount Zion – from whence His Kingdom of Peace will be established in truth and righteousness over all the earth.

May it be soon and in our time!

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* Pic: Beitar Elite from Gush Etzion – by Elchanan

PSALMS OF ASCENT – week 5 – PSALM 124

Psalm 124 is another short but powerful Song of Ascent. The previous psalm expressed a deep sadness; that of one enslaved who is vulnerable and uncertain of his or her fate at the hand of perhaps an unkind master or mistress. The psalm ended with a helpless sigh, as if the psalmist was too overwhelmed to continue to pray. “Too long has our soul been sated with the scorn of the complacent, with the contempt of the proud.”   Now, as the Levitical singers take the fifth step upward, drawing closer to the Holy Place of the Temple,  a surge of hope and faith is extended to those who suffer the negativity of their opposers.

Both on an individual and a communal basis, David describes an experience of salvation. From the depths of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, as the people of Israel have experienced at the hands of the nations through history, to the personal experience of injustice perpetrated by the strong and proudly self-righteous against those weaker, the Lord indeed has acted and constantly is able to raise one up and provide a way of escape. David repeats for emphasis and in wonder, “Were the Lord not for us!” Clearly, God is the sole source of salvation. His absence would surely have meant their destruction, for they were totally at the mercy of man – of those who were not “for us”  but whose attitudes and actions would have “swallowed us alive” (v.3).

David employs striking metaphors to describe the threat to life and well being that result when angry men rise up against one. Being “swallowed up” indicates being consumed, having no recourse other than death. It calls to mind Jonah and the big fish (2:1) or Psalm 69:16 (15), “Let not the flood water overflow me, nor the deep swallow me up.” The metaphor of drowning is clarified in verses 4-5. Literary author, Ludwig Strauss, notes that these three middle verses describe a world without God, and He is not mentioned.*  Also, interestingly, the chiasm, or pattern, of threats in these verses (waters – over our souls – over our souls – waters) is paralleled by a chiasm of salvation in verse 7, (escaped – snare – snare – escaped).

Encompassing it all, as proclaimed in the first and now in the last verse, is the unseen Presence of God and His faithful acts of salvation to those who call on Him in their distress. “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth.”

Blessed is He who, in accord with His will and purpose, opens a door and makes a way, even when there seems to be no way. He enables our souls, when entrapped in the fowler’s snare, to escape and to fly free – for His glory!
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* Ludwig Strauss, ‘Studies in Literature’ [Jerusalem 1960], quoted by Benjamin J. Segal in ‘A New Psalm’ [Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2013]

PSALMS OF ASCENT – week 4 – PSALM 123

In the first verse of this short four verse Psalm, David answers the question he asked in the first Psalm of Ascent, “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?”

He now proclaims: “To YOU I lift up my eyes, You who are enthroned in the heavens!” He continues to describe the manner and attitude in which he raises his eyes to his God and King. Although David is one of the most powerful kings on earth, appointed by God and anointed as king of Israel by the prophet Samuel, when he is in need and seeks help he raises his eyes to the Almighty God as a servant humbly looks to his master on whom he depends for his welfare. To add to the expression of vulnerability, he expands the description in a feminine form, “…as the eyes of a serving maid to the hand of her mistress.” From the singular form in the first verse, he progresses to a combination of plural and singular in the second. Finally, in the last three verses he concludes with a cry on behalf of the people for whom he is responsible as king, the people chosen by God for Himself who, ultimately, is King over all Creation and all who are created in His image.Three times he calls on God’s grace and mercy. Just as servants seek to serve their master and are dedicated to do his bidding, so we look to Him. At the same time, all servants know that their lives, as well as their livelihood, are dependent upon their masters and they look to them with hope, trusting that they will be kind and gracious.

Why the need, in verse 3, to repeat: “Be gracious to us”? One thought is that, both when in exile and in their land, the people of Israel are surrounded by enemies who seek either to oppress or to attack and destroy them; therefore, at all times and in every place, the gracious mercy and protective Presence of the God of Israel are earnestly sought.

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PSALMS OF ASCENT – week 3 – PSALM 122 – Part 2

[Please Note: This is an intriguing contemplation of history that in no manner should be considered doctrine. ~ Keren Hannah]

Timeframe of Redemption

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

“Come let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord!”

Why this particular mount? The Bible and both Jewish and Christian commentary and literature offer many reasons. Adam was created here, God summoned Abraham to offer his son Isaac here, Jacob was stopped here on his journey of escape from Esau and, as he slept with a stone as a pillow, had the dream/vision of the ladder reaching Heaven and awoke with the revelation that this was the Place of God. This is where, according to King David’s design, in accord with the blueprint of God, the Holy Temple was built. This is the mount God chose to be His dwelling place on earth forever; the place where physical and spiritual would merge and meet in a unique way, as in an intimate kiss from the Beloved.

Interestingly, in a corresponding sequence, the name of Adam in Hebrew is spelt alephdaletmem. We can view it as a simple illustration of Redemption history – present in the very first created being. Aleph begins Adam’s name, Dalet begins David’s name and it culminates with the final Mem for Mashiach – Messiah!

Historically speaking, King David began his reign in the biblical year 2891. If David is mid-point between Adam and the commencement of King Messiah’s reign, that would set the latter at 5782. We now are in 5775 (2015) and in general, within Scripture believing communities, there is a real and growing yearning for and anticipation of Mashiach’s royal arrival in his beloved Yerushalayim to establish his Father’s Kingdom in the earth.

We know that no one but the Father knows the exact day or time of this glorious arrival, but may we be encouraged to have our hearts and minds aware and prepared daily, as a bride eagerly awaits her bridegroom!

For those who enjoy historical time charts, the restoration of Israel in our times helps to give us a perspective on the timeframe of Redemption. When one stands on Masada, with its spectacular and stirring view of the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab/Jordan in the distance you can imagine all that occurred there historically in 66 CE/AD.

Just 40 years before that, circa 3760, Yeshua had lived and accomplished his redemptive mission in Jerusalem, and 942 years before that David began his reign. David constantly read and studied the Torah given to Moses on Mount Sinai just 436 years before and, only 364 years before that revelation of God at Sinai, Abraham had ascended the mount where King Solomon would build the Dwelling Place of God.

No matter the day appointed for Messiah’s arrival, our hearts should be filled with anticipation to see our Bridegroom in the radiance of His glory. And we should also earnestly be participating in and praying for the physical and spiritual upbuilding and preparation of His Holy City – Jerusalem.

PSALMS OF ASCENT – week 3 – PSALM 122 – Part 1

A United Jerusalem of Shalom

Jerusalem

After the celebration of Psalm 121, described as a poetic and “perfect expression of trust in God” (A.Cohen), we step up to the next psalm that also begins in Hebrew with the word שיר – ‘shir’ – song. We know with assurance that the Almighty is with us as we steadily draw closer on our ascent to His City, where His Presence and Holy Name are housed in a supernatural and yet in a real and physical way. Psalm 122 opens a window, as it were, on the uniqueness of Jerusalem and describes how one’s heart is drawn to “go up to the House of the Lord”. What joy is experienced when “our feet are standing in her gates.” Yeshua had a great love for Jerusalem.  Whenever he was in the city, he was in the Temple constantly, which he referred to as “my Father’s House.”

Verse 5 makes a sudden and dramatic prophetic proclamation, which places the Psalm in the future setting of the Messianic Age when Messiah the Son of David will be reigning from the city,

“Indeed, there were set the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”*

The knowledge of the One God of Israel will then be filling earth as the waters cover the seabed (Isaiah 11:9) and all nations will be streaming up to Jerusalem. We, today, are privileged to be witnesses to the beginnings of this fulfilment.

With this awareness in mind, we then are exhorted in verse 6 to: “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” – שאלו שלום ירושלים – Sha’alu Shalom Yerushalayim. The repetition of the ‘sh’ of the letter ‘shin’ in the opening phrase is a lovely shushing sound; like waves lapping on the shore or the sound a mother makes as she gently calms and lulls her baby to sleep in her arms. The verse concludes with Yishlahv ohava’tayich – ישלהו אהבתיך – “May those who love you find tranquillity” – shalvah.

Those who love her, and are united with her, and pray for Jerusalem’s peace, indeed are blessed with peace and tranquillity of spirit in return; for such is the heart and will of our Father for His House.

Todah Abba!  Thank You Father!

~Keren

* Translation, Benjamin J.Segal, ‘A New Psalm’