Those who trust in the LORD
Are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the LORD surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous,
So that the righteous will not put forth their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good
And to those who are upright in their hearts.
But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways,
The LORD will lead them away with the doers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel. (vs 1-5)
One of the regrets of my life was my failure to accept invitations over the years from various friends, e.g. Ron Pauls, Max Craddock, to join with them and others on trips to the Holy Land.
While such trips might be described as religious tourism, they could be viewed as a modern form of the medieval practice of pilgrimage. Granted, as an exercise of penance and with the hope of receiving spiritual credit, features of the latter might not be subscribed to. Yet the privilege of seeing places where Jesus walked, taught, died, was resurrected, and ascended, was and is special.
Pilgrimages were and are made to places other than to the Holy Land, even as the purpose and modes of travel might vary: e.g. by chartered bus, for spiritual inspiration and information, the tour of Restoration sites in Ontario that I conducted in 2011. Or, for anticipated spiritual credit, e.g. by foot, the shrine of Archbishop Thomas Beckett, in Canterbury, England (martyred by King Henry II, 1170. Cf. Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, in 1392, including 24 stories supposedly told by a band of pilgrims as they wended their way along).
Cf. “Pilgrim,” from Latin, peregrinus, literally a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey, and “pilgrimage,” perergrinatio, the journey undertaken, especially a long one, in order to see holy places, and/or relics, to pay homage, to worship.
It might surprise us to learn that pilgrimages were mandated by the Lord in early Israel! Deuteronomy 16:16 speaks of pilgrimages the Israelites were to make: “Three times a year all of your males shall appear before the Lord your God at a place that he shall choose, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.” Finally, that chosen place was Mount Zion, Jerusalem, at the temple that Solomon built.
We can envision Israelites from throughout Palestine and beyond, weary with travel, obedient to this injunction, drawing near the hills where Jerusalem was located, raising their eyes to the glittering temple that crowned Mount Zion! (Josephus describes the second temple, enlarged by Herod, as appearing from a distance as a snow clad mountain! Wars of the Jews 5.5.6.) What a moment! These pilgrims would be stirred by the words of the Psalm (74:2), “Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion where you have dwelt.”
And we can hear their voices breaking out in praise and adoration! Indeed, there are Psalms recorded that capture the moment. They are called “Songs of Ascents.”
There are fifteen such Psalms: Psalms 120 through 134. Each begins with the introduction, “Song of Ascents,” Shir Hama’doth. These pilgrims would cite these Psalms with both joy and solemnity as they ascended the holy mountain!
I have chosen Psalm 125 as a sample of this collection:
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
Ah, the anticipation of being with the Lord God of the universe for eternity!
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds his people,
From this time forth and forevermore.
Being in the security of God’s love and protection is the ultimate privilege in time and in eternity!
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous,
Lest the righteous stretch out their hand to do wrong.
Being a righteous citizen of the kingdom of God on earth is the golden objective of each one, then and now.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
And to those who are upright in their hearts!
God’s grace in the present kingdom empowers the believer in his righteous walk.
But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
The Lord will lead away with evildoers!
The thought sobers: God’s assistance is for all life, good or bad!
Peace be upon Israel!
The Christian life can be envisioned as a pilgrimage, a journey long for some, short for others, to the place of special holiness. As the end of the journey draws near, the believer’s joy increases, praise intensifies, Mount Zion shines more clearly, praise rings out with strengthening fervour!
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Praise be to the Lord!