Sentences from the Psalter (2): Whither the Tribes Go Up

Psalm 122:4

Going to meeting. It’s easy to take it for granted. Yet so special an event was the tri-annual “going up” of the tribes to Mount Zion that David even wrote psalms for them to sing on the way. They are called the Songs of Degrees or “Psalms of Ascent” (Psalm 120-134). The “going up” of the tribes to the holy convocations of Jehovah can be helpfully compared to attending assembly gatherings, especially since the word “convocation,” like church, signifies “something called out.” Here are eight features of the “going up” that hold valuable lessons for us today.

The Routine of the Going Up

Under the law God expected every Hebrew adult male to journey up to Jerusalem three times a year. It was part of their routine. Nothing was allowed to come in its way. To ease any fears that an enemy might take advantage of their wives and children in their absence, God promised to protect their property while they were away at Zion (Ex 34:23-24). The Lord expects the same commitment from every believer today. The constant diligence in breaking bread and prayer that marked the first assembly in Acts 2 should mark us. Ask yourself, if everyone attended the meetings as frequently as I do, how many would be there?

The Requirement of the Going Up

That said, the men of Israel hadn’t done their duty simply by showing up. They were also required to bring something with them – perhaps a firstborn calf or lamb, or a sheaf of corn. None were to appear empty before the Lord (Ex 23:15). Does God expect any less of us? Let all the saints come before His presence with a prepared offering of praise! The wise men who visited the infant Savior did not buy their gifts in the market at Bethlehem. They brought them from the land in which they lived. How different the meetings would be if we all arrived full of material we had gleaned at home during the week. No long gaps. No staleness. Oh for handfuls to present to Him when we meet together!

The Responsibility of the Going Up

The singing pilgrims had other matters on their mind too. Their songs urged them to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps 122:6) and to dwell together in unity (Ps 133:1). How needful this is for us. The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” yet we seem to find it easier to be peace-breakers! Let us commit ourselves to do all in our power to promote peace and unity in the local assembly. It’s well worth it, for there the Lord commands a blessing.

The Route of the Going Up

Zion was a unique location. The Lord had chosen it (Ps 132:13). He had put His name there and a faithful Hebrew wouldn’t have considered any other destination in the world. But Jeroboam had other ideas. He set out to divert the paths of the pilgrims away from the place of God’s appointment to other locations such as Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:29). Those in the Jeroboam-like ecumenical movement of our day want us to move from a Scriptural path to join them in a new place. God help us to “ask for the old paths, where is the good way” (Jer 6:16) and stick to the well-worn route of the “going up.”

The Reason for the Going Up

They were going up to give thanks (Ps 122:4). The feasts were a divine call to worship. Do we need to be reminded that assembly gatherings are not mere social events conducted by a group of people who “go to church”? When the people of God gather together, they form nothing less than a house for the Lord. Worshiping and serving Him in such a capacity is our highest activity, our greatest privilege, and our gravest responsibility. It’s the very reason why we go up.

The Reverence of the Going Up

Zion is called His habitation (Ps 132:13). Though the Hebrews knew their God was omnipresent, they also knew that He manifested His presence in a special local way in the Holy of Holies. The pillars of cloud and fire were constant reminders of that. Those who served in the Tabernacle were instructed to move, wash, dress, and serve in uniquely reverent ways. Bearing in mind that it is legitimate to take general principles for today from the actions of the priests in the tabernacle (1 Cor 9:13-14), should not our behavior in the house of God also be marked by special reverence? What kind of message do we express about the presence of God among us when we joke on the gospel platform, wear jeans and sneakers at the prayer meeting, or regularly arrive late for the breaking of bread? May God grant us a fresh vision of the reverence associated with the going up!

The Rejoicing of the Going Up

One of the most familiar verses in the Songs of Degrees is, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). The journey to Zion was eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed. What a moment it was when the pilgrims lifted up their eyes to the hills of Moriah, Olivet, and Zion and beheld the place of the Name! In certain countries in our world today the believers meet under the threat of arrest and death, yet the joy of meeting with the Lord compels them to gather together despite the danger. Oh that some of that holy joy might mark us!

The Recompense of the Going Up

The last sentence of the pilgrims’ songs reads, “The Lord bless thee out of Zion” (Ps 134:3). The pilgrims came to give; yet they never ceased to receive a blessing at the same time. Even in difficult and challenging conditions, when there’s little to encourage and much to annoy, as we meet with fellow-believers in His blessed presence, may we know much of the recompense of the Lord Who makes rich and adds no sorrow with it (Pro 10:22).