Unity & Prosperity in God’s Presence
‘I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.’(v1)
Ascending to the third step we find the psalmist looking forward with hope (this will generally be characteristic of every third step through these Songs of Degrees). His hope is that the desire of his heart will be fully realised. That desire, as you see in the first verse above and the last verse, is to be in the House of the Lord – the place of God’s dwelling.
Hezekiah’s love for the house of the LORD is evident from his activity during the first 14 years of his reign, where he revived and re-established temple worship. He understood that Jerusalem -the city of peace – was the place where God had chosen to place His name, yet presently there was no peace. Hezekiah also desired all Israel to gather unified in worship of their God – note how often through 2 Chronicles 29-31 all of Israel are referred to – yet this was impossible.
Assyria was the immediate threat. Having already defeated the northern kingdom, they were now demanding tribute from Jerusalem, and Babylon was growing in strength on the horizon. Consider the words of Isaiah to Hezekiah at the close of his 39th year: ‘Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD’ (Isa 39:6). The immediate future looked very bleak.
Yet Hezekiah has hope, and this psalm begins with a most assured statement: ‘our feet shall stand within thy gates’. How could Hezekiah be so certain? The answer is found from chapter 40 of Isaiah onwards. The answer is found in Christ Himself.
Therefore, this psalm looks to the future, to the millenial day, when Christ will come again, restore His people and bring peace to Jerusalem. Then, all Israel will once again be not only gathered, but united. This is a wonderful message for the world, not just for Israel, but there is also much in this psalm that we can apply spiritually and practically right now as it concerns the local assembly that Paul describes as ‘house of God’ (1 Tim 3:15).
Unity in Thanksgiving
‘Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together: whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.’(v2-4)
Sowing seeds of discord is the first tactic of the enemy, and we see this in the words of that Assyrian, Rabshekah, to the common Jews who stood on the wall of the city: ‘Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand … Hearken not to Hezekiah … Make an agreement with me’ (2 Kings 18v29-31). It must have thrilled Hezekiah’s heart to see that this attempt to bring disunity failed, for we read: ‘But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was, saying, ‘Answer him not’’ (2 Kings 18v36).
Truly Hezekiah could say: ‘Jerusalem … is compact together’ (v3). The words ‘compact together’ literally mean ‘joined hand in hand’, and we see the people standing on that wall, all of one mind and heart, following their king. Could the same be said of us? How is it in our assemblies? If we want unity, we will only find it as we submit with one mind to the Lordship of Christ. (1 Cor 1v10; Phil 4v2)
Now, it’s beautiful to see that those standing shoulder to shoulder on the walls of Jerusalem were not just those from the tribe of Judah, but also a faithful remnant from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun in the north who ‘humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem’ (2 Chron 30v11). This was but a little foretaste of a future day when all Israel, and many from the nations will join with one accord to the King of Kings.
This is further referred to in v5: ‘for there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David’. It is interesting that the plural ‘thrones’ is used. We recognise that in that day, our Lord Jesus Christ will reign supreme, but then remember that in grace He gives to us, His saints, seats of authority and judgment: ‘Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? … Know ye not that we shall judge angels?’ (1 Cor 6v2,3).
If we are to one day judge others, let us first judge ourselves, and ensure we live out the truth that we are one in Christ: ‘for there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all’ (Col 3:11). In the verses that follow we find practical exposition about maintaining this bond of unity – worth considering in its entirety. For now, however, I just want to draw your attention to the closing words of the section: ‘And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him’ (Col 3:17).
Thankfulness is key.
To have a thankful heart is to have appreciation: for God’s blessings upon us, and for one another. Thankfulness helps us to stay humble, recognising I don’t deserve God’s daily blessing, neither am I able to do all things myself. It’s this attitude, I will focus on the positive: what God gives, and what others provide, and this in turn will foster unity of spirit in the company.
If on the other hand, I allow myself to become ungrateful, I will become ‘vain’ in my ‘imaginations’ (Roms 1:21), and thinking I deserve better from God and from others, I will focus on the negatives, complaining bitterly when something is not as I expect it. This can only lead to disunity.
Let’s determine that ‘in everything’ we will ‘give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’ (1 Thess 5v18).
Prosperity in Peace
‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.’(v6-8)
Having considered the wonderful hope of a day to come, how should that impact this day? The psalmist closes with an exhortation to pray. Pray in view of that day. Pray for it’s realisation. In particular, pray for peace.
First we pray on a global, political level, that we might live peaceful lives: ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty’ (1 Tim 2 v 1,2).
Then we come to a local level, for the psalmist’s particular concern is Jerusalem – the city of peace – the place where the LORD has chosen to place His name. For millenia there have been tensions, disputes and bloodshed in its streets, and you might ask why bother to pray for peace in Jerusalem?
The answer is that prayer is the vehicle by which our hearts; our attitudes and desires are aligned with our God. Then we can have godly impact in the here and now, that we may enjoy ‘peace within thy walls’ and ‘prosperity within thy palaces’, while we await the coming fulfilment in the Prince of Peace.
On the spiritual level, we have been applying these truths to the local assembly. All of us desire spiritually prosperous assemblies, but how we achieve this?
Firstly, we must realise that we cannot achieve it on our own. Prosperity really is a gift of God, a blessing upon those who love the Lord and live obediently according to His will. In the words of this psalm: ‘they shall prosper that love thee’ (Jerusalem). In other words, we will not have spiritual prosperity in our assemblies until we love the assembly: not the building, not the meetings, but the gathered saints.
If I love the gathered saints, I will do everything to be with the gathered saints. If I love the gathered saints, I will come prepared to give to the saints, not to get from them. I will desire their blessing, and be willing to do what I can – as God has gifted me – to be a blessing, not expecting anything in return. How we fall short in this? It is no wonder we are in a state of spiritual poverty.
Finally, we are reminded that our motivation should not simply be for ‘my brethren and companions sake’ (v8), but for higher purposes. As we gather as an assembly, we are not just a society of religious people or a social club. We are ‘house of God’, and my primary motivation in seeking the good of the gathered saints is the LORD’s presence.
The LORD our God has chosen, in our day, to place His name and dwell amidst His gathered people. When we grasp the wonder of this, and live in the light of it, then we will begin to enjoy spiritual prosperity once again!