Have you ever taken a road trip and put together a play list or mix of songs for the journey? That’s what the Psalms of Ascent are. They are short and meant to be sung in praise and worship of God as you went to the temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 12-134 each bear an identical heading: “A Song of Ascents.”
Scholars suggest these fifteen psalms were sung and prayed by ancient Jews as they traveled toward the temple that they regarded as the dwelling place (the “home”) of God.
Jerusalem in the Bible represents the city of God, the place of the temple, the place where God dwelt and meet with his people. Jerusalem is located at about 2800 feet above sea level, and no matter what direction you approach the city from, you are always going “up” to Jerusalem. So, they are called the Psalms of Ascent because first of all they were sung by people literally going “up” to Jerusalem.
But they are also called Psalms of Ascent because the psalms themselves have an upward motion. They begin with the believer crying out to God in trouble far away from Jerusalem, and they end with believers offering up praise to God in his temple courts. And so these are travel songs – full of beautiful imagery, meaningful expression and divine wisdom for the journey.
And so as we read the Psalms of Ascent today, they hold great meaning for us as well. Because as Christians we also are on a journey – not on a literal journey to Jerusalem, of course, but rather a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage of the heart.