Celebrating the Return to the Temple – Psalm 132
“Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool! Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy.”Psalm 132:7,9
Take a moment and read Psalm 132.
The overriding theme of this royal psalm is God’s covenant with the house of David (2 Sam. 7:4-16) to establish the dynasty for the good of the people, and eventually, to bring the world into covenant with the Lord. Most of the psalm expresses confidence in these promises, and the requests in the psalm are for God to carry out his purpose. As a Song of Ascent, this psalm recalls how the dynasty of David was established to ensure the stability of the realm, especially stability for the restored Jerusalem.
Psalm 132 is a liturgical song to be sung in procession as the faithful enter into the Temple of the Lord. The first half of the psalm, verses 1 through 9, is sung outside the doors as the people make their way toward the Holy Place. The remaining verses, 10 through 18, are sung after the congregation has made their way into the courts of the Temple. This is a re-enactment of King David’s celebration as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem and the king danced before the Lord. The Psalmist is recalling the past in order to encourage and inform the present, and to pave the way for future generations to remain faithful to the covenant and to the worship of the Lord in His holy Temple.
But what about the Ark of the Covenant? There is no record of what became of the Ark when Jerusalem was conquered, the Temple destroyed, and the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon. The first book of Esdras (1:54) says that the Babylonians “took all the holy vessels of the Lord, both great and small, with the vessels of the Ark of God, and the king’s treasures, and carried them away into Babylon.” But it doesn’t mention the Ark itself. In Rabbinic literature the final disposition of the Ark is disputed. Some rabbis hold that it must have been carried off to Babylon, while others hold that faithful priests and Levites under King Josiah hid the Ark. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon state that the Ark was, in fact, taken into Babylon. Rabbi Yehudah, dissenting, says that the Ark was stored away in its own place, meaning somewhere on the Temple Mount. But the Ark of the Covenant had been taken captive before, by the Philistines, during the days of Samuel. When the Ark was brought back from the Philistines, Scripture says, “As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded” (1 Samuel 4:5). It seems likely that after the return from exile, the Ark was restored to the Temple from wherever it had been hidden. And the Psalmist is recording the celebration accompanying its return to the Temple as the “saints shout for joy”.
For those of us who have made our home in the New Jerusalem, we can join with the ones singing this Song of Ascent and “shout for joy.” As Patrick Reardon summarizes for us in his book Christ in the Psalms, “The Church reads all such texts as prophecies of course, finding their fulfillment solely in Christ our Lord. He is at once the new Temple and that very son of David who gives defining substance to God’s covenant sworn to the son of Jesse. When we pray this psalm, it is entirely with reference to its fulfillment in Jesus, the Anointed One and the Temple” (p. 264).