Thijs Booij, «Psalms 120–136: Songs for a Great Festival.», Vol. 91 (2010) 241-255
Psalms 120–134, the 'Songs of Ascents', are a functional unity. In early rabbinical tradition concerning the Great Hallel, they seem to be linked with Psalms 135 and 136; in the texts themselves this connection is quite clear. The Songs, as a collection, and the two psalms of praise apparently stem from the later post-exilic period, when they were used during the festival of Sukkoth. The Songs were recited in processions to the sanctuary; the psalms of praise were part of the liturgy proper.
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PSALMS 120â€“136 : SONGS GREAT FESTIVAL
Finally, on understanding â€œascentsâ€ as processional ascents,
the composition of the collection as a whole makes sense. To the
faithful of YHWH, often exposed to hostility and deceit, Godâ€™s
dwelling place was a place of brotherhood and blessing. Their
journey to that place is reflected in the arrangement of the texts.
Psalm 120 opens by mentioning YHWHâ€™s help for the faithful
calling on him in distress: an opening particularly meaningful to
those who, because of special deliverance, intended to praise God
â€œ in the midst of the congregationâ€ 26. The psalm goes on to picture
the animosity experienced by the faithful in daily life, a misery
complained of in so many Songs of Prayer 27. Psalm 121 then shows
the faithfulsâ€™ life as a journey made under YHWHâ€™s protection 28.
Together, Psalms 120 and 121 suit the first phase of the procession.
The texts following them can hardly be linked to specific phases;
they do fit in, however, with the ritual as a whole. Psalm 122, by
celebrating Jerusalem, articulates the feelings of worshippers from
outside. Psalms 123-129 deal with various aspects of Israelâ€™s
existence, in laments and prayers, expressions of confidence and
gratitude, blessings and lessons of wisdom. When the procession
draws near to Zion, there is a change of mood 29 : a sense of guilt is
sounded, expressions of humility and hope are being heard (Pss
130-131). Halting before the city gate, the singers recite the pre-
exilic Psalm 132, an introit text reminding God of his commitment
to David 30. Psalm 133 praises fraternal togetherness as a blessing
See Ps 22,23-27 ; 40,10-11; 107; 116,14.18-19; 1 Sam 1,3-5.21.
The names in v. 5 are used in a figurative sense, indicating aggressive
people. See vv. 6-7, also e.g. Ps 27,3 ; 62,4, and cf. Gen 16,12; 25,13; Isa
21,17 ; Ezek 32,26.
Although the idea of a journey underlies various expressions in this
psalm, there is nothing to suggest that a pilgrimage is meant. For a human
beingâ€™s way or journey as a metaphor of his life and undertakings see e.g. Pss
18,33 ; 139,3; 142,4; Prov 15,19; also e.g. 2 Sam 3,25. Verse 3a may be
compared with Pss 66,9; 94,18.
In a different form, this change may also be observed in Psalm 118.
There in vv. 6-13 Israelâ€™s affliction is presented as caused by human beings
(cf. Ps 129), whereas according to v. 18 it is a chastisement dealt by YHWH.
See Th. BOOIJ, â€œPsalm 132: Zionâ€™s Well-Beingâ€, Bib 90 (2009) 75-83.
In Ps 132 YHWHâ€™s â€œdwelling placeâ€ and â€œresting placeâ€ is not only the temple
or the temple mount, but Zion as a city; see vv. 7-8, 13-15, 17. In
Ps 118,19-20, similarly, the reference must be to one of the city gates: cf. Isa