Psalms 120-134 were recited by Jewish pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts celebrated by the nation of Israel. These 15 psalms speak to anyone who is traveling—whether it is a trip from point A to point B, or the larger journey we make through life.
They were referred to as Psalms of Ascent because at about 2,500 feet above sea level, Jerusalem is the highest city in Palestine. No matter where you came from, you were traveling upwards as you approached the city (see Exodus 34:24 and note the phrase “go up”). Physically, this meant your journey ended with a taxing climb. Spiritually, it meant the closer you came to the city (and uniting with others in joyful worship and celebration of God), the higher you were. Difficulty and delight co-existed in the lives of these pilgrims just as they do in ours.
In the entertainment world, road trips provide the background for colorful stories, popular songs, and a seemingly limitless number of movies. Our personal road trips are less glamorous and tend to focus more on practical matters like the best way to get there, what to see and do, and the all-important question of where we will eat.
For the ancient traveler, road trips were of a different nature. Travel was primitive in terms of your mode of transportation, knowledge of road and weather conditions, availability of food and water, and personal safety. If you could, it was preferable to travel with a large group to ensure your wellbeing. Although that meant a slower pace of travel, you were compensated by the richness of community—where the challenges and joys of the road could be shared together.
The pilgrims who made these trips, turned to these psalms because they found comfort, encouragement, and inspiration in them. They were psalms for the road. They provided genuine help and aid to Israel and they can do the same for all of God’s travelers today.