Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.
A Song of Ascents, of David.
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Our feet are standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, that is built
As a city that is compact together;
To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the LORD–
An ordinance for Israel–
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
For there thrones were set for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.
If you were to ask me to name one region of the world which has consistently been war-torn and unstable throughout my lifetime, my answer would be a no-brainer: the middle east. And in the center of it all? Jerusalem. A city of controversy, war, and, at times, even chaos. Israel itself is a nation of two displaced people groups, both fighting over a plot of land about the size of New Jersey. So small, and yet so prominent in history.
According to Strong’s (#3390) the name Jerusalem literally means yarah – ‘to cast – a lot, an arrow; an archer’ shalam – ‘to be whole, sound, safe.’ Established as a Jebusite city long before Israel entered the promised land, Jerusalem became the central focus for all Israelite worship from King David’s time up until its destruction in 70 A.D. Yet the Jerusalem of today seems anything but peaceful. In fact, the temple which sits on the Mount of Jerusalem is dedicated to a god foreign to the Israelites, while most of the areas surrounding the Temple Mount remain in contention as to who any of it belongs to. But according to the Psalmist, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.’ Nothing really belongs to us.
The Psalmist began his journey to the feasts with a cry for peace. Now he is calling his fellow Israelites to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But what does Jerusalem refer to here? Is it the city itself that the Psalmist is praying for? Perhaps. But the city of Jerusalem always represented something much more important in Scripture – the community of faith – a safe place of communion with God and one another.
There’s a little phrase in this Psalm that always makes me chuckle: “a city that is compact together.” I remember hearing a man talk about his years in Jerusalem once and what stuck out to me was his house’s close proximity to his neighbor. He said that he literally could hear him zipping up his pants in the morning! I get the sense that Jerusalem was designed with community in mind. You know, that thing we have lost here in America … that sense that we are part of a larger group, not just a bunch of individuals pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.
In a very real way, technology has robbed us of any sense of community. Think about it. I’m writing to you from inside my closed house, and we are communicating without ever having to interact face-to-face. Air conditioning has eliminated the front porch interactions people used to have on a hot summer evening. Television and the internet have become our sources of information; but it used to be that news traveled fast in a small town, especially when broadcast from the local diner or barber shop. The truth is, I know very little about my neighbor who lives no more than 10 yards from the side wall of my house. We have no real reason to interact. And so, instead of risking a contrived interaction, we simply remain isolated.
Jerusalem represented community. It was THE location where all of Israel gathered 7 times a year for interaction with one another. It was the place where God had chosen for His presence to dwell on earth, and there His people came together to seek Him as one community, not just for an hour, but a week – sometimes 2 – at a time. And they didn’t just interact together, they remembered. They remembered their history as a nation, remembered their failures and successes, and above all their corporate relationship with the God who had called them to be a blessing to the world. But when you bring a million or two people together in one place, all looking for places to sleep and eat, some of them now speaking different dialects, many of them worshiping or believing a bit differently, but all part of one culture, you are bound to have conflict. What could be more of a necessity in that situation than peace?
According to World Christian Encyclopedia, there are “over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries,” having increased in number from 8,196 in 1970. Every year there is a net increase of around 270 to 300 denominations.
I found that little quote here. In my experience the churches of the same denomination in a town can’t even get along. More than ever the community of God needs peace. More than ever we need to pray for it. I hear people praying for unity, but without peace first … ? Unity means we all agree, peace means we agree to disagree and love one another in spite of it. I once heard this quote regarding unity of thought amongst Israelite teachers: ‘If you ask 10 Rabbis their opinion of a particular passage of Scripture, you will get 20 answers.’ And yet, they all consider themselves to be part of God’s chosen people – the Jews. On some level they are at peace with their differences.
According to this website there are close to 30 unresolved conflicts going on around the world right now. Reminds me of the classic Miss America answer to the question of what her greatest desire is: ‘World Peace.’ Let’s face it, we all want peace. Peace in our homes and families, peace at our jobs, peace in our churches, peace in our world. Maybe the answer to our lack of peace is our misplaced focus. Today I read a quote from a friend of mine re. Miss San Antonio: ‘She said she wanted world peace, now she just wants a piece of the world.’ (Thanks, Randy.) Isn’t that the real problem? We all want a piece of the world. His world. We’re all thieves at heart. The only way to peace is to take our eyes off of ‘our piece’ and focus them on our Prince of Peace. Isn’t that what the Psalmist was heading to Jerusalem to do – worship – focus on God as part of one community of faith? As he made his way there he expressed a heartfelt cry for peace. And so I too will pray for the peace of Jerusalem – the city of the people of God – all mankind. Peace be with you.