Steps of Ascension towards Jerusalem

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Shared Thoughts

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments. As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Ps 133:1-3)

The above psalm is the fourteenth psalm of fifteen which have been grouped together and are known as the “Songs of Degrees” or “Steps of Ascension.” The assemblage of these fifteen psalms have drawn considerable reasoning from commentators over the centuries, though none have been able to determine just when they were originally so group together, especially because they are not all penned by the same human author. Nonetheless, a prayerful reading and mediation of them will leave a humble seeker pierced to their heart of both their divine inspiration and order.

It is a very common consensus among many commentators that these psalms were sung in their respective order by the male Jewish pilgrims as they progressed along their three annual journeys back to Jerusalem for Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Festival of Weeks) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Therefore, before I delve into the importance of the Songs of Degrees and ultimately Psalm 133, I would first like to succinctly touch on the significance of those High Holy Days and why God required these cyclical pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

The first pilgrimage back to Jerusalem was to celebrate Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread which occurred in early spring and included firstfruits from the first harvest, barley. Passover was on the 14th of the first month, and then followed the seven days of Unleavened Bread in which God’s people were to only eat bread that was unleavened as well as remove all leaven from their homes. The implication simplified is that God’s people were to keep themselves and their households free from sin.

If one pauses to consider both the feast’s duration of seven days combined with the reflection that “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years,” it is easy to see how this festive week of Unleavened Bread (or any given week for that matter) can serve as a prophetic typology for lack of a better phrase, a millennial week. That foundation for thought submitted, I hope it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for anyone’s reasoning to see such as analogous of the duration of time God has fixed for mankind to “work out their salvation” that they might enter into the Rest (Millennium Sabbath) of the Lord. Some might object noting that by including the day of Passover to seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread that it would make a total of eight days and would it not therefore negate the typology of a millennial week? No, not when you consider that each Feast has a prophetic message of its own and that also Jesus Christ is/was the Passover Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, even before Creation.

Revelation 13:8 All who dwell on the earth will worship Him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Exodus 12:11 “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’S Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 ‘Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 ‘On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that  which everyone must eat-that only may be prepared by you. 17 So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance.”

The second pilgrimage is for Shavuot/Festival of Weeks, which took place seven weeks later in spring and it too included the first fruits from the wheat harvest. Since Shavuot is connected to a counting from Passover it is not tied to a particular calendar date, rather a set period of time based upon the offering of the Lamb. The name Shavuot means “weeks” and in the Greek the name for this holiday is Pentecost, which means “50th.” Again, during this feast two loaves of unleavened bread were used in a “wave offering.”

According to Jewish tradition Moses received the Law from God at Mount Sinai during Shavuot, while later in the New Testament we see God’s giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost when the apostles being filled with the Spirit then preached with boldness and power the gospel of Jesus to thousands of God-fearing Jews from every nation who had come to Jerusalem to observe Shavuot. Again this was a harvest time both naturally and spiritually when God harvested many Jewish believers that day into His Kingdom. Greater still, Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks still prophetically speaks of a remaining end time harvest as foretold by Zechariah after God destroys the nations that are even now gathering against Israel in these last days –

Zechariah 12:2 “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. 3 “And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.

Zechariah 12:9 “It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. 11 “In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

Once more, in the nearing last days, that remnant of Jews that are disposed to God’s salvation will be pierced in their hearts and will yet again mourn as they did on the day of Pentecost –

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Under the chastisement and conviction of the Holy Spirit, that remnant will be made aware of their poverty of spirit and will brokenly cry out to their Messiah, and as Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn, they shall be comforted.” God has a standing promise that He will dwell with the contrite and humbled ones, of whatever nation or tongue, and will give them His Spirit.

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. 16 For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would fail before Me, And the souls which I have made. 17 For the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry and struck him; I hid and was angry, And he went on backsliding in the way of his heart. 18 I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will also lead him, and restore comforts to him and to his mourners.”

Ac 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, 35 But in every nation he that fears Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him. . . 44 While Peter spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.

Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” 4 And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations. 5 Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, And the sons of the foreigner Shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. 6 But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, They shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, And in their glory you shall boast. 7 Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs. 8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, And will make with them an everlasting covenant. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, And their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, That they are the posterity whom the LORD has blessed.” 10  I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a Bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a Bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its bud, As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

Jeremiah 3:22 “Return, you backsliding children, And I will heal your backslidings.” “Indeed we do come to You, For You are the LORD our God. 23 Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, And from the multitude of mountains; Truly, in the LORD our God Is the salvation of Israel.

The third journey is for Sukkot/ Feast of Tabernacles which is in the fall for the final harvest which included firstfruits, primarily of olives and grapes. It is a time for the Jewish people to remember how they wandered through the wilderness after leaving Egypt and that the wilderness was never intended to be their home. For the wilderness was merely a necessary way to travel from their old bondage to the Promise Land flowing with milk and honey. It was later, after being established in the Promise Land, that Sukkot became known as the Feast of In-gathering since the feast followed their fall harvest. It also became known Season of Our Rejoicing, and rightly so seeing as God commanded the Jewish people to rejoice. This too was a seven-day celebration, this one marking the end of a long, hard agricultural year.

However, before Sukkot is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is on the first day of the seventh month which begins with the blowing of the Shofar.

Leviticus 23:24 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.

Following the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah, on the tenth day of the seventh month, is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is undoubtedly the most important holy day for Israel. Through the Law came the clear revelation of sin and the written commandments requiring God’s people be holy, it therefore became necessary that an atonement, a blood sacrifice, be made for their sins. Without the shedding of blood there was no entering into the Holy of Holies, but not only atonement, but neither could there be any unconfessed or unrepentant sin in the heart of the priest or there would be certain death.

Once again it was after a season of hardship and labor filled with plowing, sowing and watering and the intense spirituality of the Day of Atonement, that later on the fifteenth day of the seventh month the feast of Sukkot followed. This was the biggest feast of the year. Because of its extreme festivities it became simply known as “The Feast” and could reasonably be compared to a week-long Thanksgiving holiday, an American holiday which many believe was modeled by Puritans after this biblical feast. It seems evident to me that the feast of Sukkot points forward to the final ingathering of God’s People.  Therefore, Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles serves as a prophetic festival pointing the marriage supper of the Lamb and when God’s kingdom will be finally established on earth. However, Sukkot will also continue through the millennium reign till the final ingathering of the redeemed of the Lord at the end of the millennium.

Zechariah 14:16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

Now at this point I would like to remind every one of the teaching of Paul concerning the cutting off of the natural branch (Israel) for the gathering in of the Gentiles and what he said regarding their being grafted back in?

Romans 11:15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

What is this “Life from the dead?” Is this the blowing of the Shofar, the last trump, the resurrection of the saints and the glorious transformation of those that remain in the twinkling of an eye? Surely the time is drawing near. But let us not forget God’s admonition to us all in Deuteronomy –

Deuteronomy. 16:16 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. 17 “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.

Perhaps a good way to gain understanding of  this is to prayerfully reconsider Jesus parable of the talents which was given to each person according to their several ability. What was given unto us is expected to be used wisely for our Lord; those who received in it vain and were not faithful stewards with it will be punished accordingly. Likewise we too have been given grace, to each a measure according to his gift of calling and therefore we cannot afford to come empty-handed before the Lord; for He is going to reward each of us according to our works.

Proverbs 24:12 If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?

Jeremiah 17:10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind. Even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.

Jeremiah 32:19 You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.

Matthew 16:27 “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Romans 2:5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness–indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 14:11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

Revelation 2:23 “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

Revelation 22:2 “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.

Now three times a year the  Jewish males were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,  a pilgrimage to reflect on from whence they came and to celebrate His giving them His Law and His Spirit. This was also a time to consider that there remained yet another time  ahead of great festivity at the final harvest of the ages.

As Christians, we too are to be headed towards Jerusalem, the heavenly one . . . and likewise, none of us can afford to be empty-handed in that day. Fortunately we don’t have to come empty-handed because of the blessings of the Lord. With our atonement God has equipped us with His grace, His divine indwelling and empowerment to bring forth good fruit to perfection, that we might be called “Trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

Heb 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.

However, this journey is supposed to be one of ascension, leaving behind the carnal and temporal for the spiritual and eternal. Each man started out alone from his own home and soon converged with other pilgrims as they then together traveled the road back to Jerusalem. On this journey we are to learn to perfect love and holiness as we strive for unity with our brothers, sisters and our Savior. Only then will we be able to say we’ve finished our course, fought a good fight and have kept the faith . . . only then will we obtain true unity.

Once again I will say it, “Unity is the corporate fruit of overcomers; it is also the answer to a fervent prayer of a righteous Man.”

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You. That they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

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