What are the Songs of Ascents, and Why Do They Matter to Us Today?

What are the Songs of Ascents, and Why Do They Matter to Us Today?

by: Tiffany Dickerson

The book of Psalms is beloved by many Bible readers. They are poetic, worshipful, prayerful, and share a range of emotions that resonate with our hearts even today. The Psalms help us recognize our sin, seek forgiveness, and turn our hearts to worship our faithful God. But while many psalms mean a great deal to us as we post them around our homes, memorize them, and sing them, some psalms may seem harder to understand and apply to our lives today. One such group is the Songs of Ascents. 

 The Psalms help us recognize our sin, seek forgiveness, and worship God | TDGC

The Songs of Ascents are a group of fifteen psalms that range from Psalm 120 to 134. With the exception of four written by David and one written by Solomon, the authors of the Songs of Ascents are unknown. The term “ascent” describes the physical climb or walk to a summit. In the case of these psalms, the ascent is to Jerusalem. A bit of geographical context helps us better understand the climb to the holy city. 

 

Jerusalem is located on Mount Moriah, the highest point in the region of Israel. We’re first introduced to Mount Moriah in Genesis 22 when God tells Abraham to take Isaac there and then sacrifice him to the Lord. Once on the mountain, Abraham moves forward in obedience, but the Lord stops him and provides a ram for the sacrifice instead. This same mountain became the central place of rule and worship for the Hebrew people under King David. And later, King Solomon built the temple on this mountain where the Lord’s presence dwelt among His people. As the highest point in the region, the Bible often speaks of people going up to Jerusalem and going down from Jerusalem, even if the person or group is traveling north. The ascent to Jerusalem led men and women to the pinnacle of worship on the temple mount where the Lord’s presence dwelt.

 

When we read Psalms 120–134, keeping these facts in mind helps us better understand the authors’ intent as they wrote these psalms. Many Jews made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem each year to worship during the various feasts and festivals. These psalms were sung by the people as they made the ascent to Jerusalem. Their gaze was set on the holy city and the joy of worshiping the Lord. David describes this beautifully in Psalm 121:1–2 when he proclaims, “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

 

David knew that the Lord alone was his help in good seasons and hard seasons. When he ran from his enemies, when he ruled the nation of Israel, and when he became ensnared by his sin—David cast his gaze to his Maker whose presence dwelt in Jerusalem. 

 

The overarching theme of the Songs of Ascents is the very presence of God. By singing these songs on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, God’s people were reminded that His presence was what they needed most. Their physical posture of looking to the summit of Mount Moriah also lifted their souls to rejoice as they neared God’s presence in the temple. I will never forget the opportunity I had several years ago to tour Israel. While our group made the ascent in a tour bus instead of on foot or camel, I was struck by the vastness of the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. And when we crested that final mountain, laid out before us was the city and the temple mount. It was a truly breathtaking moment. I can only imagine the joy that the caravans of people so long ago experienced when at last their eyes rested on God’s temple. 

 The theme of the Songs of Ascents is the presence of God | TDGC

That joy remains for believers today. Even though God’s presence doesn’t physically dwell on the temple mount any more, it dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us through salvation in Christ. Now, when we read the Songs of Ascents we’re reminded to turn our eyes to the heavens as we await our Savior's return. We turn them to the Maker of heaven and earth who sits enthroned forever and we worship while we wait (Psalm 123:1). And we cling to the truth that one day, we will make our final pilgrimage and live in God’s presence forever. 

When we read the Songs of Ascents, we should look forward to our Savior’s return | TDGC 

Additional Resources for Studying the Psalms:

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Tiffany Dickerson

Tiffany Dickerson

Tiffany Dickerson lives in Chattanooga, TN with her husband, Michael and their young son. She works as a Staff Writer at The Daily Grace Co. and her passion is to help women fall more in love with Jesus through His Word. She loves history and utilizes it to help explain scripture through the lens of context and ancient cultures. When she isn't working you will find her serving at her church, frequenting local coffee shops, curled up with a good book, or adventuring with her family. You can connect with her on Instagram @tiffanypdickerson.