The Babylonian captivity had shaken Judah to the very bone. After years of moral decadence and spiritual indifference, the harsh realities created by the destruction of the temple and their relocation outside of their homeland challenged their arrogant assumptions of having the LORD on their side and forced them to evaluate their relationship with the Almighty. Consequently, following their captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, Israel still wondered whether they had been forgiven and whether their former rebellion would negate the promises made to David. Therefore, reflecting on the events that led to the ark of the covenant and the temple coming to Jerusalem originally, the psalmist then offered divine reassurance that the LORD’s promises remained true and His purpose intact. Thus, as a song of ascent, when generations to come approached Jerusalem—some along the same path that the ark itself followed—this psalm provided a reminder of why they came to Jerusalem and that God’s promises still stood.
The opening words of the psalm provide context for David’s motivations when he sought to bring the ark up from Kirjath-Jearim to Jerusalem after finally unifying the kingdom. Rather than a political statement of his ascendancy and dominance, this proved his heart to be sincere and humble, giving diligence and his complete focus to bringing attention to the Lord’s glory rather than his own (Psa. 132:1-5). Skipping over the unfortunate episode of Uzzah, the psalmist concentrates on David’s desire to bring the ark close to his home so that he might freely, regularly, and openly worship his God (Psa. 132:6-7) and the ultimate fulfillment of David’s hopes when Solomon dedicated the temple, quoting from his closing words on that day (Psa. 132:8-10; 2 Chr. 6:41-42) though with a far more poignant context. They had abandoned all of this in chasing after idols, and now they sought renewal in reestablishing worship in the second temple during the time of Ezra. Thus, the reassurance of what follows served as a reminder for that generation and the generation that followed of the character of their God—merciful, forgiving, and true to His word.
The reflection upon the original hope begun in the heyday of Israel’s faithfulness serves as an important foundation for the subsequent reflection on the power of God’s promises and their implications for Israel’s future as they returned from the humiliation of captivity to restore worship and reverence in imitation of David’s heart and purpose. Therefore, despite the way Judah’s kings had been forced from the throne by Babylon, God stood by His promise to David that his dynasty would never end (Psa. 132:11-12). How this would come about, particularly during an era when no king ruled, remained a mystery, but the power of the promise stood firm and thus provided reassurance of Israel’s purpose. Moreover, despite the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the LORD still had a plan for Zion. Neither Judah’s rebellion nor Babylon’s destruction changed that (Psa. 132:13-15); therefore, the LORD would fulfill once more the hope of providing salvation and joy (Psa. 132:16), just as in the days of Solomon (Psa. 132:9). But this hope would not be realized in the immediate aftermath of the return, nor in the people as a whole, but in God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, whom God still promised to send. He would rule with authority and wisdom. He would conquer His enemies. He would be crowned as Priest and King and so enjoy a reign filled with blessings for all His subjects (Psa. 132:17-18).
For centuries the Jews would sing this psalm as they made their way to the temple during the great feasts, anticipating the day that David’s Descendant would ascend to the throne. Jesus Himself likely sang it as He went to Jerusalem, first with His family and then with His disciples. And yet, all the while, it pointed to Him. God was indeed true to His Word in sustaining the lineage of David until He could send His Son to be King, in renewing Zion’s place as the place of salvation and joy through the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost, and in giving Jesus all authority (Matt. 28:18) as the rightful Heir of the throne and crowning Him as King of His Kingdom after He ascended on high (Psa. 68:18; Eph. 4:8-10). The Jews of the second temple period could only rejoice in anticipation of the promise; Christians can rejoice in its fulfillment.