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Songs of Ascents

ASCENTS, SONGS OF. The title given to Ps.120.1-Ps.120.7-Ps.34.1-Ps.34.22. There is uncertainty about the origin of the title. Some Jewish authorities attributed it to the use made of fifteen steps leading from the court of men to the court of women in the temple. The Levitical musicians performed with these steps as the stage. Some scholars attribute the title to the way in which the thought advances from step to step, as seen in Ps.121.4-Ps.121.5, Ps.124.1-Ps.124.4, but not all these songs do this. Because Ezra (Ps.7.9) used the word hamma‘lah, meaning “a going up from Babylon,” some have thought the title originated when exiles were returning to Jerusalem during the reign of Artaxerxes in Babylon. The most logical explanation is that the title was given the series of hymns because they were used by pilgrims going up to the three annual pilgrimage feasts of Jerusalem (see Feasts).

These lovely pilgrim songs should be studied in groups of three: In each triad the first finds the pilgrim far away (e.g., Ps.120.1-Ps.120.7, he feels himself an alien in Kedar; Ps.129.1-Ps.129.8, still among enemies); the second in each triad concentrates on the Lord’s power to preserve, whatever the vicissitudes of the way; and the third is a psalm of arrival and security in Zion. In this way the whole “pilgrim hymnbook” is vibrant with the theme of going up and going home to Zion.