We’ve seen it on bumper stickers, facebook pictures, church worship service bulletin covers, and goodness knows where else – “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” It’s often accompanied with the Star of David, just to make it 100% clear that the nation of Israel is the object of this prayer request. <Google search> From our Jewish brothers and sisters, this makes perfect sense, but from Christians it does not, and I’ll show you why.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” is a line from Psalm 122, a nice short Zion Psalm, which means it focuses mainly on the topic of Zion – the dwelling place of God with mankind. It’s also among the Psalms of Ascents, a group of psalms sung by Jewish pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem before the various major feasts of the Hebrew liturgical year. Verses 6 through 9 in particular is the part relevant to this discussion.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Certainly for the original author and original Jewish recipients of this Psalm, this is a prayer for the safety and prosperity of the city of Jerusalem. But in the context of the New Covenant, this is transformed into something greater. Throughout the Psalms and the Prophets, Jerusalem (and especially Zion) serves double duty as both the city in Judea and the heavenly city at the end of the age where God & mankind will dwell together forever. This heavenly Jerusalem is described by St. John as a bride, which gives us the vital clue to realize that the New Jerusalem is the Church!
But what about the literal meaning of Psalm 122? Not everyone likes to talk about typology like this except as a last resort. Is there anything in Psalm 122 that forces Christians to see Jerusalem here as anything but the earthly city? There most certainly is: the last verse of the Psalm. I’ll print it again:
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.
The house of the Lord is the Temple. The city of Jerusalem today has no Jewish temple. As much as many faithful Orthodox Jews may wish to have it restored to them, we as Christians know that we don’t need the Temple building anymore. A greater Temple was raised up for us first in the person of Jesus Christ, and then in the Body of Christ as the Church!
What does this Psalm mean to us, then? When we pray through this (and pretty much every other Zion Psalm), we pray for the Church. For the sake of Christ we seek good for the Church. One way of understanding verses 6 through 9 could be thus:
Pray for the peace of the Church:
“May all who are in Christ persevere unto eternal life!”
May there be no division among us,
and security from sin and persecution.
For the sake of my brothers & sisters in Christ,
I will say “peace be with you.”
For the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,
I will seek your good.
With that rant out of the way, it’s time to address one final question: what’s so bad about praying for the peace of war-torn cities like Jerusalem? Nothing at all! Certainly as Christians we are called to pray for the peace of the whole world; wherever there is war, hatred, pain, evil, and sin, we must respond with prayer, compassion, charity, and the ministry of reconciliation.
Psalm 122 is a call to pray for our home city: the Church in her fullness as envisioned in Revelation 21. It’s not about praying for other cities and nations. There are plenty of other verses in the Bible to point us in that direction. And most certainly, Psalm 122 is not a call for Christian Zionism in any form. Though I suspect that’s another issue for another post.