I heard a Jews for Jesus speaker at my church, and have been using the card that was given to us as a reminder to pray regularly for your ministry. The card suggests that we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Sometimes I wonder just what that means, and what I am really praying for. Could you address this topic?
This is a complex question that has triggered much thought and research. We felt that it needed more than a brief answer, so we have reproduced two articles that appeared in the Jews for Jesus Newsletter. We hope these articles will provide a deeper understanding of what it means for Christians to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” Have you ever wondered exactly what that means? This sixth verse of Psalm 122 is often used to motivate Christians to love and evangelize God’s ancient people, Israel. The second half of the verse, “…they shall prosper who love thee” (KJV), seems to promise God’s special blessing upon those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Other translations, however, read “May those who love you be secure” (NIV), or “May they prosper who love you” (NASB). Rather than a prophetic promise, these alternate renditions seem to be an admonition to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, indicating what this prayer should include. From the original Hebrew, either translation is valid because the words for the subjunctive mood and future tense are identical.
The King James translation comes closest to paraphrasing God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “And I will bless them that bless thee….” However, the other renditions of Psalm 122:6-7 equally support the idea, in that we are told to pray for something that is in accord with God’s will as set forth in another portion of Scripture. The alternate readings can promote a better understanding of what it means to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Then, as a further aid, the entire psalm should be studied.
The Setting of Psalm 122
In order to understand Psalm 122, and verse 6 in particular, we must go back to the time of King David. Three times a year, on the three major festivals, crowds of Israelites came to worship at the “House of the Lord.” In David’s time, it was not yet a temple (that was left to his son Solomon to build), but it probably was more elaborate than a mere field tent.
As the myriads of pilgrims made their way upward toward Jerusalem, they most likely sang the group of Psalms 120-134 known as the Songs of Ascent. Psalm 122 describes their joyful anticipation of being in God’s house and in Jerusalem itself, the focal point of Israel. This contrasted imagery of the eager, ebullient masses of Israelites and the solemn, subdued majesty of God’s house provides the setting for Psalm 122. In modern terms, if Manhattan were a site of worship rather than of business and residence, a mental image of millions of commuters streaming into the city might portray what the Psalmist was envisioning: rivers of visitors converging on the center of the nation.
What Did Prayer for Peace Entail?
Verse 6 is probably the best known portion of Psalm 122. The Hebrew words for “peace,” “security” and “Jerusalem” are all related. Shalom (peace) comes from a root meaning “whole” or “complete.” In addition, Jerusalem probably means “City of Peace.” It is therefore a play on words that the Psalmist asks prayer for the shalom of the city of shalom.
Today the term “peace” bears more of a negative connotation, implying absence of war or other evil forces, a state to be achieved when all enemies have been destroyed. Although this could be one Old Testament connotation, the concept is richer and far more positive, implying material and spiritual well-being, harmony and agreement as a gift from God. Thus, the idea in the second part of verse 6 is that those who pray for Jerusalem’s peace should in return receive comparable blessings, a wholeness and a harmony in their own lives.
As those pilgrims climbed toward Jerusalem, the rocky paths afforded them views of the surrounding countryside, their fellow travelers below, and perhaps even the borders of an enemy nation on the horizon. To them, the word “peace” suggested not only the cessation of war, but also the entire well-being that came from harmony between man and God, man and neighbor, man and self, and man and nature.
In verse 7 the “walls” would have included the ramparts, moats and other fortifications of Jerusalem. “Citadels” or “palaces” indicate the city’s prominent buildings. It is important to note the word “within” here and in verse 8. Again, it is not respite from war, but an internal harmony that the Psalmist has in mind. (His desire is well placed, for historians tell us that civilizations most often collapse not because of external forces, but because of their own internal decay.)
Reasons to Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem
In verses 8 and 9 the Psalmist gives two reasons for desiring the peace of Jerusalem. Prayer for this kind of peace — total harmony and completeness — asked for the well-being of Jerusalem’s inhabitants (“For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee”) and for the continuation of the Lord’s house as the proper place of worship (“Because of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek thy good”).
Note how the Psalmist was community minded. He mentioned brothers and friends; he referred to the LORD our God. And by asking for peace “within,” he showed concern for internal harmony between all the inhabitants of the city.
How Should We Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem Today?
In the year 70 A.D. a great national tragedy struck the Jewish people. As Roman legions swept down upon the “City of Peace,” the Temple, center of Jewish worship for thousands of years, was destroyed. It has never been rebuilt. Moreover, the Jewish people have been scattered over the face of the globe, so that today only about a third of the world’s Jewish population resides in Israel. How and what should we then pray, with neither the majority of the Jewish people nor the Temple any longer in the land of Israel? This very change in situation allows us to apply the psalm to our present circumstances. In fact, we could devise a prayer list based on Psalm 122 that might look something like this:
Pray for the Nation of Israel and for Jerusalem Itself
God promised Abraham that those who blessed him would be blessed and that those who cursed him would be cursed (Genesis 12:2 and 3). In Deuteronomy 30:7, Moses reiterated the curse, implying blessing by contrast, and making application to the Jewish people as a whole. How appropriate, then, to pray for the peace of Israel, the Jewish national homeland, and for its capital, Jerusalem.
Pray for the Countries Where the Jewish People Have Been Scattered
Hardly a country on the face of the earth has not had some Jewish inhabitants at one time or another. Furthermore, history records that in times of national distress or unrest, blame for a particular country’s problems more often than not fell on its Jewish inhabitants. It is ironic that the term “scapegoat,” applied to one who is made to bear the brunt of another’s mistakes, derives from Leviticus, a book given to the world by Jewish people in the first place! Yet Jews often have been scapegoats of the non-Jewish world. To pray, then, for the nations of the world where Jewish people live is not only commendable in itself; it will help to insure safety and blessing for their Jewish citizens.
Pray for the Countries Where Christians Live
When the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed, the early Jewish believers in Jesus knew that there was no longer a need for the Temple with its sacrifices because the Messiah had come as the final sacrifice for sin. Although there is no longer a Temple structure in Jerusalem, we Christians are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as the Psalmist prayed for Jerusalem’s peace for the sake of the Temple of God, we ought to pray for the well-being of those nations where Christians live. I Timothy 2:1-2 suggests that the welfare of the countries where there are believers is directly related to the ease with which Christians can live an open life style of faith — and hence, to the ease with which the Gospel can be proclaimed.
Pray for Unhindered Proclamation of the Gospel
Pray that many people of many nations might come to know the God of Israel. And as we come full circle on this prayer list, pray especially that many Jewish people, the descendants of those who built the Temple and wrote the 122nd Psalm, might come to know their Messiah. Only then will they know true peace, as Jesus Himself said when He wept over Jerusalem: “…If thou hadst known…in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hidden from thine eyes” (Luke 19:42).
In Psalm 122, the writer does three things: in verse 6, he exhorts prayer; in verse 8, he speaks, verbalizing his sentiments; and in verse 9, he seeks the peace for which he prays, acting to promote it. We who love the Lord should also pray, tell and act, to the end that Jerusalem, and by extension the rest of the world, might know Him who brings true peace. Yes, pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all that follows from that — and may you who do so prosper!
Jerusalem, The Holy City
“By the rivers of Babylon…we wept, when we remembered Zion…If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (From Psalm 137)
Psalm 137 expresses the longing of the Babylonian exiles for their homeland, and Jewish thought today still includes this yearning for Jerusalem.
What is the mystique of that eternal city? What mysterious feelings grip the Jewish heart at the mention of that name? Whether or not the hearer is the content and patriotic citizen of a country other than the state of Israel, and whether or not that Jewish person agrees with the actions and policies of current Israeli leadership, the name Jerusalem triggers an immediate emotional response. Although some might deny it, the consciousness of one’s Jewish identity seems to be tied somehow to Jerusalem and all that it symbolizes. Far more than a mere geographic site, Jerusalem is the “heartbeat” of God’s ancient people, no matter where in the world they reside. Jewish history and Jewish destiny are irrevocably and forever interwoven with those of Jerusalem.
The ancients considered Jerusalem the center of the earth. The site of the Holy Temple is there upon Mount Moriah; and in the bedrock of that summit lies a large, flat rock called Even-hashetiyah, purportedly the base and center of the world.
The ancient Jewish sages said of this rock: “And it was called the Foundation Stone because the world was founded on it, for Isaiah the prophet said, ‘Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone…a costly cornerstone of sure foundation.’ (Isaiah 28:16)
“From where did He [God) create it [the world]? From Zion, for the Psalmist sang, ‘Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined forth.’ (Psalm 50:2)
“And when the Holy One, blessed be He, shall renew the world, He shall renew it out of Zion. For Isaiah prophesied: ‘And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.'” (Isaiah 2:2)
In the third century, Jewish sages called Jerusalem the middle of the earth, saying, “…the land of Israel is the middle of the earth. Jerusalem is the middle of the land of Israel. The Temple is the middle of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies is the middle of the Temple. The holy ark is the middle of the Holy of Holies. and the Stone of Foundation is in front of the Holy of Holies.”
They also wrote, “The Almighty created the world in the same manner as a child is formed in its mother’s womb. Just as a child begins to grow…so the world began from its central point and then developed in all directions. The ‘navel’ of the world is Jerusalem, and its core is the great altar in the Holy Temple.
“This world is like unto the human eye, for the white is the ocean which ‘girds’ the earth; the iris is the earth upon which we dwell; the pupil is Jerusalem, and the image therein is the Temple of the Lord. May it be built speedily in our day and in the days of all Israel. Amen!”
Medieval maps show Jerusalem as the center of the universe, calling it Umbilicus Mundi (Navel of the World). There is a world map with Jerusalem at its center attached to an ancient Latin manuscript of the Book of Psalms (c. 1250). The map illustrates Psalm 74:12, “For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth [italics ours].”
Aside from geographical considerations, we see Jerusalem as the “center” of the world in that it is central in God’s plan for the human race. When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), we are praying for the place, for its people who live there and elsewhere, and for its prophetic destiny.
We ought to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and our motivation must come from Scripture as we examine God’s relationship to Israel. In Luke 19:41, we see that Jesus Himself wept over the city. In addition, we see the admonition in Isaiah 62:7, “And give him [the Lord] no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”
Ultimately then, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the kind of peace that only God can bring — the peace which, when it comes, will produce the end to wars and strife. This is the only lasting peace, the peace of Jesus the Messiah, a right relationship between God and all humanity. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for that which God wants most of all to bestow upon it — Himself. Prayer for the peace of Jerusalem includes prayer for His coming and for His Kingdom.
To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to weep over her with the Lord Jesus and to say with Him as recorded in Luke 19:42, “If thou hadst known…the things which belong unto thy peace!” It is also to know that although these things are hidden from Israel as a nation right now, they are being discovered and received by individual Jewish people; and it is our privileged duty to tell them — until the time when the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 will be fulfilled. Then God will pour out His Spirit upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and they will recognize the Messiah, and as Paul wrote in Romans 11:26, “…all Israel shall be saved.”