Have you ever noticed a little superscription the book of Psalms that says, "A Psalm of Ascent" and wondered "What does that mean, exactly?" Here's a little bit about these very special hymns of worship.
First, there are fifteen Ascension Songs, and they are Psalms 120-134. Second, of the fifteen in the collection, ten of them are penned by anonymous authors. Third, they were initially likely a smaller hymnbook that eventually was incorporated into the larger collection of the Psalms.
Why Are they Called 'Ascension Psalms?'
Traveling worshipers would sing these songs as they made their way to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the feasts of Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. The people of God would ascend up the mountainous terrain as they neared the sacred city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself sits at an elevation of about 2,700 feet. Hence, Psalms of Ascent.
During Passover (Exodus. 12:15-20), God's people remembered what YHWH had done in the deliverance of the Hebrew children out from under the tyranny of Egyptian bondage and slavery. The Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-44) was held in memory of God's faithfulness to his people as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The feast of Pentecost/Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22) was held fifty days (pente) after the grain and barley harvest.
Progressing Towards Jerusalem
As you begin reading through the Psalms of Ascent, you will notice that at first neither Jerusalem nor their travels are mentioned. However, that is by design. Old Testament scholar, Derek Kidner comments,
“It appropriately begins the series in a distant land, so that we join the pilgrims as they set out on a journey which, in broad outline, will bring us to Jerusalem in Psalm 122, and, in the last psalms of the group, to the ark, the priests and the Temple servants who minister, by turns, day and night at the house of the Lord.
— –Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p.430.
Lastly, don't forget Jesus himself would've traveled to these festivals, singing these songs amongst family and friends, participating in worship. After rising from the dead, Jesus said something that powerfully transforms the way in which we interpret, engage, and apply the Old Testament.
“He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
— Luke 24:44
Give yourself some time to reflect on what we see revealed in the gospels.
Remember that at Pentecost, Jesus is our Bread.
Remember that at Passover, Jesus is our Lamb.
Remember that at Tabernacles Jesus is our Home.