In Psalms 125:2, Jerusalem is presented as a metaphor for the people of Israel, and the mountains that surround Jerusalem are a metaphor for God who protects His people. The previous verse in Psalm 125 uses similar imagery regarding those who put their trust in God.
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which will never topple and will forever endure. – Psalms 125:1
It is important to note that the subject of this psalm is neither Jerusalem nor Mount Zion. Rather, in these two verses the psalmist describes how God protects the righteous who put their trust in Him. Jerusalem and Mount Zion are brought as metaphors to describe this relationship. In fact, after these opening verses, Jerusalem is not mentioned again in the psalm.
Why Mount Zion?
The metaphors of Mount Zion and Jerusalem for “those who trust in the Lord” and “His people” respectively, are worth looking at more closely. Verse 1 states that “those who trust in the Lord” will never fall, just as Mount Zion “will never topple.” What exactly does this mean? Is it not the case that most mountains on earth are never going to topple? Couldn’t the verse have stated that those who trust in the Lord are like a mountain that will never topple, without mentioning a specific mountain? Why is Mount Zion singled out if the point of the verse is that those who trust in the Lord will endure like mountains?
What is this Psalm about?
To understand the true meaning of these verses, let’s take a close look at the full text of Psalm 125.
1 A Song of Ascents
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which will never topple, and will forever endure.
2 Jerusalem, mountains surround it;
And the Lord surrounds his people,
from now until eternity.
3 Indeed, the rod of wickedness will not rest
upon the lot of the righteous,
lest the righteous set
their hands to wrongdoing.
4 Be good, Lord, to those who are good,
and to the upright in their hearts!
5 As for those who twist their crooked ways,
May the Lord lead them away with the evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel!
As I mentioned above, Mount Zion and Jerusalem are not the primary subject of the psalm. Most of the psalm discusses the struggle between good and evil, asking God to prevent the wicked from getting the upper hand as He protects the righteous from their power and influence. The psalm concludes with the prayerful declaration, “Peace be upon Israel!”
If the subject of Psalm 125 is the struggle of good over the forces of wickedness, why is Jerusalem chosen as the metaphor? And why does it conclude by praying only for Israel? It should be noted that several psalms discuss the battle between good and evil. Psalm 92 is one good example. Unlike our psalm, Psalm 92 makes no mention of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, or Israel. After all, the struggle between good and evil is not limited to a specific place or nation. It is universal.
To sum up our question, the subject of Psalm 125 is how God protects those who trust in Him from the power and influence of corrupt evildoers. The psalm opens with the metaphorical comparison of the “those who trust in Him” and “His people” to Mount Zion and Jerusalem. It then concludes with the words “Peace be upon Israel.” Why is the struggle with the forces of evil framed in this way? Is the psalm about Jerusalem and Israel, or is it about the universal struggle against evil?
Jerusalem and the Defeat of Evil
In its long history, the city of Jerusalem has been conquered forty-four different times. It was destroyed twice, besieged twenty-three times, and famously divided by the nations of the world for 19 years. Considering Jerusalem’s tumultuous history, it is surprising that this psalm refers to God protecting His people as the mountains protect Jerusalem.
What exactly is God protecting the righteous from in this psalm?
Look back at verse 3:
Indeed, the rod of wickedness will not rest upon the lot of the righteous, lest the righteous set their hands to wrongdoing.
The psalmist is concerned not for the safety of the righteous, but for their righteousness. His concern is “lest the righteous set their hands to wrongdoing.” He is worried about the righteous becoming corrupt as a result of the influence of the wicked.
The goal of Israel, and of all who have faith in the God of Israel, is for knowledge of God to cover the earth like water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9). A critical component of this vision of the perfect world is the restoration of the people of Israel to their land and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The nation of Israel is called to be a beacon of God’s teachings and values to the world. This is expressed in Isaiah’s end times vision, “from Zion shall go forth Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). The many verses that elaborate upon this vision of the future are far too numerous to mention here.
Zion and Jerusalem represent the kingdom of God; the perfect world that we are striving for. There is no triumph over the wicked without the success of Israel. There can be no defeat of evil without the rebuilding of Zion and Jerusalem. The particularistic declaration that ends Psalm 125, “Peace be upon Israel,” is not separate from the prayerful request for God to protect the righteous and lead the evildoers away. They are one and the same. The success of Israel and the struggle against evil are two sides of the same coin.
Consider the past century. During this period, the greatest forces of evil on earth have been Nazism, Soviet communism, and Islamic fundamentalism. Regardless of the significant differences between these ideologies, they have all shared one central feature. All these evil movements have made the Jewish people their primary enemy. If you ask yourself who the greatest forces of evil are in the world today, you will find that they hate Israel. This is exactly as it ought to be.
Israel has always been the focal point of the struggle between good and evil. This is the subject of Psalm 125. God protects those who trust in Him. God holds back the influence of the wicked. He grants victory to the righteous. This victory is ultimately expressed in the success of Israel.
This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for Zion. Verses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, and he is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast