The translation I am reading out of, the NLT, has the brief subtitle: a song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. The motion written out in this psalm is that of one who is approaching Jerusalem, the temple, the place where God lives. You can imagine that as pilgrims and travellers who were going to the temple in order to make a sacrifice, or pray in the presence of God, they might begin to really think about their lives and history of sin as the reality of coming into the presence of a God who dwells in the holy of holies. They would see the first glimpses of the city on a hill, the walls of the city and the tops of the buildings drawing ever nearer. They were drawing ever nearer to the presence of the One whom they knew has power over life and death, who has the power to judge, and who has the power to forgive. This psalm moves from sin and despair to hope in forgiveness, faith, and love.
The Psalms in general are the true embodiment of faith, hope, and desperation expressed through words. They represent the mood, as it were, of those who lived throughout the times of Moses, David, and the exile. Perhaps more pointedly, they are for us who profess Jesus Christ as Lord, the thing that above all else connects us to those who have come before throughout the centuries precisely because they are the prayers that Jesus would have said. This is the day before the night when Jesus was betrayed. I imagine that Jesus, knowing His time was approaching would have thought upon this psalm thousands of years ago, from a place of despair, thinking of the days to come. And still He was able to say, “I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on Him.” Just as Jesus depended upon His Father for comfort and redemption from the grave, we too depend upon Christ and what He is about to do for us. ‘O Israel (O Nelson, O Breton, O Saskatoon, O Durban, O Sarnia), hope in the Lord; for with the LORD there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows. He Himself will, and has redeemed you, from every kind of sin. Repent and believe the Gospel.