Happy are those whose strength comes from you, who want to travel to Jerusalem. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it like a spring. The autumn rains fill it with pools of water. The people get stronger as they go, and everyone meets with God in Jerusalem. Psalm 84:5-7
As I prepared to travel to Israel, I noticed the biblical references to traveling “up” to Jerusalem.
It was almost time for the Passover Feast. Many from the country went up to Jerusalem before the Passover to do the special things to make themselves pure. (John 11:55)
They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. (Mark 10:32, NLT)
When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. (Acts 18:22, NIV)
The journey to Jerusalem always involves going up, because it is about 2500 feet above sea level on Mount Zion, on higher ground than all that surrounded it. If you journeyed to the holy city for one of the annual festivals, you’d travel with many others, and as you did, you’d sing Psalms 120-134, which are known as Psalms of Ascent because of the journey upward.
Even though I didn’t always notice the incline as I walked to the Old City many times during my trip to Israel, I noticed the change in elevation across the surrounding areas. There was another location in Israel that stands out to me more than Jerusalem when it comes to height: Masada. However, it’s located at a mere 190 feet above sea level. It’s towering height is directly compared to the Dead Sea, which is 1388 feet below sea level. When I read Scriptures like Psalm 84 referring to travelling to Jerusalem and consider travelling up to the city, I consider the climb up Masada.
I didn’t climb Masada by walking even though there is a path and I saw people on it. While I would have considered attempting it if I’d been by myself, I knew I’d miss the entire tour at the top if I tried it while my group was taking the cable car. Plus, the hike would certainly result in me being a puddle of smelly sweat by the time I defeated it. Masada looks like one huge towering mass of rock with a flat top. It ascends quickly, and the path is unprotected from the scorching sun. Walking around on the top to explore the remnants of the people who lived there was hot enough for me.
Psalm 84:5 says, “Happy are those whose strength comes from you, who want to travel to Jerusalem.” While I know the uphill climb to Jerusalem was more gradual than Masada, I also imagine the trek was long and arduous for many. They would need strength, and the best source of strength would come from God.
When have you needed strength during an uphill journey in life?
Traveling uphill takes effort. If you imagine being in a car on a steep hill facing the top of the hill, perhaps somewhere like San Francisco, you would easily coast backward to the bottom of the hill without having to do anything. With no effort, you’d descend. To stay in one place, you have to exert effort to at the very least put on the brake. In order to reach the top, you have to exert effort and rely on help from the car’s engine and other mechanics by pressing on the accelerator.
The way to spiritually ascend a hill and reach the top is being willing to exert effort, and even more important, relying on God for the strength and “how to” of ascending.
When you reach the top with God’s help, you will be renewed even when the process has been difficult. Psalm 84 refers to the happy people accessing God’s strength and nourishing refreshment of water. When people arrived in Jerusalem, they’d be spiritually refreshed and nourished. They might be physically exhausted. They might be in pain. They might be mourning someone who died along the way. They might be hungry. But there would be nourishing refreshment to mark the accomplishment of arriving where God wanted them to be.
God can refresh wherever he wants. Water doesn’t usually flow uphill. In fact, because water naturally flows downhill, the tops of unprotected and highly elevated locations are often quite dry. Such is the case with Masada. It is a parched land. There are water sources not far from Masada’s base, but to retrieve water on a regular basis would be exhausting. As a better option, Herod built a water navigation system to transport water from nearby wadis to two large cisterns at the top of Masada. This made Masada a powerful fortress for Jewish zealots years later.
God makes a way when there seems to be no way. God nourishes and refreshes in unexpected ways. We might hesitate to begin a journey because it doesn’t make sense to us. We can’t imagine it being for our benefit. We can’t imagine God would ask us to take such an arduous journey. We don’t know what’s waiting for us at the top. That’s often when God will have us take the first step of ascent.
Consider what currently looks like an uphill journey to you. Are you willing to rely on God through the journey in spite of your apprehension?
Take the first step. Or if you’ve begun the ascent but are getting exhausted, trust God for strength to continue. You can rely on him to refresh you with a spring that nourishes from within.