What are the psalms of ascent? (what are the songs of ascent?)

When I was going through one of the hardest moments in my life, the Psalms of Ascent came in handy. I spent a considerable amount of time studying the songs over and over again, to get a deeper understanding.

So, last week, when one of my theology students asked about the Psalms of Ascent and how they provide hope, I explained to her in detail.

Inspired by her question, I decided to write this post for those of you asking, what are the Psalms of ascent?

The Psalms of Ascent are a unique set of songs that each come with this title. The first song is Psalm 120 and the last is Psalm 134. Many Bible scholars believe that these songs praise God for salvation, pray to Him for protection, and give hope to even modern believers.

In this article, I will shed more light on what the songs of ascent are and highlight their characteristics. Continue reading to discover these and so much more.

How many psalms of ascent are there?

Some Bible scholars believe that the Bible has fifteen psalms of ascent. They identify Psalms 120 – 134 as the Psalms of ascent. The psalms of ascent each have a theme.

The following are their themes in order from the first to the fifteenth. Some theologians classify the psalms as songs. They say that these songs’ common themes include prayers for protection, praises to God, and prayers for Jerusalem.

Others point out that some of these psalms are prayers to God for mercy, while some are for thanksgiving.

Why are they called Psalms of Ascent?

What are the psalms of ascent?
Why are they called Psalms of Ascent? Image source: Pixabay

Some theologians posit that these songs are “psalms of ascent” because the Levites sang the songs precisely at the fifteen temple steps. Some hypothesize that “ascents” is a translation for “steps.”

Others speculate that this collection of psalms has that name because Israelites sang them during annual pilgrimages in Jerusalem.

These scholars say that going to worship in Jerusalem looked like ascending a holy hill, hence the name. Some prove the name’s meaningfulness, saying there was no venue to sing the songs when the Babylonians destroyed the temple.

What are the characteristics of psalms of ascent?

  • Unique tag: Many Bible scholars point out that each psalm in this collection starts with the title “A Song of Ascents.” They say that this header is their unique tag.
  • Message of hope: Some Bible scholars hold that, overall, the theme of each song in this collection encourages those who worship God even in modern times. These songs reassure them that the Lord’s salvation is reliable.
  • Message of praise: Some theologians agree that these songs praise the Lord for his goodness and mention His good deeds.

Are messianic psalms the same as the pilgrim songs?

According to some Bible scholars, messianic psalms are distinct from pilgrim songs. They explain that pilgrim songs are precisely the fifteen psalms between Psalm 120 and 134, whereas messianic psalms spread across the book of Psalms.

However, some theologians speculate that messianic psalms are any psalm that refers to Christ. They explain that if anyone can draw a subtle reference to Christ in one of the pilgrim songs, it would qualify the song as a messianic.

What is the song of ascents in Psalm 126?

What are the psalms of ascent? 
What is the song of ascents in Psalm 126? Image source: Pixabay

Some theologians explain that the psalmist in this song composed it to glorify God for salvation from captivity. The singer expresses joy and disbelief that the Lord has restored the people of Israel and Jerusalem to their former glory.

Some Bible scholars even say that the singer believed that salvation was a miracle. Others say that this song is more than just an expression of disbelief.

They say this singer expresses heartfelt gratitude to the Lord for bringing His wondrous salvation upon His people.

What does the song of ascents mean in Psalm 121?

Some Bible scholars believe that this song gives glory and thanks to God for His salvation. They also theorize that this song shows God’s omnipotence, where the psalmist says that the Lord made everything in Heaven and on Earth.

Some theologians, however, believe there is a deeper meaning to it. They speculate that the song means salvation through Christ.

More elaborately, they explain that the ascent to the hill is synonymous with moving from the bondage of sin to the freedom that faith in Christ brings.

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