Psalm 132 celebrates the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem during the time of David. Though it was probably not written by David (see v. 10, where David is referred to in the third person), it seems to have been penned prior to Solomon’s dedication of the temple (see 2 Chronicles 6:41–42, which quote vv. 8–10 of this psalm). This places the psalm early in the history of Jewish temple worship.

How glorious that day of dedication must have been! How wonderful for the people to remember David’s passion for the temple and rejoice in Solomon’s commitment to see the project through. How glorious for generations of Christians to sing this song as they travelled to the temple to worship the Lord.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever so gladly anticipated corporate worship that you have freely sung to the Lord on the way to the gathering? Have you ever felt such lightness of soul that worship has felt free and glorious? What a wonderful experience.

But let’s be honest: That’s not what every worship experience is like. These same words, which were perhaps recited with great celebration at the dedication of the temple, and by generations of faithful Jewish worshippers after that, were also sung by generations of post-exilic Jewish worshippers. It was one thing to sing at the dedication of the temple, which they believed would stand forever. It was quite another thing, no doubt, to sing these same words with the lingering thought of the Babylonian exile in mind. I imagine that worshippers who had lived through the exile sang these words with a very different attitude than those who first sang them.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever driven to the gathering with a burdened heart? Perhaps you were disillusioned with relationships in the church or weighed down by your own sinful failings of the past week. Perhaps God felt inexplicably distant, and you were left wondering how committed he was to his promises. How did you respond? How should you respond?

The returning exiles who sang this song needed to remember a simple truth: Their worship was a response to God’s promises, not to their emotions or their feelings of connectedness. The people committed, “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool” (v. 7). The basis of this commitment to worship was God’s own promises (vv. 11–18).

For worshippers who had lived through the Babylonian exile, it may have been difficult to believe that the Lord would not turn back from his oath to David (v. 11). Could they really believe that a descendent of David would always sit on the throne (vv. 11–12)? How could they confidently affirm that Jerusalem was the Lord’s chosen dwelling place where he would rest forever (vv. 13–14)? Could they really believe that God would abundantly bless Zion and that her people would find salvation and joy at every step (vv. 15–16)? Experience suggested otherwise but the key to joyful worship was to believe and respond to God’s promises, not what they saw with their eyes.

Do you know what it is to be disillusioned with worship? Let Psalm 132 remind you that worship is not primarily about what you see and experience but about responding to God’s revealed promises in his word. If you have been clothed with salvation, you can shout for joy in worship because God is faithful to his promises.