Psalm 87 – Citizens of Zion
This Psalm is simply titled, A Psalm of the sons of Korah. A Song. Charles Spurgeon observed, “This ‘Psalm or song’ was either composed by the sons of Korah, or dedicated to them: as they kept the doors of the house of the Lord, they could use this beautiful composition as a Psalm within the doors, and as a song outside.”
A. The greatness of Jerusalem.
1. (1-2) Zion beloved by God.
His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
a. His foundation is in the holy mountains: Yahweh is not a local deity; the whole earth belongs to the LORD (Exodus 9:29, Psalm 24:1). Yet He has a special regard for Jerusalem, which is described as in the holy mountains.
i. “The city owes all its stability and sanctity to him: the first word of the psalm is literally ‘His establishment’—an abrupt and emphatic opening—and its hills are (lit.) ‘hills of holiness’ because he is there; it is not the other way round. He is there simply because he loves the place.” (Kidner)
ii. “The psalmist’s fervent love for Jerusalem is something more than national pride. It is the apotheosis of that emotion, clarified and hallowed into religion. Zion is founded by God Himself. The mountains on which it stands are made holy by the Divine dwelling.” (Maclaren)
b. His foundation: God’s foundation is in Jerusalem also in the sense that it was the center of His redemptive work. Since God’s work happens in time and space, it had to happen somewhere, and God chose Jerusalem as the place where much of it happened.
· There Melchezidek, king and priest of God Most High, reigned and served.
· There Abraham was willing to offer Isaac and the mount of the Lord in which His perfect sacrifice would be provided.
· Israel’s greatest earthly king possessed and made it the kingdom’s capital.
· There the tabernacle of God found its fulfillment and permanence in the great temple David designed and Solomon built.
· There the institutions of sacrifice, worship, and priestly service were established for centuries.
· There Jesus recognized and honored the city and observed the feasts and temple rituals.
· There Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead.
· There the church was born in a day at Pentecost.
· There the apostles served and from which the Gospel went forth.
· There God has promised will be the physical center of His ultimate kingdom upon earth.
c. The LORD loves the gates of Zion: For all these reasons and more, God has special love for Jerusalem, regarding it even more than the rest of His Holy Land (Zechariah 2:12) Israel (more than all the dwellings of Jacob).
i. “As the dwellings of Jacob in the promised land were beloved by him more than the dwellings of other nations, so he ‘loved the gates of Sion more than the dwellings of Jacob.’” (Horne)
2. (3) Zion praised.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God! Selah
a. Glorious things are spoken of you: The Psalmist praised Jerusalem by noting what others said about the city. Many spoke glorious things about the city.
· Glorious faith was exercised in Jerusalem.
· Glorious things happened in Jerusalem.
· Glorious things were taught in Jerusalem.
· Glorious worship was offered in Jerusalem.
· Glorious atonement was made in Jerusalem.
· Glorious anointing was poured out in Jerusalem.
· God’s glorious presence was evident in Jerusalem.
· A glorious future awaits Jerusalem.
b. O city of God: God’s special regard for Jerusalem does not take away from the fact that He is Lord and God over all the earth. Still, there is a special way in which Zion can be called the city of God, because out of places in the earth God chose that place to center His redemptive work for the whole world.
i. This line from Psalm 87 was the inspiration of the title and concept of Augustine’s great work, The City of God. “Saint Augustine also chose it as the theme verse for his great masterpiece of Christian historical philosophy, The City of God.” (Boice)
B. The blessedness of the citizens of Zion.
1. (4) Boasting over the citizens of Zion.
“I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me;
Behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia:
‘This one was born there.’”
a. I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon: After a focus on Jerusalem itself, God spoke of the Gentile nations on every side of Israel, their rivals and often enemies. God promised that even among them there would be those who know Me – those who have true relationship with Him.
i. “Rahab is Egypt, and so called for its strength and pride. Babel, the chief city of the Babylonians. These were deadly enemies to Jerusalem, which was ground between them as between a pair of millstones.” (Trapp)
ii. “Tyre is the type of godless luxury and inflated material prosperity, and, though often in friendly alliance with Israel, as being exposed to the same foes which harassed her, she was as far from knowing God as the other nations were. Cush, or Ethiopia, seems mentioned as a type of distant peoples, rather than because of its hostility to Israel.” (Maclaren)
iii. Who know Me: “A translation of the Hebrew verb yadah, which has a rich variety of meanings. It can mean ‘know,’ ‘acknowledge,’ ‘understand,’ ‘be sure,’ ‘know about,’ ‘experience,’ and other variations… Here it means more than merely admitting that there is such a God as Jehovah or even acknowledging him as the one true God. It means coming to him in a saving relationship, bowing before him, and seeking to know him better.” (Boice)
b. This one was born there: This is both a promise and an invitation to the Gentile world. They could be accounted by God as the privileged one who was born there in Zion. They could be regarded as citizens of Jerusalem and be registered among God’s people.
i. This reminds us that even though God made His ancient covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants, relationship with Him was not based on genetics. Any from the Gentile world were welcome to honor the God of Israel, surrender to His Lordship and be reckoned among God’s people. This was true of Melchizedek, true of Rahab, true of Ruth, true of Naaman.
ii. It is also a prophetic picture of what God would do in and through the Gospel, bringing Gentiles into true and real relationship with Him, and doing it through a new birth. In a spiritual sense, it can be said of the one who is born again, this one was born there.
iii. “Thus, in a very short space, the psalmist indicates that in the day of God’s future blessing all the nations of the world (or at least representatives of all the nations of the world) will come to know and praise the true God.” (Boice)
iv. The confident words this one was born there are even more wonderful because the citizen does not say it of himself; God says it of him or her.
v. This also speaks to God’s love and attention for the individual. “Man by man will the Lord reckon them, for they are each one precious in his sight; the individual shall not be lost in the mass, but each one shall be of high account.” (Spurgeon)
2. (5-6) God records the register of His people.
And of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her;
And the Most High Himself shall establish her.”
The LORD will record,
When He registers the peoples:
“This one was born there.” Selah
a. Of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her”: The Psalmist repeated the thought from the previous verse and expanded it. The identification with Zion, the City of God, would be so wonderful and precious that it would be valued to say, “This one was born there.”
i. If a city is regarded as great or important, people enjoy identifying with that city. When we appreciate the high regard God as for Zion, the city of Jerusalem, we see the value in being regarded as her citizen, the city established by the Most High Himself.
ii. Of Zion it will be said: Kidner and others note that the Septuagint renders it something like this: and Zion shall be called a mother. Paul had this verse directly in mind in Galatians 4:26.
b. The LORD will record, when He registers the peoples: This citizenship and birthright is declared and recorded by God. It is He who registers the peoples.
i. The Bible clearly speaks of God’s special regard towards the land of Israel and Jerusalem specifically. Yet the idea of being a citizen of Zion and being registered as a born-citizen of His City is also a spiritual concept. The New Testament speaks of a heavenly Zion and our registration there: But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23). Paul also wrote ofthe Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26).
ii. In Jesus Christ, every believer can have the privilege of registration in Zion, of being a citizen of the heavenly City of God. This does not eliminate the special regard God has had, presently has, and will have for the literal land of Israel and Jerusalem, but it surpasses it.
iii. “Foreign nations are here described not as captives or tributaries, not even as doing voluntary homage to the greatness and glory of Zion, but as actually incorporated and enrolled, by a new birth, among her sons.” (Perowne, cited by Spurgeon)
iv. We can have the honor, the security, the confidence, the assurance that comes from it being said of us, this one was born there. “It will be an honour to any person to have been born in Zion. But how great is the honour to be born from above, and be a citizen of the Jerusalem that is from above! To be children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus!” (Clarke)
v. “Jehovah’s census of his chosen will differ much from ours; he will count many whom we should have disowned, and he will leave out many whom we should have reckoned. His registration is infallible.” (Spurgeon)
3. (7) The blessedness of Zion’s citizens.
Both the singers and the players on instruments say,
“All my springs are in you.”
a. Both the singers and the players of instruments say: This coming point was so important that both the singers and musicians of Israel emphasized it.
i. “The crowds in the earthly Jerusalem are celebrating with music, song, and possibly even dance. The verbal phrase ‘make music’ [players of instruments] is better translated as ‘dancing’.” (VanGemeren)
b. All my springs are in you: The springs refer to the spontaneous flowing sources of water and to the life, refreshment, and goodness they bring in a dry land. These springs are in you, and there is debate as to if you referred to Zion or to God Himself. It is better to see it as a reference to God.
i. “The expression, in you, could grammatically refer either to the Lord or to the city.” (Kidner)
ii. The goodness of God often comes to us like water from a spring. It seems to bubble up from a hidden, secret source.
iii. “What all these references are saying is that ‘every good and perfect gift is from above’—that is, from God. All we are or hope to be, all we have or ever hope to have, all we attain or ever hope to attain is from him. The people of God acknowledge this and praise God for it.” (Boice)
iv. “If all my springs are in God, then let all my streams flow to God. All the rivers run into the sea, because they all came from the sea. It was from the sea that the sun drew up the clouds which fed the thousand rills which fall into the rivers, and so the rivers run back to the sea. Let us do the same. What we have had from God must go to God.” (Spurgeon)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission