“I will record Rahab and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
Psalm 87 is one of the most surprising psalms in the biblical collection. It begins rather predictably, with praise for Jerusalem (more literally, Zion) as God’s holy mountain, the city that God loves, of which “glorious things” are said (87:1-3).
But then, in verse 4, the Lord speaks: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” What!? This is not merely a list of Gentile nations but also a sample of nations that have a long history as Israel’s enemies. Given what we often find in the Hebrew Scriptures, we might expect that the psalm writers, if they mentioned these nations at all, would celebrate their ultimate defeat. We would not expect these nations to be counted among those who know God, whom God regards as citizens of Jerusalem.
Psalm 87 is one of those stunning passages in the Old Testament that paves the way for the broad inclusiveness of the New Testament. This psalm anticipates the work of God in Jesus Christ, which offers salvation to all peoples and breaks down the walls of division between alienated people groups (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Psalm 87 finds its fulfillment in the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:24-26: “The nations will walk by [Jerusalem’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” Not only are the nations included in this vision of God’s future world, but they even contribute to it, offering their “glory and honor.”
The world we live in today is not this world, that’s for sure. Yet we do have the opportunity, as the people of God, to welcome people into God’s kingdom, even people who are not like us. The church can and should be a place where the nations gather in worship, friendship, and mission. And when we scatter into the world, we have the opportunity to extend the welcome of God to others. For many of us, our workplaces are, in fact, our best opportunity to show the inclusive love of God to people from other countries and cultures.
Ironically, perhaps no city on earth symbolizes hostility between peoples more than Jerusalem. Thus, when we read Psalm 87, our heart aches for the world, for the nations, and for the city of Jerusalem. We yearn for a day when God’s justice and peace will prevail on earth, when God will be known by all, and all will live as citizens of his kingdom. Until this day, Psalm 87 fills us with tender longing, even as it stirs up within us confident hope. The day will come when every knee will bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Maranatha! Our Lord, come!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you respond to Psalm 87? What does this psalm stir up within you? What thoughts? What emotions?
How does your understanding of God’s grace in Christ influence your reading of Psalm 87?
Where do you encounter people from “the nations” in your life? How can you demonstrate to them the love and grace of God in Christ?
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God.
He whose word cannot be broken
formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
See, the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
never fails from age to age.* Amen.
*“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” by John Newton (who wrote “Amazing Grace”), 1779.
Photo by Andrew Butler on Unsplash.