June 4, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 87 (NIV)
He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you, city of God:
“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.’”
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.”
As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.”
Psalm 87 may strike a first time reader as an odd psalm. Why would an entire psalm be dedicated to people from various forgotten nations like Rahab (a poetic name for Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush? Furthermore, why would they be found boasting that they were “born in Zion” as declared in verses 4, 5 and 6 of the Psalm? We must understand that these nations represent the enemies of Israel. This is dramatic and shocking! To declare that Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush will have the same covenantal claims as a Zion born Jew is revolutionary. These verses simultaneously remember God’s promise to Abraham to bless “all peoples on earth” (Gen. 12:3), and anticipate Christ’s command for us to go to the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). It is an early declaration that God’s global purposes will someday include “every tribe, language and nation” (Rev. 7:9) as foreshadowed on the Day of Pentecost.
At one stroke, the seven verses of this single psalm demolish the widely held notion that the Old Testament is only about Israel or that the people of God in those days had a very narrow, parochial view of God’s wider redemptive purposes and we must patiently wait for the New Testament to show us God’s deeper plan. God’s global purpose is revealed from the beginning of the covenant in Genesis 12:3 when he promises to “bless all nations.” Zion here is symbolic of what it means to be counted among those embraced by the covenantal, redemptive love of God! He is the fountain of life for all nations and all people. This is why when Jesus cleansed the Temple of the money changers (who had occupied the Court of the Gentiles) he declared, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mk. 11:17). This is why we can join with this psalm and sing with all the nations of the world that “all my fountains are in You!” (vs. 7).