July 27, 2017

Tom Lowe


(“A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief musician upon Mahalath Leannothwith dancings and shoutings). 


Title: Hear a Just Cause, O Lord

Theme: Zion, the city of God 


Psalm 87 (KJV)

1 He has founded his city on the holy mountain.

2 The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

3 Glorious things are said of you, city of God:

4 “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.’”

5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”

6 The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.”

7 As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”


Introduction to Psalm 87

 This is another psalm that extols the glory of Mount Zion and Jerusalem (see psalms 46-48, 76, 125, 129, 137). Jerusalem is the most important city on earth. Not Washington or London, Paris or Peaking, Moscow or Rome, but Jerusalem is this world’s true center.  God has said of Jerusalem that He has set it in the midst of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5).  And this is so.  Draw a circle on a map with Jerusalem as its center and with a radius of about 900 miles; it will take in almost the entire Middle East.  Within that circle will lie Athens, Istanbul, Antioch, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Alexandria, Cairo, and Mecca.  Much of modern civilization is the offshoot of what happened within the compass of that circle, and Jerusalem is at its heart.

The city itself is mentioned by name more than 800 times in the Bible.  It stands where no city has any business standing.  It has no river, it commands no strategic highway, its roads have always lead straight out into the desert, and its topography is very unusual.  Giant slopes with rocky outcrops divide one area from another.  Its municipal confines are split apart by ravines, pitted with rock tombs, and sliced up by valleys.  Jerusalem is the subject of this psalm—Jerusalem, the city of the great king, the city of God, the holy city, the city of David!

It would be interesting to know who wrote this psalm and when. Some are convinced that Hezekiah was the author; others are sure David wrote it when he brought up the ark, or perhaps Solomon wrote it.  Whatever the occasion, the subscription indicates it was one of great rejoicing: “A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief musician upon Mahalath Leannoth” (with dancings and shoutings).  There were certainly dancings and shoutings when David brought the ark to Jerusalem.  We can be sure, too, that there were dancings and shoutings when Jerusalem was miraculously delivered from the Assyrian army in Hezekiah’s day. [Too much time has passed, so there is no way to know who wrote this psalm, but my study, thus far, suggests that it was on this occasion that Hezekiah wrote the psalm.] We can be sure there were dancings and shoutings when Solomon dedicated the temple.  There were shoutings and dancings in Jerusalem when the Jews kept the annual feast of tabernacles.  So, interesting as this subscription is, it does not help us much with dating the psalm.

The psalm must be read on two levels.  It is a prophesy of the future kingdom, when all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship (86:9; Isaiah 2:1-5), and it is also a picture of the heavenly Zion where the children of God have their spiritual citizenship (Luke 10:20; Galatians 4:21-31; Philippians 3:20-21; Hebrews 12:18-24).



He has founded his city on the holy mountain.

The psalmist begins with that which impresses everyone who goes to Jerusalem—Jerusalem’s foundation.  He (God) founded (established) His city in the “holy mountains.” In actual fact Jerusalem is built on the tops of five mountains. Undergirding the city are the mountains of Moriah, Zion, Ophel, Scopus, and Olivet.  Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level and the nearby Dead Sea is 1290 feet below sea level.  In the course of a mere 25 miles the land rises from the hot, tropical floor of the Jordon Valley some 4000 feet to the level where snow falls in winter.  All around there is a tangle of silent, dead hills, now being brought back to life by the return of the Jewish soul to the long did land.  Those hills were always Jerusalem’s first line of defense.  That was important in the days when armies marched on foot. 

This is where the government of the world will be one day.  Isaiah 2:2 tells us, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills and all nations shall flow to it.”

“He has founded his city”—the foundations of Zion were laid in the eternal choice and determination of God.  And those of the Church rest on the chief Cornerstone of our blessed Lord (Isaiah 28:16).  “Holy” surely means “set apart” from ordinary and common use.  All is holy which is set apart for God. 

“His city on the holy mountain” is, of course, Jerusalem.  The mount is holy because the Lord will return in Glory and holiness to the temple (see Ezekiel 4:3).  That Glory had been visible in the past in the tabernacle (see Exodus 40:34 and comment on Psalm 2:6) and will come again to the temple in the future.

The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

“The gates of Zion” are both its fortification and its place of gathering, and the Lord loves “the gates of Zion more than any other place in Jacob” (the land of Israel).  Mount Zion is synonymous with Mount Moriah.  It was the site of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22), and the location purchased by David for the temple at the Lords direction.

It was a great victory for David when Joab took the citadel of Zion from the Jebusites.  Zion was a rock escarpment on the ridge overlooking the Kidron Valley and the dark Valley of Hinnom.  It was a formidable national fortress.  Eventually the name was expanded to include the entire western ridge of Jerusalem and then expanded still further to embrace, in a general way, the entire city of Jerusalem.  When we read of “Zion” in the psalms we are reading about Jerusalem.

“Salvation is of the Jews,” said Jesus (John 4:22), and were it not for Israel, the world would not have the knowledge of the true and living God, the inspired scriptures, or the Savior.  Jesus died and rose again outside the walls of Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended on the church meeting in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and it was from Jerusalem that the early Jewish believers scattered to carry the Gospel to the nations.

By the phrase “city of God” we understand that Jerusalem was God’s city because there God met His people in praise and offerings.  Are you quite sure that you are safe inside through faith in Jesus?


3 Glorious things are said of you, city of God:

One authority renders that: “Thou art gloriously bespoken” (gloriously betrothed).  In old Hebrew as in modern Arabic the word “spoken,” when applied to a maiden, meant bespoken in marriage.  The fame of Jerusalem lies in the fact that it is God’s betrothed.  God declares Himself to be Jerusalem’s husband.

“Glorious things are said of you”—what glorious things have been spoken of the people of God!  They are the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession (1 Peter 2:9); the body and bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25).  To be where Jesus is, at the right hand of God—this is destiny.


Verses 4-6. The emphasis in verses 4-6 is on birth, indicating that the people who entered the future glorious kingdom will experience a “new birth” and belong to the family of God.  The phrase “those who acknowledge (know) me” indicates more than an intellectual appreciation of the Lord.  It describes a personal relationship with Him like that of husband and wife (Genesis 4:1; 19:8; 1 Samuel 2:12; 3:7). 


“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.’”

He calls the roll of the nations.  There was Egypt (the psalmist calls Egypt “Rahab,” just as we call the United States, “USA” or “America”), and there was Babylon.  “Rahab,” meanshaughtiness or pride. Egypt was the world power to the south; Babylon was the power to the north, the crewel oppressor of later times.  There was warlike Philistia, the ancient, hereditary foe whose fangs had been pulled by David, and there was Tyre, the great merchant city, whose king had been so anxious to be at peace with David and Solomon.  Finally there was Ethiopia, the far-off, fabled land far down the Nile.  “This one (or, nation) was born in Zion!” says the psalmist. 

 1. Egypt: Chosen for Its Glorious Past

It was something to have been born in Egypt with its mighty monuments that defied the tooth of time, its unbroken history dating back to the very ebb tide of the flood, its Pharaohs, and its glittering past. Egypt enslaved the Jews and yet will share with them citizenship in the city of God and membership in the family of God!  (See Isaiah 19:18-25).

 2. Babylon: Chosen for its Religious Power

It was something to have been born in Babylon.  Egypt was the country of the exodus, Babylon of the exile.  If David or Solomon wrote this psalm, it was written just about midway between the two. Babylon was one of the world’s famous cities with stargazers and seers, its roots running back as far as Nimrod.  Babylon was the source of all false religion.

 3. Philistia: Chosen for its Racial Pride

It was something to have been born in Philistia, where they worshipped Dagon, half man and half fish, whose head and hands had been cut off and whose stump had been pushed over by the living God when the Philistines robbed Israel of the ark; Philistia whose giant champion had been cut down by David.  Philistia, with its five lords and five cities, was powerful enough. 

 4.Tyre: Chosen for its Renown Prosperity

It was something to have been born in Tyre, the great mercantile capital of the world, powerful, wealthy, mistress of the seas.  Tyre was impregnable and wicked beyond words, with a religion spawned in hell.

 5. Ethiopia (or, Cush{1]): Chosen for its Remote Position

It was something to be born in Ethiopia from whence had come the queen of Sheba, up the long reaches of the Nile, across the sands of Sinai, up into the hill country of Judah, and on into Jerusalem with her gifts, her glory, and her hard questions to test the wisdom of Solomon.  Ethiopia is to loom again on the prophetic page as a confederate of the great northern power in its vicious attacks on Israel in the end times.

Write it down!  The resplendent past of Egypt; the religious power of Babylon; the racial pride of Philistia; the renowned prosperity of Tyre; the remote position of Ethiopia.  This man was born there contrasts the loneliness and insignificance of those who are born in Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, or Ethiopia, with the truly great prophets, judges, and kings of Jerusalem (Genesis 19:9; 1 Samuel 21:15; 1 Kings 22:27; Matthew 13:24; 26:61; etc).

“This one was born in Zion” means that the Gentile has been adopted into the covenant.  A clearer translation of this verse reads: “Egypt and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia, I count them as mine, for there this follower and that was born.” “This is Gospel; all those gentiles who know Him are being divinely registered as natives of the Kingdom of God.  But despite their foreign heritage, the people who worshipped God were considered as having been born in Zion.  Thus this psalm anticipates the New Testament teaching of the second birth (John 3), which makes different nationalities one family in Jesus Christ. 


Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”

It was one thing to be born in Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, or Ethiopia, but it was something regal and royal to have been born in Jerusalem. It was the ultimate.

We are living in a day when it is fashionable to pour contempt and scorn on national pride.  Radicals’ burn the flag, special-interest groups lobby for causes detrimental to the nation’s best interests as a world power.  Today’s youth pay billions to hear rock groups scream out obscenities and slogans deriding those in authority.  It has become fashionable to speak evil of dignitaries—one of the sure marks of an apostate age.

National pride is not wrong but is upheld in the Word of God.  Ever since the downfall of Babel, nationalism has been a God-ordained part of human life.  Paul could boast of his place of birth: “A citizen of no mean city.” Equally he could take pride in his Roman citizenship: “But I was free born.”

Of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her.” The meaning is “this one and that one,” “this man and that man,” or, “this nation and that nation,” shall be converted to God.  Zion would become the place where people from other nations would come to worship the living God.  This is prophetic of the coming of the gospel of Jesus, the spread of that gospel, and the culmination of the gospel in the rule of the Savior King (Isaiah 2:1-4).

The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.”

God is represented as making a “register” of the nations which have been born into His kingdom. There will be many who will turn to the Lord in that day, recognizing that they were deceived by the Anti Christ. What a glorious time this will be! For God’s writing their names in a register figuratively describes His ensuring them a place in Zion.

God is the keeper of accurate and perfect records.  Every man in the kingdom of Christ will be known by God the Father, and every citizen of that kingdom shall be registered by God for exceptional privileges.

In the future, when the Messiah returns to rule on earth in Jerusalem, Zion will be the focal point of God’s rule when people of the Gentile nations will worship the Lord at His holy mountain (Isaiah 56:7).  Although this list is brief and hence necessarily selective—the expansiveness and force of God’s mercy and grace (in fulfillment of His promises are poignantly emphasized by calling attention to the promise that some of Israel’s archenemies will be numbered among those who know Me (87:4).

Now we can identify the psalmist’s main point—WHEREVER THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BORN PHYSICALLY, THEY HAVE BEEN BORN SPIRITUALLY IN ZION.  She is their great mother.  And the Lord counts them not as so many Egyptians or Babylonians, Philistines, Tyrians, or Ethiopians, but as sons and daughters of Zion.  In the closing sentence the psalmist thinks of the glad worship in the Temple, the singing and the dancing of the sons and daughters of Zion, all of it worship of the Lord, yet of the Lord whose dwelling is in Zion, for verse seven, like verse three, is spoken not of but to Zion.

As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”

Singers and players on instruments will welcome the new citizens of the spiritual Kingdom.  The mention of singers and dancers (R.V.) summons to our mind the idea of a triumphal procession like that of Israel after the parting of the Red Sea.  Players on instruments has been otherwise translated, “they that dance,” “dancers,” or “in processionals”.  The difficulty of the Hebrew text accounts for the varied translations.  But the “my fountains (or, springs) are in you” reflects the fact that the ultimate source of joy and blessing is in the Lord and the spiritual city He establishes (87:5).

The thought can be rendered: “In Zion all are praising, in Zion all the fountains of joy and happiness are found.” This is what the Lord thinks of Jerusalem.  Despite all the error, apostasy, and self-will which have been found there since the days when Solomon reigned, it remains central in all God’s plans for the human race.

Standing where the psalmist stood when this psalm first was published and sent to the chief Musician, we can see that this psalm is a great national hymn.  It celebrates the place Jerusalem has, not only in the nation of Israel, but in the very heart of God. That is, however, just the primary appeal of the psalm.  There is a second strata of truth we need to see.

When the Psalmist says, “All my fountains are in you,” he may be looking forward to the life-giving waters which will flow from the temple in the Messianic Age, making the Dead Sea fresh (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Psalms 46:6; Revelation 22:1-3{2]), or to springs of salvation (as in Isaiah 12:3).  Either way, the springs are a source of life flowing from God Himself and Messiah the Lamb on His throne in Zion (Revelation 22:3{2]).  The image developed here indicates salvation, which is found only in the Lord (Isaiah 12:3).  This anticipated the salvation that God would offer through Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11).

Before leaving the Psalm, there is a personal application that should be made.  It is this.  A time is coming when God is going to register the people.  It will be the census of heaven’s inhabitants.  The great, single qualifying factor will be the new birth.  Only those who have been born again will see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5{3]).  So when God writes up the people, He will say, “This man was born again in such and such a place.”


Scripture and Special Notes:

[1} Cush (present-day Southern Egypt, Sudan, and northern Ethiopia.  They will be among the peoples who acknowledge him.

[2} “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” (Revelation 22:3)

[3} “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5).