The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 87

Psa 87:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "OF THE SONS OF KORAH. A PSALM. A SONG." The 12 "Korah" psalms (Psa 42-49, 84, 85, 87, and 88) -- which all point to the times of Hezekiah: see esp the notes on Psa 42/43. The "Korah" psalms are characterized by their high regard for the service of the Temple of the Lord (see Psa 84:10 and Psa 87:2,7).

V 1: Isa 28:16, about the great altar of burnt-offering (see WBS 111-116), has the same Heb root. The dual refs to Selah in this psalm (vv 3,6) confirm such an identification.

(NT) His (Yahweh's) foundation, in the building of His spiritual temple, is Jesus: "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner" (Psa 118:22; cp Isa 28:16; Mat 21:42 / Mar 12:10 / Luk 20:17; 1Pe 2:6-8; Act 4:11; Eph 2:20-22).

Psa 87:2

THE GATES OF ZION: Emphasize the temple rather more than the city. It was through these gates that the ark entered the Holy City (Psa 24:7-10), and through the same gates that Christ himself will enter (Luk 21:28)!

(NT) Cp Rev 21:10-14, with its wall, and its gates, and its foundations (with the apostles' names, as in v 6 here).

MORE THAN ALL THE DWELLINGS OF JACOB: "Jacob" = the separatist northern tribes. Also prob allusion to the massive Assyrian destruction of cities throughout the Land -- in all, "46 fenced cities". "Dwellings" = Heb "mishkanim", used for the Tabernacle in the wilderness. As Korah rebelled by setting up a rival tabernacle of worship, so also the northern kingdom had set up its "pseudo-sanctuaries"! These dwellings were the "high places" often refd to in Bible history. Ct the "holy mountains" (plural: denoting either the several mountains of Jerusalem, or the one great mount of Zion) of v 1; note the scornfully dismissive force of "all the dwellings of Jacob". Cp Psa 132:13,14. That is, more than all the earlier dwelling places of His ark: ie Shiloh (Psa 78:60; 1Sa 1:3), Bethshemesh (1Sa 6:13), Kirjath-jearim (1Sa 7:1), Gibeah (2Sa 6:3,4), and the house of Obed-edom (2Sa 6:10-12).

Psa 87:3

GLORIOUS THINGS ARE SAID OF YOU, O CITY OF GOD: And plenty of those were spoken by Hezekiah's contemporary, Isaiah: Isa 2:2-4; 12:6; 24:23; 35:10; 49:14-16; 51:3,11,16; 52:1,2,9; 54:1,2; 59:20,21; 62:6,7; 65:18,19; etc.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 87:4

(NT) Here are Gentile nations being brought to understand the Covenant Name of God: see Isa 2:1-3; 60:11.

I WILL RECORD...: This Heb word is nearly always used in association with Yahweh/Jehovah, the Covenant Name of God, His Memorial (v 6).

RAHAB AND BABYLON: These two were the outstanding rivals of Assyria, whose army was destroyed so sensationally outside Jerusalem. So this v may be linked with 2Ch 32:23 and Isa 39 -- in fulfillment of Psa 86:9 -- as those nations now give (at least nominal) allegiance to the God of Israel and Hezekiah (cp Psa 68:31 also). In Sennacherib's campaign Philistia and Tyre had been compelled to give support to the Assyrian campaign (Taylor prism). Now they too, apparently, give glory to the God of Israel. (Surely it is significant, in this context, that Assyria is not mentioned.)

RAHAB: "Braggart" or "insolent one". It is a code name for Egypt (Psa 89:10; Isa 30:7; 51:9). (1) Egypt, in Psa 87:4; 89:10; Isa 30:7. That the defeated sea dragon Rahab should serve as a metaphor for Egypt is understandable when one recalls the oppressive role which Egypt played with regard to Israel before the Exodus and the location of the heart of the Exodus deliverance at the sea (Exo 14–15). Cp the allusion to Pharaoh as a dragon in Eze 29:3–5; 32:2–8. (2) Apparently, a mythological sea-monster in Isa 51:9; Job 9:13; 26:12. Poss ref to the crocodile of the Nile, sym of proud Egypt and her gods. See Lesson, Rahab (Egypt).

THIS ONE WAS BORN IN ZION: Is there any special virtue about birth in Jerusalem? Consider, over the centuries, how many villains first saw the light of day there. But if this is read as meaning newborn there, then all is clear: Hezekiah, as good as dead, was given a new lease of life there, an experience which contributes much towards making him one of the finest types of Christ in the OT (see Psa 80). No wonder this psalmist (Hezekiah himself?) mentions this new "birth" three times (vv 4,5,6). And, furthermore, through the reformation of this fine king many an apostate man of Israel came to a new spiritual life there.

(NT) Where else but in Zion could God's gift of immortality be bestowed? To associate this ultimate blessing of God with Sinai is both un-Biblical and unseemly; surely Eur 2:553 is mistaken on this point. See Lesson, Judgment seat at Jerusalem. Also, additionally, see Psa 102:18-22; Isa 4:3; 40:9; 51:16; and Mat 27:53 (a foreshadowing). The prophet Joel spoke of the deliverance to be found in Zion and Jerusalem, for all who call upon (or call themselves by?) the name of the Lord (Joe 2:32, cited in Act 2:16-21). It is surely appropriate that some of those who heard and responded to the preaching of Peter on that day had come from Egypt (Act 2:10; v 4 here).

Psa 87:5

Or, as LXX: "A man shall say, Zion is my mother." Paul corroborates this with his allusion to this v in Gal 4:26: "But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother" (cp also Isa 54:1-3,13; 66:7,8,13). The apostle Paul was both "free born" naturally -- as a citizen of Rome (Act 22:27,28), and "free born" spiritually -- as a citizen of Zion! (A city and a woman are interchangeable also in Rev 21:2,9,10 -- where John looks for a "bride" and sees instead a city!)

THE MOST HIGH HIMSELF WILL ESTABLISH HER: That is, for ever! Zion is the true "eternal city" (Psa 48:8; 125:1,2)! This verb echoes the name of one of the great brazen pillars in the temple: Jachin. It is also a key word in the great promise made to David: see 2Sa 7:12,16. The divine name here -- Elyon -- often comes in a Gentile context. It was used also by Melchizedek, the king-priest in Salem, or Jerusalem, who blessed Abram after his return from the slaughter of kings who came from Assyria/Babylon (Gen 14:18-20).

Does our birthplace really matter,
Palace, cottage, mansion, slum,
Village silence, city's chatter?
Life has sown, and life did come.

Yes, it does. It really matters,
Born we great or born we less.
We can change our earthly tatters
Into robes of righteousness.

There's a birth we can rely on,
Born in Christ our Lord anew,
Choose your birthplace -- make it Zion;
Endless life 'twill bring to you. (NPH)

Psa 87:6

"The Lord records, as he registers the people..." (RSV). An inspired history of this period was written by Isaiah (2Ch 26:22). (NT) God's "book of remembrance", or "book of life", is alluded to in Psa 69:28; 139:16; Mal 3:16; Exo 32:32; Dan 12:1; Phi 4:3; Luk 10:20; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27; 22:19. So in the register of God's "book of life", the names of the faithful will be written, and they will be "registered" as though born in Zion, the city of the great King... for there is where their eternal inheritance may be claimed.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 87:7

Cp the songs of Hezekiah: Isa 38:20 ("my songs").

ALL MY FOUNTAINS ARE IN YOU: That is, "my most important spring is IN you." Up to the moment of angelic judgment upon Sennacherib's army, Jerusalem had to rely on the channel of water brought into the city through Hezekiah's conduit (2Ki 20:20). So, quite literally, the water of this spring was in Zion! It was fitting therefore that there be special ref to this in the celebration of deliverance; hence also Isa 12:3-6 (in v 3 there, "wells" is sw as "fountains" here) and Psa 46:4 ("city of God", as in v 3 here). "The waters of Zion flow through my heart" (NPH).

(NT) Springs or fountains produce "living", or flowing, waters -- sym the Word of Life (Isa 12:3; 55:1,2). Only Jesus can provide the water of eternal life, such that -- if a man drink thereof -- he will never thirst again (Joh 4:14; 7:37,38; Rev 21:6; 22:1,17). Out of the side of Christ the smitten Rock there flowed out water (Exo 17:6,7; Joh 19:34; 1Co 10:3,4), which became at last a fountain for the purifying of all uncleanness (Zec 13:1; cp with Zec 14:8). "For with thee [and with thee only!] is the fountain of life" (Psa 36:9).

SUBSCRIPTION: "A SONG. A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH. FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. ACCORDING TO MAHALATH LEANNOTH". Mahalath (cp Psa 52) means "dancings" (Song 7:1; Exo 15:20; 32:19; Jdg 11:34; 21:21), and recalls -- in Psa 87's context of divine worship -- David's dancing before the ark when it was brought to Zion (2Sa 6:5,14,15; 1Ch 15:16,25-29; cp v 7 here). Leannoth signifies "shoutings" -- ref to the chanting songs of the dancers (cp v 7 again). It is poss that the great deliverance of Jerusalem (and Hezekiah) from Sennacherib's host (v 7) was the occasion of festive singing and dancing, and that this in turn was reminiscent of a similar celebration at the time when David first brought the ark to Zion.

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