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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 87

Verse 1



The title we have chosen here is the title of a famous hymn which is founded upon this psalm.[1] It is set to the music of the Austrian National Hymn, composed by Franz Joseph Haydn, and the words are those of John Newman.

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 mayest smile at all thy foes.

"This marvelous little psalm is a prophecy of the glorification of the Church universal, when all the nations of the world have come into it."[2] "It is a Korahitic psalm; it is also prophetic of the time when God's chosen and beloved city shall become the birthplace of all nations."[3]

What a wonderful way of saying that "The word of the Lord shall go forth from Jerusalem," and that souls of every nation under heaven will be born into the New Jerusalem of God's Church. Born in Jerusalem? Indeed yes, by means of the New Birth.

There are only two divisions in the psalm: (1) Psalms 87:1-3, and (2) Psalms 87:4-6, with a final exclamation in Psalms 87:7.

The occasion for this psalm is unknown, but some have suggested that it might have been following the destruction of the Assyrian Army in the days of Hezekiah, following which, all the nations of the world of that era sent gifts and presents to Hezekiah in honor of the occasion.

Psalms 87:1-3


"His foundation is in the holy mountains.

Jehovah loveth the gates of Zion

More than all the dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.


"In the holy mountains" (Psalms 87:1). God's foundations are there in the holy mountains. Their holiness is due to God's presence there, not the other way around. God is not there because the mountains are holy, but they are holy because God is there.

"God loveth the gates of Zion" (Psalms 87:2). This choice of Zion as God's dwelling place on earth is as inscrutable as his choice of the "Seed of Abraham" through whom God would bring the Christ and salvation to all men.

"Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" (Psalms 87:3). These words announce that God Himself is about to speak "glorious things of the city of God," the wonderful words spoken in the next three verses.

Verse 4


"I will make mention of Rahab and

Babylon as among them that know me;

Behold, Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia:

This one was born there.

Yea, of Zion it shall be said,

This one and that one was born in her;

And the Most High himself will establish her.

Jehovah will count, when he writeth up the peoples,

This one was born there. (Selah)"

"Rahab and Babylon" (Psalms 87:4). "Rahab" here is a poetic word for Egypt; and the thought is that God shall be worshipped even in the oldest nations of the world. These nations, of course, were among the bitterest enemies of Israel and of Israel's God; and "The thought is that, Those who were once strangers and foreigners shall become fellow-citizens with the saints of God (Ephesians 2:19)."[4]

"This one was born there" (Psalms 87:4). This is not a reference to merely one, for it becomes, "This one and that one" in Psalms 87:5; and in Psalms 87:6, it is revealed that when God "writes up the peoples of the earth," when he calculates the number of the redeemed, he shall count only those who indeed were "born in her."

All of the other nations mentioned in the passage are merely representatives of "all nations," harking back to God's promise to Abraham, "in thee and in thy seed, all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 28:14).

Thus what is prophesied here is the worldwide triumph of the gospel of Christ. All nations and all countries shall be represented in the roster of the redeemed.

"The Most High himself shall establish her" (Psalms 87:5). Christ established His Church upon the Rock, that Rock being Christ himself; and that foundation is the most sure of anything in heaven or upon earth.

Verse 7

"They that sing as well as they that dance shall say,

All my fountains are in thee."

"All my fountains are in thee" (Psalms 87:7). "These words mean that all my springs, all of my sources of life, and of joy, and of happiness are in God."[5] Apparently these are the words of the psalmist.

Not only the glorious success of God's kingdom is prophesied here; but the time of the true exaltation of Zion will come, and will be accomplished, "By the gathering of the Gentiles into Zion."[6]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 87". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.