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This psalm, like some others, is entitled “a psalm or song;” that is, it so far combined the properties of both a “psalm” and a “song” that it might be called by either name. See the notes at the title to Psalms 65:1-13. The phrase “for the sons of Korah” may mean, as in the margin, “of the sons of Korah.” See the notes at the title to Psalms 42:1-11.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is unknown. The design of the psalm is obvious. It is to exalt Zion as a place to dwell in, and to state the privileges or advantages of having been born there; the honor of such a birth, and the benefit which would he connected with it, from having been brought early under the influence of the true religion, and from having been trained up amidst its institutions. The practical truth which is suggested by the psalm is the honor and benefit of having been born in a land where the true religion prevails; of having been born in connection with the church; of having been early devoted to God; and of having had the benefits of a religious training. The foundation of what is said in the psalm is the honor which we naturally associate with the idea of birth; birth as connected with a family of distinguished worth, wealth, or rank; birth as connected with a particular country, city, or town.
His foundation - This is an abrupt commencement of the psalm. The adjective “his” has been supposed by some to refer to the psalm itself, and this expression has been considered to be a part of the title to the psalm, meaning that the foundation of the psalm is the holy mountain where the praises of God were celebrated; that is Zion. This, however, is a forced and unnatural interpretation. The most obvious explanation is to refer it to God, and the meaning is, that his “foundation,” or that which he had founded and established, to wit, the place for his worship, or for the institutions of religion, was in the holy mountains of Jerusalem. It would seem that the psalmist was contemplating the city - looking on its walls, and its palaces, and especially on the place which had been reared for the worship of God, and that he breaks out in this abrupt manner, by saying that this was what God had founded; that here he had established his home; that here was the place where he was worshipped, and where he dwelt; that this was the place which he loved more than all the other places where the descendants of Jacob dwelt.
Is in the holy mountains - The mountains of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is surrounded by hills, and within the city itself there were the hills of Zion, Moriah, Acra, and Bezethah; See the notes at Matthew 2:1. These sacred hills God had selected as the place of his solemn worship - of his own abode. Compare the notes at Psalms 48:1-2.
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion - Compare Psalms 78:68. The gates of a city were the places of concourse; where business was transacted; where courts were held. The particular allusion here seems to be to the thronging multitudes pressing into the city for public worship - the numbers that gathered together at the great feasts and festivals of the nation; and the meaning is, that he looked with more pleasure on such multitudes as they thronged the gates, pressing in that they might worship him, than on any other scene in the land.
More than all the dwellings of Jacob - Than any of the places where the descendants of Jacob, or where his people dwell. Much as he might be pleased with their quiet abodes, with their peace, prosperity, and order, and with the fact that his worship was daily celebrated in those happy families, yet he had superior pleasure in the multitudes that crowded the ways to the place where they would publicly acknowledge him as their God.
Glorious things are spoketh of thee, O city of God - Jerusalem, called the “city of God” as being the place of his unique home on earth. The word rendered “are spoken” may mean either “have been spoken,” or “are to be spoken;” that is, either, such things have been said, or they may be said. They have been placed on record; or, they may now be put on record concerning thee. Probably the former is the true meaning; and the language would embrace such points as these:
(1) Those things which had been spoken as to its beauty of situation; its magnificence and splendor. Compare Psalms 48:2-3, notes; Psalms 48:12-13, notes.
(2) Such things as had been spoken or recorded in regard to its future prosperity, its triumphs, and its influence in the world; the promises which had been made in reference to the prosperity of Zion, and the spread of the true religion from that point as a center.
Compare the notes at Isaiah 2:3. The Old Testament abounds with promises concerning the future glory of Zion - the “glorious things” that are spoken respecting the final triumph of religion in the world. Of this the statement here is to be mainly understood, where Zion is referred to as the seat of the true religion, and as therefore the representative of the true church on earth. It is that of which the real record has been made, and not merely of Jerusalem or Zion as a city. That might pass away; the church, of which that was the representative, will endure forever. Compare Isaiah 54:1-3; Isaiah 60:0; Revelation 21:2-4.
I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon ... - The word Rahab here refers to Egypt. See Isaiah 51:9. It is also applied to Egypt in Psalms 89:10. The reason why the name was given to Egypt is not certainly known. The Hebrew word properly means fierceness, insolence, pride; and it may have been given to Egypt by the Hebrews on account of its haughtiness, pride, and insolence. It has been supposed by some (Jablonski, Opusc. i. 228) that the name is of Egyptian origin, but this has not been clearly made out. (Gesenius, Lexicon) Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia, are mentioned here as among the best known nations and cities of the world; as places where it would commonly be regarded as an honor to have been born. The meaning is, “I will refer to these as places well-known and distinguished; I will refer to the honor of having been born there; but great as is such an honor, the honor of having been born in Zion is far above that; it conveys the idea of a much higher distinction; it should be more sacredly cherished as among those things on which men value themselves.” The word “I” here seems to have reference to the psalmist, and not to God. The psalmist is mentioning what to him would seem to have a claim to the highest honor.
Philistia - The western portion of Palestine, from which the whole country was afterward named. See the notes at Psalms 60:8; compare Psalms 108:9; Isaiah 14:29, Isaiah 14:31. “And Tyre.” See Psalms 45:12, note; Isaiah 23:1, note.
With Ethiopia - Hebrew, Cush. The reference here is probably to the southern portion of Arabia. See Psalms 68:31, note; Isaiah 18:1, note.
This man was born there - That is, It would be said of individuals that they were born in one of those places, and it would be regarded as an honor thus to have been born. People would pride themselves on the fact that they were born there, and the world would hold them in esteem on that account. This refers to a very natural, and a very common feeling among people. We can, of course, claim no credit, and deserve no real honor, on account of the place where we happen to have been born; but the fact that one has been born in a place distinguished for its advantages and its fame, - in a place where liberty, religion, and the arts have flourishcd - in a place renowned for its public spirit, and for producing illustrious people, - may be properly accounted as an occasion for gratitude, and as a stimulus to high and honorable efforts, and may thus be made an important auxiliary to virtue, patriotism, and piety.
And of Zion it shall be said - In respect to Zion; or, in honor of Zion. People shall regard it as a privilege to have been born in Zion. They shall speak of such a birth as a marked and honored distinction. “This and that man,” etc. Designating them, or pointing them out, as having been born there. Those in a crowd, those passing along, those brought in any way to notice, will be spoken of in reference to their birth in Zion, and will be treated with a degree of favor and esteem, arising from their birth there corresponding to what those receive who are born in Egypt, Babylon, or Tyre. They will not be shunned and avoided on account of their birth as if it were ignoble, but they will be honored for it.
And the Highest himself shall establish her - Will establish Zion, or will give it prosperity and perpetuity. This, too, is what would be “said” respecting Zion by such as should speak of those born there; and it indicates
(a) their conviction that it would be permanent; and
(b) their desire that it might be: that a place so honored and distinguished might be perpetuated.
The practical truths suggested by this verse, as applied to the church, are
(1) that it is a privilege to have been born in connection with the Christian church; to have had a Christian parentage, and to have been early dedicated to God;
(2) that the time will come when this will be a ground of commendation, or when it will be spoken of as an honor, or when it will be regarded as presumptive evidence of a claim to esteem in the eyes of the world, that one was born in the church, was early devoted to God, and was trained up under the influences of religion;
(3) that the character of those who are thus born, and who are thus trained up, will constitute, in the view of the world, evidence of the stability of the church, and proof that God regards it with favor. It has not always been deemed an honor, or a passport to favor, to have been born in the church, but the time will come when this will be universally so; and, even now, no child can fully appreciate the honor and the real advantage of having been born in a family where God is served, and of having been early consecrated to God by parental purpose, by prayer, and by Christian baptism.
The Lord shall count - That is, God himself will honor those who are so born. In the previous verse, the effect of such a birth was described as securing honor from human beings. Here a higher honor is adverted to - that which will be derived from God himself.
When he writeth up the people ... - The word rendered “people” here is in the plural number. At the time of making an enrollment of the people, or taking an account or a census of the nations, he would mark, or cause to be marked, with special honor the man that had his birth in Zion. Out of such would his own people be taken, and those thus born would have an honor which no one else would receive from him. He would not mark with any special approbation those who had been born in Egypt, in Babylon, or in Tyre, but he would mark with special interest those who had been born in Zion. The practical truth suggested here is, that God will in the main take his people from among those who have been born in the church. As a matter of fact, while it is true that others are converted and added to the church, the great mass of church-members consist of those who have been born of Christian parents; who have been early dedicated to God; and who have been trained up for his service. See the notes at Isaiah 44:3-5.
As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there - literally, “The singers as the players on instruments.” The image is that of a musical procession, where the singers go before, followed by those who play on various instruments of music. The idea seems to be that when the number of the true friends of God shall be made up, or shall all be enrolled, there will be a triumphal procession; or, they are seen by the psalmist, moving before God as in a triumphal procession. Compare the notes at Isaiah 35:10. Perhaps the reference is to heaven - the true Zion; to the assembling of all who shall have been born in Zion, and who shall have become citizens of the true Zion, the Jerusalem above.
All my springs are in thee - The word rendered springs means properly a place of fountains (see the notes at Psalms 84:6), and also a fountain, Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2. It thus becomes an emblem of happiness; of delight; of pleasure; and the ideal here is that the highest happiness of the psalmist was found in what is here referred to by the word “thee.” That word may refer either to God or to Zion; but as the subject of the psalm is Zion, it is most natural to suppose that the reference is to that. Thus it accords with the sentiment so often found in the Psalms, where the writer expresses his love for Zion; his pleasure in its solemnities; his desire to abide there as his permanent home. Compare Psalms 23:6; Psalms 84:2-4, Psalms 84:10. The idea has been beautifully expressed by Dr. Dwight, in his version of Psalms 137:6 :
“I love thy church, O God;
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.
“If e’er my heart forget
Her welfare or her woe,
Let every joy this heart forsake,
And every grief o’erflow.
“Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways.
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.”
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 87". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27