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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Psalms 87

Verses 1-7

Psalms 87:0

A Psalm or Song for the sons of Korah

1          His foundation is in the holy mountains.

2     The Lord loveth the gates of Zion

More than all the dwellings of Jacob.

3     Glorious things are spoken of thee,

O city of God. Selah.

4     I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me.

Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia;
This man was born there.

5     And of Zion it shall be said,

This and that man was born in her:
And the Highest himself shall establish her.

6     The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people,

That this man was born there. Selah.

7     As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there:

All my springs are in thee.


Contents and Composition.—In the introduction, the glory of Jerusalem is praised as that of the city founded by God, loved by Him with especial affection, and blessed with a glorious promise (Psalms 87:1-3). The promise is then presented in its Messianic aspect (Psalms 87:4-6); and, finally, in one concluding verse, expression is given to the grateful joy which the promise excites. It is peculiar to this Psalm, that the conversion of nations previously strange and hostile to Israel, and their union with God’s people, are described, not as the homage of subjected foes, Psalms 68:30; Psalms 72:9, &c. in agreement with the prophecies of the second part of Isaiah, but as an entering into the relations of children and citizens, resembling in many points Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:10-16; Isaiah 19:24 f.; Isa 20:23. But our Psalm cannot be older than these passages, and therefore cannot be assigned to the time of David, as alluding by the idea of founding to the removal of the sanctuary to Jerusalem (Clauss). In Psalms 87:4, Egypt is designated by the symbolical name Rahab, which occurs first in Isaiah 30:7, and that as alluding to vain-glorious presumption, while the word itself denotes a mythical sea-monster, Job 9:13; Job 26:12 (Sept. κῆτος), and is thus employed as an emblem of Egypt (Isaiah 51:9; Psalms 89:11), as the beast of the reeds in Psalms 68:31. The modes of expression, condensed even to obscurity (Flaminius, Olsh.), bear in their pregnant conciseness and imagery a great resemblance to Psalms 21:0; Psalms 22:14; Psalms 30:6 f. The time of Hezekiah has therefore been fixed upon (Venema, Dathe, Tholuck, Hengstenberg, Vaihinger, Delitzsch). For, after the destruction of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib, Assyria appears no longer along with Egypt as a representative of the world-power; but Babylon has already stepped forth into the theatre of history (Isaiah 39:0; Micah 4:10; 2 Chronicles 32:33). We have no convincing ground for fixing the date of composition as late as the return from exile (Calvin, Ewald, Hupfeld), or still later in the days of the Maccabees (Hitzig) from a supposed reference to the Jews, who dwelt in large numbers in the countries named, and to their pilgrimages to the great feasts in Jerusalem. We can say no more than that a date must be assigned at which the power of Babylon was not immediately felt, because the language does not reveal the excitement and bitterness which are to be found in Isaiah 14, 47—The Rabbins have quite misunderstood this Psalm, and Luther also has given many false renderings. The denial of the Messianic character (Hitzig) is at the opposite extreme to the opinion that there is no historical back-ground, but that the glory of the Church is all that is referred to.

Psalms 87:1. His foundation.—The form of the word, and its union with the suffix, make it probable that it is not a passive part.=His founded (city) as Hengst. and others maintain. But the masc. suffix is undoubtedly to be referred to God; for Zion, as the name of a city, occurs afterwards as feminine. We must neither supply a verb: is (De Wette), or: consists (Baur), or, by repeating the principal idea: is founded (Hengst.); nor can we assume gratuitously that an introductory clause has fallen out (Ewald, Olshausen). It is just as improbable that this verse of a single stich belongs to the superscription and announces the subject of the Psalm (Chald., Kimchi, and others). Nor is it a vocative, as most suppose, but an accusative, preceding its subject, depending in thought (J. D. Mich.) on the verb of the following verse. Nor is it necessary, in order to make the formal arrangement of the whole sentence regular, to complete the sense by uniting it to the first words of the next verse (Schnurrer, Hupfeld, Hofmann [so Perowne.—J. F. M.].

Psalms 87:2-3. The gates of Zion are mentioned with reference not to the invincible security newly assured by God (Hengst.), but to their accessibility to the many new inhabitants promised to the holy city.—That which is spoken of or in Zion, is not God’s word proclaimed in the Church generally, but the promise relating to Zion’s increasing glory. As this promise is cited in the form of a declaration of God, it is not proper to take the part. pass, impersonally=they speak (Ewald, Maurer, Olsh., Hengst.). The use of the part. in the sing. and that in the masculine, though construed with a fem. plural, is due either to the singular meaning of the plural form employed as an abstract, or to the conception of the part., as being a kind of noun-neuter (Hupfeld). [Alexander: “Instead of in thee, some read of thee, but the former is entitled to the preference; first, because it is the strict sense, and therefore not to be rejected without reason; then, because it really includes the other, but is not included in it; lastly, because it suggests the additional idea of the holy city as the scene, no less than the theme of the prophetic visions.”—J. F. M.]

Psalms 87:4-6. I will proclaim Rahab and Babylon as those that know me.—[E. V.: I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me.] The first word denotes a public and solemn acknowledgment. This, probably, is not directly an announcement to or among those who know the name of Jehovah already, that a new accession is made to their numbers, but it is the two world-powers to the north and south, hitherto hostile, who are mentioned as knowing Him. Jehovah will name them publicly, and acknowledge them as belonging to those who know Him. And the Church is further directed to look at other nations, near and far, who are made conspicuous in the world as examples of this relation by the pointing finger of God, and upon whom, successively, God fixes His gaze, as He declares them one by one to be children of Zion. As the nations are to have appellations with the forms of personal proper names, it is better not to limit the term “this” to individual men in these nations (Ewald) who became proselytes “there,” that is, in the countries named (Hitzig.) It brings these nations before us as individualities, and their separate existence as nations is indicated by their being pointed out, and also by the representation that these individualities are regarded, “man by man,” as born in Zion, the city preserved for ever by God Himself. The same thing is also indicated by numbering up in a record (Ezekiel 13:9). They are thus made Zion’s citizens. Zion does not lose her peerless preeminence, no matter how great this accession may be, or how dissimilar the natural characteristics of her new citizens. There is here a forecast of the New Testament idea of the second birth. Yet it is not this idea itself, and it is very different from the conception according to which Zion should regain her dispersed inhabitants (Isaiah 60:4), and thus become the mother of a countless people (Isaiah 54:1; Isaiah 54:3; Isaiah 66:7). No contrast is drawn here between Zion and the other places peopled by descendants of Jacob, the settlements of Jews in all parts of the world. According to this view, only individuals, “this man” and “that man” belong to the church of Israel, whether by birth or conversion, while in Jerusalem all the inhabitants, man by man, are designated Jews (Hitzig). The interpretation which assumes that for the other nations the enumeration was made collectively, but in Zion by individuals (Hofmann), is equally false.

Psalms 87:7. Singers as well as dancers.—[E. V.: As well the singers as the players on instruments.] The forms of the words do not indicate professions or positions, but actions. There is no occasion for doing away with the dancing as an expression of praise (2 Samuel 6:16; Psalms 149:3; Psalms 150:4). It destroys the connection to translate: pipe-players instead of: dancers (Symmachus, Theodotion, Kimchi, Flaminius, Calvin, and others). The rendering: The singers as in rows (Aquila, Jerome, Luther), is incorrect. It is possible to resolve the participles into finite verbs (Isaaki, Dathe), but it is unsuitable, and only necessary if the pointing of the last stich is changed with the following sense: all thy inhabitants (Schnurrer, Böttcher) or neighbors (Hupfeld) sing as well as dance. It is undoubtedly a procession of the Gentiles, who offer their thanksgiving to God and the Church, as Israel once did after the passage through the Red Sea (Hengst.). There is no reason why the concluding words should not be placed in the mouths of those who, according to the custom of the orientals, give a lively expression to their joy. Only we must not restrict the sense, and understand by springs specially the fountain of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). The expression all my springs is itself opposed to this restriction, and includes all means of refreshment. Yet we may be specially reminded of the prophetic representation of a fountain rising in the house of God, from which flows the water of life (Psalms 36:9; Joel 4:18; Ezekiel 47:1; Zechariah 14:8).

[Hupfeld, following a line of conjecture begun by the Sept. rendering κατοικία, assumes that the word is the Hiph. part. from עוּן=dwellers. This is the best of all the emendations proposed; but against it there is not only the traditional reading, but also the fact that the natural sense: all (are) dwellers with thee, would require an unusual construction of the construct. If a suffix of the 1 sing. be attached, the sentence is wanting in simplicity. Yet the conjecture is worthy of consideration, from the altogether unexpected thought afforded by the received reading.—J. F. M.]

The explanation: all my eyes, that is, glances or thoughts, are on thee (Calvin and others), is against the form of the words. The interpretation according to a supposed Arabian cognate form: my whole heart is in thee (Isaaki) is unnecessary. An arbitrary conjecture, with still more violent changes in the text, gives the following sense: masters as (numerous as) servants, all my eyes (overseers) are in thee (Hitzig).


1. God is bound by lasting love to the city in which He has His earthly dwelling, and from which grows the kingdom which He erects among men. He has, for this reason, an essential interest in those foundations, upon which He has established the city, and by means of which He extends His kingdom, and makes this His zeal in their behalf known by word and deed in the world’s history. By His word of promise, He maintains among His people the remembrance of His choosing them, keeps alive the thought of their calling, and gives them a wider view of their destiny. And by deeds of deliverance He strengthens the faith of His Church, excites its love, directs its hopes, pledges and secures, in general, its preservation in the world. Yet its particular condition depends upon the conduct of its members.

2. The praise of Zion is justified because of the God’s beloved city, built upon the rock which He has made the foundation of His dwelling, wherein those fountains are opened by which the powers of the world to come are afforded to believers from the wells of salvation, that they may prove themselves in this world to be the children of God. But these believers shall be gathered out of the whole earth, both far and near. And therefore will God open the gates of His city, that access may be afforded to those fountains, so that children may be born to Him in His city from all nations. And these are acknowledged by Him to be of the number of those who know Him, though before they were ignorant of Him, and they now rejoice with those who praise Him. But if Zion would remain God’s city and enjoy His protection, she must as established by God, ever build herself up on this foundation, and prove herself a mother to His children by her administration and use of those fountains. “It happens often that cities which rise the most rapidly to a conspicuous place in the world, are the most rapid in their fall. In order that the prosperity of the Church may not be thought to be so frail as this, the prophet adds that she is established by the Highest. As if he had said: It is no wonder that other cities nod to their destruction, for they are shaken with the world’s commotions, and have none who can be their everlasting guardian.” (Calvin).


It is one and the same God, who has established the Church upon earth, who maintains it as a peculiar institution, and rules it after His holy and loving will.—The foundation which God has laid for the Church, the end to which He has appointed her, and the way which He has pointed out to her.—The destiny assigned the Church as the city of God for all the nations of the earth.—What does the present condition of the Church seem to be, when we consider her Divine founding, and the part assigned her in the world?—The house of God among the dwellings of men; (1) its origin; (2) whither it directs us; (3) how it realizes its aim.—The acknowledgment which God demands, and the acknowledgment which God vouchsafes, are mutually related and mutually conditioned.—The missionary work of the Church: (1) according to its Divine institution; (2) in its actual extent; (3) with the means ordained.—The conversion of the heathen: (1) as God’s will; (2) as the work of the Church; (3) as the delight of the pious.—He who is not a child of God need not expect to be reckoned among the citizens of His kingdom.—God opens to men in the city in which He dwells, three fountains: (1) that of the true knowledge of Him; (2) that of eternal salvation; (3) that of blessed joy.—The Church founded by God, and His dwelling, as the mother of His children.—The best security for the prosperity of a city is the piety of its inhabitants.—There is nothing better for men than to have God as their Defender, Guardian, and Father.—God, the Founder and Master-builder of His city, is also the Father and King of His children.

Starke: If the Church is the city of God, who would be so neglectful as not to seek to obtain its citizenship?—God is (he Master-builder of His Church. Well for him who helps to build; but ill for him who seeks to injure or destroy that structure.—He who is taught the language of the Holy Spirit, is learned in the things of God.—The mutations and increase of languages have become, under the New Testament, a blessing; though under the Old, at the Tower of Babel, they were a punishment.

Selnecker: God’s people are united to God’s word; where, therefore, that word is, the Church of Christ is.—Renschel: A description of the Church of the New Testament, after the type of the earthly Jerusalem.—Rieger: In building the city of God, let us not think so much about the present feeble beginning and the difficulties still to be overcome, but rather upon the sure ground of the Divine promises and the great Master-builder, who has in His own hands the plan of the city.—Günther: It is only those who are born there that are in the city of God; and it is the Highest who has founded that city.—Schaubach: Would that the Lord in His mercy would keep us true to His Church, His word, and His sacraments, kindle this lamp for those among whom it has expired, and in His mercy supply the needs of those that have it, until at last there be one flock and one Shepherd.—Diedrich: Zion, out of which proceeds the word of grace, is the fountain of many nations, and the birth-place of a new humanity.—Taube: It is God’s hand, and no partial human hand, that writes down in the book of life those who are born in the city of God; and just for that reason sharp tests are employed to decide the right to a place there.—Möller: The firm foundation of the Evangelical Church, her sure covenant, and her joyful words.

[Scott: It should especially be remembered here, that almost all the sacred writers belonged to Zion, or to that despised nation which met to worship at Zion; and no nation on earth, or part of a nation, has been preserved or delivered from idolatry, except through the revelations which God made through the prophets and apostles of Israel.

Bishop Horne: In the book of life, that register of heaven kept by God Himself, our names are entered, not as born of flesh and blood by the will of man, but as born of water and the Spirit by the will of God; of each person it is written that he was born there, in the Church and city of God.—J. F. M.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 87". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.