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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 87

A.M. 2981. B.C. 1023.

This Psalm is an encomium on Zion, as a type and figure of the gospel church, to which its contents are very applicable. Some think it was composed to express the joy of God’s people when Zion was in a flourishing state; others, that it was written to encourage their faith and hope, when Zion was in ruins, and was to be rebuilt after the captivity. Zion, for the temple’s sake, already built, or to be built, is here preferred,

(1,) Before the rest of the land of Canaan, as being crowned with special tokens of God’s favour, Psalms 87:1-3 .

(2,) Before any other place or country whatsoever, as being blessed with a greater abundance of divine favours, Psalms 87:4-7 .

Verse 1

Psalms 87:1. His foundation Namely, the foundation of the city, or temple of God, of which he speaks in the following verses. The psalmist’s thoughts, we may suppose, were strongly fixed upon the temple and city of God; he had them full in his view, and was contemplating the glories of them, and at length breaks out into this abrupt expression, which has a reference, though not to what he had written before, yet to what he had deeply thought of; nor was his meaning obscure to any one who knew what had been the subject of his meditation. Thus Dr. Horne: “The psalmist having meditated on the strength, the beauty, and the glory of the holy city, and imagining the thoughts of his hearers or readers to have been employed on the same subject, breaks forth at once in this abrupt manner.” Is in the holy mountains Hebrew, בהררי קדשׁ , beharree kodesh, the mountains of holiness; by which he means those mountains, or “hills of Judea, which God had chosen and separated to himself from all others, whereon to construct the highly-favoured city and temple, namely, mount Zion, mount Moriah, and other lesser hills. They are called holy mountains, or mountains of holiness, because the city and temple were, in a peculiar sense, consecrated to God, and because God in an especial manner dwelt therein, the ark of his presence being fixed there. The doctrines, and merits, and laws of Christ are those holy mountains on which his church, here typified by the city and temple of Jerusalem, is built; for it is built on Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King, and other foundation than this can no man lay. It is founded in and on holiness; Christ is a holy Prophet, a holy Priest, and a holy King; his doctrine, and merits and laws are all holy. And holiness is the strength and stability of his church; that, and that alone, will support it, and keep it from sinking: not so much,” says Henry, “that it is built upon mountains, as that it is built on holy mountains;” upon the word and promise of the holy God, for the confirming of which he hath sworn by his holiness; upon the mediation of his holy Son, who was manifested to take away our sins, and gave himself for his church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it; and upon the sanctifying influence of his holy Spirit and holy laws, all which, taken together, secure both the holiness and happiness of its members.

Verse 2

Psalms 87:2. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion That is, the city of Zion, or Jerusalem, gates being often put for cities. He saith Zion rather than Jerusalem, to intimate that he loved Jerusalem for Zion’s sake, or for the temple, which he chose for his peculiar dwelling-place. He loved the gates of the temple, of the houses of doctrines, as the Chaldee interprets it; more than all the dwellings of Jacob More than all other places of the land of Canaan in which the Israelites dwelt. For though the tabernacle was for a season in some other parts of the land, yet the temple, the place of God’s fixed residence, was nowhere but in this city of Zion. Concerning this God had said, This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it. There he met his people, and conversed with them, received their homage, and showed them the tokens of his favour. From which we may infer how well he loved those gates; God indeed loved, and loves, the dwellings of Jacob. He has a gracious regard to religious families, and accepts their family worship; yet he loves the gates of Zion better; not only better than any, but better than all the dwellings of Jacob. God was worshipped in the private dwellings of Jacob; and family worship is family duty, which must by no means be neglected; yet when they come in competition, public worship is to be preferred before private.

Verse 3

Psalms 87:3. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God “As the prophet began, in a rapture, to speak of the holy city, so now, in a fresh transport, he changes the person, and suddenly addresses himself to it. The old Jerusalem was the city of God, and glorious things were therefore said of it by the Spirit. “Pleasant for situation, and magnificent in its buildings, it was the delight of nations, the joy of the whole earth; there was the royal residence of the kings of Judah; there were the temple, and the ark, and the glory, and the king of heaven dwelling in the midst of her: her streets were honoured with the footsteps of the Redeemer of men; there he preached and wrought his miracles, lived, died, and rose again; thither he sent down his Spirit, and there he first laid the foundation of his church.” Horne. Yet of this church of Christ, the gospel church, more glorious things are spoken. It is the spouse of Christ, the purchase of his blood, a peculiar people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High, the temple of God, and a habitation of God through the Spirit. And he, the Holy One of Israel, is said to be in the midst of her, and that therefore she shall not be moved; for he is mighty, and will save her; yea, he will rejoice over her with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over her with singing, 1 Peter 2:9; Psalms 46:5; Ephesians 2:21-22; Zephaniah 3:17. Let us not be ashamed, then, of this church, in its meanest condition, nor of any that belong to it: let us not disown our relation to it, though it be turned never so much to our reproach, since such glorious things are spoken of it, and not one iota or tittle of what is said shall fall to the ground. We must remember, many base and ill things were spoken of Jerusalem by its enemies, to render it mean and odious; but by Him whose judgment is according to truth, glorious things were spoken of it; and therefore its genuine citizens, believing what God had spoken, rather than the slanders of its enemies, were not ashamed of it; and shall we be ashamed of that church, of which Jerusalem was but a type, and of which things so much more glorious are spoken by Him who cannot lie?

Verse 4

Psalms 87:4. I will make mention Hebrew, אזכיר , azchir, I will record, or, cause to be remembered, Rahab That is, Egypt, so called, Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 51:9, but whether from its pride, or natural strength, both which the word signifies, is not material; and Babylon I will reckon upon the inhabitants of Egypt and Babylon, though most alienated from the profession of the truth, yea, even on all the church’s enemies, as those that shall become members of it. For under these two, and Philistia, he seems to comprehend all the enemies of God’s people, of whom he prophesies that they should be not only reconciled, but united to them. To them that know me Or with, or among them, that is, with or among those that truly, affectionately, and practically know me; so as to love, serve, and obey me. I will reckon these nations among the number of those that shall be converted; or, among my worshippers, subjects, and children; they seem to be God’s words, foretelling that he would account, and cause these Gentiles to be recorded as his people, when they should receive the gospel of Christ, as truly as Israel was his people, and would own them as born in Zion, that is, born again there, and entitled to all its privileges as freely as true-born Israelites. That though they had been strangers and foreigners, they should become fellow-citizens with the saints, Ephesians 2:17. Thus Isaiah 19:23-25, The Lord shall say, Blessed be Egypt, my people, and Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance. Behold Take notice of it, as a thing new, and strange, and delightful. Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia That is, the nations on every side of them, for Philistia was on the west, Tyre on the north, and Ethiopia, or Arabia, (which rather seems to be intended by the word Cush, here,) on the south. So that those nearest to them, and those more remote from them, are here mentioned, as converts to the gospel church: this man was born there Or, in her, as it is Psalms 87:5, namely, born by adoption and regeneration, John 1:12; John 3:7; Galatians 3:26; 1 Peter 1:23; that is, the Gentiles, from all countries, shall be brought into the church of God, and be accounted genuine members thereof.

Verse 5

Psalms 87:5. Of Zion Concerning the church of God, whether composed of Jews or Gentiles, it shall be said It shall be mentioned by God, and acknowledged by men, as a great and wonderful work of Jehovah, that this and that man was born in her That is, persons of this and that nation: not only a few of one nation, as formerly, but now multitudes of all sorts and conditions, without difference of nations, shall become members of the church, Galatians 4:28; Colossians 3:11. Hebrew, אישׁ ואישׁ , ish veish, man and man, that is, every man, or, all sorts of men, without respect of persons; any man whosover that shall turn to God; so this very phrase, man and man, is rendered Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:13; as, by day and day, is meant every day, or, from day to day, Esther 3:4; Psalms 61:8. And the Highest himself shall establish her Uphold her to perpetuity, Matthew 16:18. This shall not be a sudden and transient, but a lasting work: and the accession of proselytes, out of divers nations, shall be so far from occasioning discord and division, that it shall contribute greatly to Zion’s strength; for God himself having founded her upon a rock, whatever convulsions and revolutions there may be of states and kingdoms, and however heaven and earth may be shaken, she shall be found among the things which cannot be shaken, but must remain, Haggai 2:6-7; Hebrews 12:27. Zion shall continue in its strength and fertility, because the almighty God is its founder and protector, and will finish the work which he hath begun; the Highest himself who can do it effectually, shall undertake to establish her.

Verse 6

Psalms 87:6 . The Lord, shall count, when he writeth up the people In the book of life, that register of heaven, kept by God himself, in which men’s names are entered, not as born of flesh and blood, by the will of man, but as born of the Spirit, by the will of God; that this man was born there By a spiritual birth, and therefore, that he is a genuine and free citizen of Zion, that is, God shall esteem such a one, though of Gentile race, a true member of his church, when he takes a particular account and survey of all his citizens and subjects. The psalmist alludes to the custom of princes or governors of cities, who used to write and preserve a register of all their people. Observe, reader, the birth here spoken of, the second birth, the birth from above, not of water merely, but of the Spirit, producing love to God, deadness to the world, and holiness of heart and life, ( 1Jn 4:7 ; 1 John 5:4; 1Jn 3:9 ; 1 John 5:18,) is the only birth we ought to value ourselves upon, because this alone gives us a title to “the inheritance of the saints in light.” Such, and only such, are written among the living in Jerusalem, Isaiah 4:3. Or, written in the writing of the house of Israel, Ezekiel 13:9. Or, in the language of the New Testament, such only have their names in the Lamb’s book of life, Philippians 4:3. And we know the consequence of not being found written there: see Revelation 20:15.

Verse 7

Psalms 87:7. As well the singers, &c., shall be there That is, in the church, and among the people of God. Indeed God’s people have the greatest, nay, the only cause of rejoicing, being his children, and heirs, and joint heirs with Christ. As to all others, the divine injunction is, Be afflicted, and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness. But the psalmist seems here to intimate, that when the prediction, contained in the preceding verses, should be fulfilled, and the Gentiles should be converted, and added to the church, there should be great rejoicing and praising of God, both with vocal and instrumental music, for that glorious event. He describes evangelical worship by legal phrases and customs, as the prophets frequently do. All my springs are in thee In Zion, or the church. All graces, comforts, privileges, and blessings, are to be found in thee, O church of God, and are only to be expected in and through the word preached, and the ordinances administered there. These words are thought by many commentators to be here added as the burden of the song which the forementioned singers are supposed to sing, either in their own names, or in the name of the people of God. And so the sense is, all our desires and delights are in thee, O Zion. All the springs of mercy, grace, and glory, flow to us only in and through thee.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 87". Benson's Commentary. 1857.