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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 87

A Psalm or Song for the sons of Korah.

This psalm, “which establishes Zion as the word for Church, marks a turning point in revelation. It stands absolutely alone up to its time. It shows that the unification of the nations is to be effected by the welding power of a spiritual influence hitherto unknown.” Bishop Alexander. This influence is that of spiritual birth, giving citizenship in Zion, the true Church, the Kingdom of God. Here, also, is the origin of that form of speech among the Hebrews which denominated a proselyte as one “newly born.” John 3:3-7. The theme is the praise of Zion, but in the spiritual sense. Thus she was greater than the nations of the earth. “The mission thought in Psalms 86:9 becomes the ruling thought here. It is a prophetic psalm, boldly and expressively concise, even to obscurity.” Delitzsch. The comparison by which Zion is exalted above the nations is twofold: First, it is greater than the cities of Jacob or the chosen people, Psalms 87:2; secondly, it is above the Gentile nations. This last is also divided into two parts, the surrounding people who envied Israel, as Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia, (Hebrews Cush, Arabia,) and the great representatives of worldly pride and power, Rahab ( Egypt) and Babylon. The point or test of superiority is in the pride of nobility, and citizenship. This man boasts that he was born in Babylon; that, in Egypt, Psalms 87:4; but Zion should be distinguished by the greater number of her native born citizens, and for their higher type of citizenship. Of her citizens, Jehovah himself should keep and publish the record, Psalms 87:6. The tone of triumph indicates some great occasion of joy on account of Jehovah’s special interposition to defend and establish Zion, whose glorious historic fame had been celebrated in song, Psalms 87:3. But the glory which is the special theme of the prophet is still an anticipation, as the future tense of the leading verbs in Psalms 87:5-6, show, contrasted with the preterit, “was born,” in Psalms 87:4. Much can be said, plausibly, in favour of dating this psalm in the reign of Hezekiah, on the overthrow of Sennacherib, but the evidence seems to preponderate in favour of the restoration, under Ezra and Nehemiah. The greatness of the work of rebuilding Jerusalem and re-establishing the nation, is exceeded only by the exodus and the first settlement in Canaan, to which it is often compared by the prophets. The reviving of the holy city was indispensable to success and the reassertion of nationality, whether viewed in a political or religious light. Against this lay the pressure of want and the lure of gain which drove the colonies into the smaller towns and villages near to the lands of their ancient inheritance. The whole experiment of rebuilding the capital was thus held in suspense nearly a hundred years, (Nehemiah 1:1-3,) and was accomplished at length by Nehemiah, under a royal commission granting him an absence of twelve years. Nehemiah 2:4-8; Nehemiah 5:14. To people Jerusalem one tenth of the inhabitants were drafted by lot, (Nehemiah 11:1-2, seq,) which would make a basis of population of about five or six thousand. The importance of the work may be further gathered from such passages as Zechariah 2:4-5; Zechariah 2:12; Isaiah 52:1-2; Jeremiah 31:23; Isaiah 1:26-27; Psalms 122:0. For further evidence see the notes. We must, therefore, place this psalm at the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem, which is the date of the restoration of the capital city. Nehemiah 12:27-43. TITLE:

A Psalm or Song Two words which may give the sense of a song set to instrumental music.

Sons of Korah See note on title of Psalms 84:0

Verse 1

1. His foundation God’s foundation, the ground whereon he rests the temporal structure of his Church, and proposes to accomplish his covenant purposes.

Holy mountains Or, mountains of holiness, that is, Zion and Moriah, mountains within Jerusalem.

Verse 2

2. Gates of Zion A metonomy for Zion itself. The gates anciently were places of public assemblage: “I will declare all thy praises in the gates of Zion.” Psalms 9:14.

The dwellings of Jacob The comparison is well calculated to revive the ancient love of Jerusalem, and to encourage the returned exiles to take residence there.

Verse 3

3. Glorious things are spoken of thee Not only in history, and in national ballads and traditions of the great past, (see Ezr 4:19-20 ; 1 Kings 4:20-21,) but in prophecy and promise connecting with the unfolding plan of redemption, and the everlasting kingdom of Messiah. But it is Zion in its New Testament sense the Church, as “the birthplace of all nations” which is here chiefly denoted. From the Hebrew rendered “glorious things,” it has been supposed Paul took his expression, “weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17

Verse 4

4. I will make mention As examples.

Rahab Or, the sea monster, the people of tumultuous violence; a title poetically given to Egypt in the later books, (Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 30:7,) where “strength” in the common version is Rahab in the Hebrew, and seems to be an allusion to the inactivity of the crocodile combined with his proverbial strength and violence. Lowth translates: “Rahab the inactive;” and Gesenius, “Violence, or, the violent, they sit still.” See Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2.

Babylon Hebrew, Babel, the first of the kingdoms, (Genesis 10:10,) and now the ruling power of western Asia.

To them that know me Rather, Of them that know me. He speaks of them as of nations to whom had been given great opportunity to know the true God, one the ruling power in the south and the other in the north and east. Both in turn had held Jehovah’s people in bondage, and from both had they been delivered by most signal manifestations of God. See Isaiah 19:21: “And the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day.”

Philistia A strong military people on the southwest coast of Palestine, the constant enemy of Israel.

Tyre The chief city of Phoenicia on the northwest coast, and the great commercial city of the world; once the friendly ally, now the jealous enemy, of the Hebrew power.

Ethiopia Hebrew, Cush, from the father of the numerous Cushite race, (Genesis 10:7,) the name applied to the country east of the Euphrates, (Genesis 2:13,) afterward to Arabia, (Numbers 12:1; 1 Chronicles 21:16; Hebrews 3:7,) and also to “ Ethiopia” proper, or the African country south of Egypt. Psalms 68:31; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14. In the widest sense it denotes southern country, on account of the dark colour of the inhabitants. In the text it means either Arabia Felix or Ethiopia proper.

This man was born there The point of the allusion is, to the honour which a man derives from being a native citizen of any renowned country, or that a government feels in claiming that such or such a man was one of her native born sons. Thus seven illustrious cities claimed the honour of having given birth to Homer. See Acts 16:37; Acts 22:25-28. The argument is, that if citizenship in any given country confers honour, much more, by the same rule, shall Jerusalem be honoured, for of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her, literally, A man and a man were born in her. The repetition gives intensity, and denotes that multitudes, or vast numbers, shall be born in her, so that both the quality and greater numbers of her “born” citizens shall give her the pre-eminence. The spiritual sense must predominate here, the “Jerusalem” and the “Zion” representing the Church, (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22,) and the native born citizen he that is born of God. John 3:5.

Shall establish her Comp, Psalms 87:1. God has founded his city, or Church, and this is the guaranty of her stability and renown.

Verse 6

6. The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people The allusion is to the civic book, or census roll, in which the nationality or tribe of each person was entered, the children, or the childless family, recorded, (Jeremiah 22:30,) and from which the dead and the excommunicated were erased. Exodus 12:33. Jehovah himself should keep this book, and each entry should be made under his inspection. When he shall pass through the nations (as Joshua 18:8) to take the account of their converts, in writing them down he will enter each as a Zion-born citizen. The worship of Zion’s God should be accounted as the privilege of birthright citizenship. The whole is to be construed of the spiritual Church and the conversion of the nations. Compare “book of life.” Revelation 20:12-15; Luke 10:20

Verse 7

7. As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there The words “shall be there” are not in the text, and they destroy the sense. The Hebrew is exceedingly abrupt and elliptical, but the sense may be thus given: And the singers, as well as the fluters, [shall say, as the burden of their song,] All my springs are in thee, that is, in Zion. The image before the poet was that of multitudes of converts, from all nations, coming to Zion in joyful procession, with bands of singers and pipers, making Zion the theme of their song. “The Korahite author,” writes Bishop Alexander, “himself a chief singer in the sanctuary, does not grudge the admission of foreign nations into the sacred choir, but with generous and largehearted sympathy rejoices in the prospect.” Thus, also, Bishop Mant:

“With joy shall sing the choral train,

The minstrels breathe the answering strain;

‘O Zion, Zion fair, I see The fountains of my bliss in thee.’”

“And if such be indeed the incomparable excellence of the Church, and such the benefit of her communion, as they have been set forth in the foregoing verses, what anthem better deserves to be performed by all her choirs?” Horne. Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 12:3; John 4:22.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 87". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.