Enemies No More
I will count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me—also Philistia and Tyre, and even distant Ethiopia. They have all become citizens of Jerusalem!
Psalm 87 is one of the most surprising psalms in the biblical collection. It begins rather predictably, with praise for Jerusalem (more literally, Zion) as God's holy mountain, the city that God loves, of which "glorious things" are said (87:1-3).
But then, in verse 4, the Lord speaks: "I will count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me – also Philistia and Tyre, and even distant Ethiopia. They have all become citizens of Jerusalem." What?! This is not merely a list of Gentile nations, but also a sample of nations that have a long history as Israel's enemies. Given what we usually find in the Hebrew Scriptures, we would expect that the psalm writers, if they mentioned these nations at all, would celebrate their ultimate defeat. We would not expect them to be counted among those who know God, even citizens of Jerusalem.
Psalm 87 is one of those stunning passages in the Old Testament that paves the way for the broad inclusiveness of the New Testament. This psalm anticipates the work of God in Jesus Christ, which offers salvation to all peoples and breaks down the walls of division between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Psalm 87 finds its fulfillment in the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:24-26, "The nations will walk in [Jerusalem's] light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city."
The world we live in today is not this world. Ironically, perhaps no city on earth symbolizes hostility between peoples more than Jerusalem. Thus, when we read Psalm 87, our heart aches for the world, for the nations, and for the city of Jerusalem. We yearn for a day when God's justice and peace will prevail on earth, when God will be known by all and all will live as citizens of his kingdom. Until this day, Psalm 87 fills us with tender longing, even as it stirs up within us confident hope. The day will come when every knee will bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Maranatha! Our Lord, come!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to Psalm 87? What does this psalm stir up within you? What thoughts? What emotions? How does your understanding of God's grace in Christ influence your reading of Psalm 87?
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 may'st smile at all thy foes.
See! the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint, when such a river
ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the Giver,
never fails from age to age. Amen.
"Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" by John Newton (who wrote "Amazing Grace"), 1779.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.