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Psalm 87: A City and a Bride Print E-mail
Sunday, 19 August 2012

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The Bible is not always easy to understand.  If you have studied the Bible much, then you have possibly come to this conclusion at some point.  In fact, it may be one of the reasons that you give for not reading/studying the Bible very much.  Yet, we must be cautious when we speak of the difficulty of understanding the Bible.  Yes, it can be difficult, but, no, that does not mean that it is impossible or should not be studied.  Difficult to understand does not mean impossible to understand.  We do not want to make the mistake of questioning the clarity of the Scriptures.  They are clear.  They teach us what we need to know of God and what He has done, is doing, and is going to do.  And we can understand it.  Yet, what do we do then when we come across a passage that is difficult to understand?

For example, what do we do with Psalm 87?  A real temptation for us is to read this psalm and think that is has absolutely nothing to do with us.  Yet, if we believe that the people of God need all of the Word of God, then we cannot just dismiss it or ignore it.  So then, what do we do?  In our time together this morning looking at Psalm 87, I want to try and help us in understanding difficult passages.  Obviously I cannot deal with all of the issues, but my hope is that my approach to Psalm 87 will help you in your approach to difficult passages, particularly those in the Old Testament.  For those reasons, I want to consider three important questions this morning.

First, what did Psalm 87 mean?

The reason why we want to begin with this question is because we believe that whatever the psalm meant to the original writers and readers it still means today.  Yes, we want to read it in light of Christ, which will be our second question, but we want to begin by understanding what it meant to the original author.  What was the psalmist communicating with this psalm?

Psalm 87 is a psalm about the city of God.  Look at verses 1-3 again with me.  Obviously the psalmist is writing about the city of God, which we know to be Jerusalem or Mount Zion.  Yet, before we look at what the psalmist actually says about the city, we should pause to reflect on what we know about Mount Zion.  In other words, what was the significance of Jerusalem to the psalmist and the original readers of Psalm 87?  Now you might be thinking to yourself: ĎYeah, I have no idea.í  Thatís ok.  It is at this point where other believers can help.  You can look at a study Bible or commentaries.  You could ask a fellow Christian or even your pastor for help.  What would he say is the significance of the city of God? 

The city of God represents the place where God dwells with His people.  Not only was Jerusalem the center of political power in Israel, it was also the center of their spiritual lives as well.  The Temple was there along with the Ark of the Covenant.  It is where Godís presence especially dwelt with His people.  One of my commentatorís writes: ďZion, the city of God, symbolizes Godís kingdom presence.Ē 1  Thus, the psalmist viewed Jerusalem as significant because of Godís glorious presence which dwelt there.  This background information will held us in understanding the psalm.

The psalmist introduces three ideas about the city of God in verses 1-3.  First, he notes that God is the founder of the city.  Jerusalem is Godís city.  It owes its existence and prominence to Him.  Second, we see that God loves the city.  This is His city and He loves it.  Of course, I donít think the psalmist means that God just loves the physical city.  Rather, He loves His people and He loves meeting with His people and the worship of His people that takes place in the Temple.  God does not love the city because she has earned such love but simply because He has chosen to love it.  Finally, the psalmist notes that the city will be praised.  Glorious things will be said of the city.  What glorious things is he talking about?  The next few verses will tell us.

The psalmist tells us of the glory of the city of God in verses 4-6.  Look at those with me.  I struggled in understanding these verses when I first read them.  I thought the psalmist was contrasting Jerusalem with these other nations.  Yet, as I studied the passage further and looked at some of my commentaries, I realized that I was mistaken, which leads me to a good side-note at this point.  We should be willing to look and listen to others when trying to understand a difficult passage.  As I looked at my commentaries I realized that the point that the psalmist is making is that God is going to include the nations in the population of His city.  The psalmist is writing about the future Jerusalem that will made up of Babylonians and Egyptians (some of Israelís worst enemies).  Where did the psalmist get such an idea?  We actually see this idea repeated in the book of Isaiah (2:2-4, 60:15-22, 62:1-5, 65:17-25).  Isaiah writes that there is coming a Day when God will draw in the nations to worship Him in His city.  It seems that the psalmist is writing of this as well.

He closes the psalm with a note of rejoicing.  Look at verse 7.  Godís people rejoice in Godís city, in His plan to dwell with His people.  They find great joy in being a part of His people and enjoying His presence.  Thus, the psalmist is praising God and rejoicing in God for the blessings of Jerusalem both present and future.  This is what the psalm meant to the original readers.

Second, what does it mean in light of Christ?

We have considered what the psalm meant to the original audience.  It is important for us to note that what it meant to them is still what it means to us.  We are not to change or force meaning into the text that was not there.  Yet, at the same time, because we live after the incarnation of Christ and His death on the cross, we must understand the psalm in light of Christ.  We must consider the original meaning and interpret the psalm in light of the cross.

So then, how do we do that?  How do we interpret Psalm 87 in light of Christ?  And how do we do it without ignoring the original meaning of the psalm?  The first option, which many take today, is to simply conclude that we need to value the physical city of Jerusalem and do what we can to support it politically.  Although I understand this approach, I do not think that it faithfully takes into consideration the work of Christ.  In other words, although it does take the psalmís original meaning seriously, it does not consider Christís impact.  Thus, I believe we need a better option.   

A second option begins with a simple question: how has the coming of Christ impacted the make-up of the people of God and their coming into His presence?  One important passage to consider is John 4, where Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman.  She asks Him about where the proper place to worship is and He responds: Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the FatherÖthe hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:21-23).  Jesus makes a radical shift in focus.  No longer is it about a particular place (not even Jerusalem).  Thus, the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant means that people will no longer have to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to enjoy the presence of God.  Not only this, but the New Jerusalem, the one that God will bring the nations to, is fulfilled through the preaching of the gospel to the nations and their inclusion into Godís people through faith in Christ.  This is what Isaiah looked forward to and it is what the psalmist is looking forward to in Psalm 87. 

Did you notice in Isaiah 62 the comparison of God rejoicing over the New Jerusalem as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride (v. 5)?  The city will be treasured like a Bride.  Does that remind you of anything?  In the book of Revelation, John calls the New Jerusalem the Bride of Christ (21:9ff).  He says that the nations will bring their glory into the city and only those whose names are written in the Lambís book of life will be able to enter it. 

Now think again about what the psalmist says.  He notes that people from Rahab (Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Cush will be numbered among those that the Lord will register.  Pretty amazing right?  God told the psalmist and Isaiah that a Day was coming when the nations will be included in Jerusalem.  Jesus tells us that He has come to die for any and all who will turn from their sins and trust in Him.  He died for sinners and was raised again from the dead.  He told His disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all peoples.  And John tells us that the New Jerusalem will be inhabited by those who have turned from their sins and trusted in the Lambís sacrifice at the cross. 

What an amazing landscape of redemptive History!  God began with the city of Jerusalem, where the King of Israel dwelled and His own presence dwelled in the Temple.  He promised that a Day would come when the nations would be brought in and registered.  Jesus has ushered in the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise through His death and resurrection.  We now await the ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns and takes His people into the New Jerusalem, where they will enjoy Godís presence forever.

Third, how do we apply this passage?

We have not truly interpreted and understood a passage until we seek to apply it to our lives.  So then, how do we apply Psalm 87 to our lives today?  First, we need to remember that we are Godís people.  We must never cease to be amazed that God has taken us and made us a part of His people.  Second, we need to revel in Godís love and delight in His people.  God loves Jerusalem.  He loves the place where His presence dwelled with His people.  And He now loves the Church, the place where His presence especially dwells with His people.  He delights in the Church.  He is committed to the Church.  He will establish the New Jerusalem and fill it with the Bride of Christ!  Finally, we should rejoice in being a part of Godís people.  Like the singers and dancers in Psalm 87 we should say: All my springs are in you.  We should love Godís people, love the Church, and fight great delight in being included among the saints.

So then, I hope our look at Psalm 87 will help you in two ways.  First, I pray that it will encourage you in laboring to understand difficult passages.  Ask and answer some of these simple questions and pray that the Spirit will guide you in interpreting the text.  Second, may you rejoice in being registered in Godís city.  The Lord is bringing His plans to fruition and through faith in Christ we are a part of those plans.  We are the Bride of Christ, future citizens of the New Jerusalem.  What a glorious salvation!  Amen.

1 Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositorís Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), p. 561.

~ William Marshall ~

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