>In seven short verses, Psalm 87 extols the church by directing the reader’s mind from the loveliness of the covenant with the patriarchs to the glories of Jerusalem at the height of Israel’s power to the beauties of the church within an ugly world and finally to the splendors of the eternal holy city.
The church is everlasting because God established it; it is beautiful because God loves it:
On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob (1-2).
Just as the temple was built upon the solid rock of a Palestinian mountain, the church is built upon the solid rock that is Jesus Christ. The Lord “loves the gates of Zion” and against them the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18).
Those few words, “the dwelling places of Jacob,” represent many places in covenant history. Jacob was a wanderer. He was already an old man when he fled from Esau’s wrath and journeyed alone through many perils, sleeping in the open with a stone for a pillow. He finally reached Haran, the dwelling of his relative Laban for whom he labored fourteen years to pay for his wives. When God called Jacob to return to his own land, he again set out on a long journey, this time with the responsibility of protecting large flocks, many servants, two wives, two concubines, and more than a dozen young children.
But God was with Jacob during these journeys. When Jacob fled and slept alone, his head resting on a rock, he dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder leading to heaven. The Lord appeared to him above the ladder and confirmed his covenant with Jacob, promising to be with him and bring him back to his own land. Jacob set up a rock and called that place Bethel (house of God), saying, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17).
Years later God appeared to Jacob in a dream, telling him to leave the land of Laban and return to his own land: “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me” (Genesis 31:13). As Jacob left with a household so large that it had become two camps, angels of God met him at a place called Mahanaim (two camps) and he exclaimed, “This is God’s camp!” (Genesis 32:1-2).
On the last night before Jacob met Esau–when he was alone once again–he literally wrestled with the Lord, who changed his name from Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (one who strives with God, or God strives). Jacob called that place Peniel (the face of God). Unfortunately, Jacob contructed a house in Succoth and stopped just short of entering the promised land by pitching his tent in Shechem (Genesis 33:18). Later Jacob went on to Bethel, where he built an altar and God reiterated Jacob’s name change and again renewed the covenant. Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, died in childbirth on the journey from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem). Eventually Jacob (Israel) returned to his aging father Isaac at Mamre.
Years later, God orchestrated events to bring Jacob (Israel) from Canaan via Beersheba (where God again renewed his covenant) to Egypt, where his son Joseph had prepared the way for the people of God to survive a harsh famine. And after Jacob’s death in Goshen, Joseph and his brothers took Jacob’s body back to Canaan and entombed it in Abrham’s burial cave at Machpelah, near Mamre.
From Mamre to Bethel to Haran to Mahanaim to Peniel to Succoth to Shecem to Bethel to Bethlehem to Mamre to Egypt to Goshen and to his final resting place at Machpelah, Jacob dwelt in many places.
In many of those places, God assured Jacob of his covenantal love. Some of those places–like Bethlehem–would become even more important in covenant history. Yet God says in Psalm 87 that he loves the church more than all those physical dwelling places. In his word, he has spoken of the church’s beauty and glory:
Glorious things of you are spoken,
O city of God (3).
The church has expanded past the boundaries of one nation and its sacred sites; it now encompasses all nations and locations. From even the most hated of Israel’s traditional enemies, God has elected specific individuals to be born into his kingdom:
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush–
“This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
“This one and that one were born in her”;
for the Most HIgh himself will establish her.
The LORD records as he registers the peoples,
“This one was born there” (4-6).
Before the foundation of the world, God elected individuals and wrote their names in his book of life. He established his covenant with the church in the Old Testament, continued it in the New Testament, and will bring it to fulfillment when the holy city comes down from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Then the Lord will register “the peoples” when he opens the “book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). Only those whose names “are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27) will hear him say, “This one was born in Zion.”
The hope of this sure outcome enables the church to live in joy now. We can see that all our blessings flow from God’s gracious hand like a springing fountain:
Singers and dancers alike say,
“All my springs are in you” (7).
Those who are born in Zion by God’s gracious election will see how the fullness of God’s love wells up in their lives now; and they can look forward with hope to the incomparable glory that will flow within their hearts for eternity. They can joyfully dance and sing, “Blessed Zion, All our fountains are in thee” (“Zion, Founded on the Mountains,” p. 193, Psalter Hymnal, 1976).
All scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
© Glenda Mathes 2010