Songs written thousands of years ago take on renewed relevance as we respond to the recent outbreak of vicious hatred in the Middle East. Psalm 87 was written in a time of despondency as the sheer scale of the necessary rebuilding effort sank in, complicated by the hostility of the surrounding enemies and the weakened condition of the people. However, in his commentary on this psalm, David Dickson identifies reasons to take comfort and be encouraged even in the midst of this grim situation. People from Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon as well as Israel will be spiritually reborn into the family of the covenant Lord, bringing them into a position of the highest honour as well as eternal safety, and displaying the Lord’s wonderful love and power. The promise that He will do this in His own time gives us hope for solid peace eventually.
When God loosed the captivity of the Jews by Cyrus, few of them returned from Babylon. The work of repairing church and state, temple and city had few to assist it. Their enemies were many, they were straitened with poverty and famine, and the hearts and hands of the godly were weakened. They were on the point of fainting, and despairing of church or state ever flourishing any more amongst them.
Psalm 87 was fitted to bring comfort in such a time. It leads the Lord’s people to live by faith, and to keep on going in the work of building the Lord’s house and repairing the city, looking to God the builder of His church and the maintainer of His people. Here are six comforts to the Lord’s people from Psalm 87.
The solid foundation God has already laid
The first comfort of the afflicted Jews, troubled over how the building of God’s temple was being hindered, was that God had by His decree and promise already made the mountains of Sion and Moriah the place of His rest amongst His people. “His foundation is in the holy mountains” (v.1). They would remain till the Messiah would come, for He would fulfil these types, and they would be preserved for His sake until He would come. It is the Messiah who is the only solid rock on which the church is built.
When the builders of the Lord’s church are few and weak, His people need to be comforted against their fears and doubts, and the way to get comfort in such a situation is to look by faith to God as the builder of His own house. God has laid the foundations on a solid basis, so that every believer who trusts in Him will be like Mount Sion, which cannot be moved.
God’s love and goodwill
God had chosen Sion above all other places to be His rest, and loved to dwell there rather than anywhere else. The dignity of any place, person or society does not come from anything in them, but from the Lord’s choice and free love. “The Lord loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (v.2). The love of the Lord to His chosen church is a solid ground of assurance that she will continue.
The prophesies about the church
Comfort also comes from the prophecies which have been made about the church, and the promises God has given her in figurative terms. The church is the place where the Lord reigns, rules, and resides. It is “the city of God” (v.3). And the privileges of the church are very “glorious” (v.3). The glory of kings, crowns and diadems is nothing to them, but at most physical and temporal shadows of what is spiritually and everlastingly bestowed on the church.
Although glorious things are bestowed on the church, it’s not so much the things that have already been done, as the things that are yet to come, which make the church blessed. It’s not having them now, but hope — not sight, but faith — which makes the church blessed. And the Scriptures are a sufficient right to us for all the blessings which are to come. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (v.3).
The multitude of friends and converts
The Lord’s people should look less at the multitude of their enemies at the present time, and more at the multitude of friends and converts they will have in the future.
It is a great comfort that the church’s chief enemies will be converted to the faith and will count it their greatest honour to be so.
It is among the troubles of the church that she has so many enemies, and enemies as powerful as the Egyptians and Babylonians. In verse 4 the psalmist mentions Egypt (under the poetic name ‘Rahab’), Babylon, Palestine, Tyre and Ethiopia as the most eminent oppressors of the church of all the nations.
Yet God is able to turn her chiefest enemies into converts. He has done this various times already, and He will yet do it more. The enemies which are not converted, the Lord can handle. He showed this with Rahab (Egypt) and Babylon. When the psalmist mentions them, it is to the edification of the church, both in terms of what God had done to those nations in justice, and what He would do to them in mercy, or other enemies like them.
For the church to have her enemies made converts, is equally for the church’s glory and comfort and for the honour of the erstwhile enemies. Supposing they were as powerful as could be in the world, now they are citizens of the city of God. “I will make mention of them, that this man was born there,” that is, in the city of God (v.4–5).
Whatever honour people have in the world, it is not to be compared with the honour of regeneration, and being born citizens of the church. Whatever contempt the members of the church suffer from the world, is made up by the honour of being born in the church. “Of Sion it shall be said, This and that man were born in her” (v.5).
There is no reason to fear that the church will be ruined, or that from age to age she will not be a mother to and a receiver of converts. “For the Highest Himself shall establish her.”
The interest which God takes in each of His people
God takes notice of all the regenerate, no less particularly than if their names were all written up in a book one by one. “The Lord shall count when he writeth up the people …” (v.6). Accordingly, a time will come when He will manifest the fact that He has enrolled them. He will manifest it partly to themselves, by witnessing to them that they are His children. Partly to the world, by sustaining them in their trials and troubles. And partly by a full display of them, confessing their names before men and angels at the great day. “When he writeth up the people,” that is, in His own time, when He sees it fit to manifest His respect for His own.
Converts from among the nations will be reckoned up among the converts from the Lord’s people the Jews. “The Lord shall count that this man was born there,” that is, whatsoever kind of person it may be, who is converted out of any country, tongue or language, shall be counted a member of the church of Israel.
The spiritual joys which are ahead for the Lord’s people
The Lord’s people should not be troubled with the contempt under which they lie at present, but look to the glory and estimation which God shall put on the church and her children in His own time. They should not be troubled with their current grief, but look to the spiritual joy, and its causes, which the Lord provides to His people.
God furnishes (and will furnish) to His church spiritual joy, and the everlasting springs, fountains and causes of joy. As the church is subject to her own griefs in the world, so also is she sure of abundant consolations to be had and laid up in store for her. These are expressed here in the terms of types appointed in Israel’s festivals. “As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there” (v.7).
The causes of the joy of the saints are everlasting, comparable to wells and springs of living water. “All my springs shall be in thee” (v.7). The saints, having had their senses exercised, are able to confirm the truth of the promises by their own experience. Especially, they will confess that there is no joy or comfort, no gift nor grace, no refreshment or happiness, worthy of the name, expect what they have by church privileges and the communion of the saints. “All my springs are in thee,” says the psalmist, speaking either to the church or to God dwelling in His church.
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