Saturday, October 19, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 87

Psalm 87 is just a small psalm, but there's a lot of meaning squished into a little package. The psalm opens with a song of praise for the city of Zion or Jerusalem. “On the holy mount stands the city He founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God” (verses 1-3). For the Israelites, Jerusalem was the center of the universe, the place where God deigned to dwell among His people in a very special way in the Temple. His presence was there day and night, and the Israelites worshiped Him there according to His decrees. Association with Zion was an honor, for it indicated association with God. Those who went to and came from Jerusalem had access to God, for they could visit the Temple and at least enter into the outer courts, knowing that His presence was within. 

This is why the psalmist is careful to associate himself with Zion in verse 4. He was born in Jerusalem, and such a distinction is a great honor. Even the foreigners he encounters know his origin and whisper about it amongst themselves. They seem to understand that the psalmist possesses something great, something they don't have and can't quite put their finger on. 

But the psalmist knows the secret. He says in verse 5, “And of Zion it shall be said, 'This one and that one were born in it'; for the Most High Himself will establish it.” Zion is special because it is God's city. God Himself, the Most High, has set it up and made it firm. He provides for it and directs it, ordering all things for its good. To be born in Zion is to be under that special favor of God. It is to be in a relationship with Him. 

Even God recognizes the special nature of those who are part of His community at Zion. “The Lord records, as He registers the people, 'This one was born there'” (verse 6). This one is part of His intimate family. This one has a special connection to Him through the place in which He has chosen to dwell. This one's name is written in God's book with an important notation; this one is from Zion.

This is a cause for celebration, as the last verse notes. “Singers and dancers alike say, 'All my springs are in you.'” The Hebrew in this verse would be better translated as “singers and those playing instruments,” but the point is the same. Being born in Zion, having a connection to God's city, being part of His family is something to celebrate, something to sing about. And what do these happy people sing? “All my springs are in you.” The Hebrew word for “springs” is ma‛yânâh. Figuratively, it refers to a source or fountain of satisfaction. Every good thing comes from Zion, which is merely shorthand for every good thing comes from God. All happiness. All joy. All beauty. All goodness. All truth. All love. Every good thing comes from God. 

This psalm gives rise to a couple critical questions. First, what about Israelites who were not born in Jerusalem? Were they somehow second class citizens within the Israelite community? Not at all. Every Israelite had a special connection to Jerusalem, for every Israelite had a special connection to God. As members of God's covenant, they were part of God's family. Their home was wherever God was, and for the Israelites, that was Jerusalem where His presence filled the Temple. Because they were members of God's covenant people, they were all natives of Zion. 

Second, what about Christians? How does this psalm help us understand our relationship with God? The Jerusalem Temple is long gone, destroyed in 70 A.D. Few, if any, of us look to the city of Jerusalem as a home place, however interesting it may be historically or culturally. But we, too, are part of God's family, for we, too, have entered into a covenant with Him. God has given us a new covenant through Jesus Christ and a new Jerusalem, the Church. When we are baptized, we are accepted into our new home and family. We dwell with God, and God dwells with us. 

The Church has gotten a bad rap lately. Yes, the Church is made up of sinful people who sometimes do horrible things. But the Church herself is holy because she is God's Church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church is the homeland and household for all Christians. What is said of the city of Zion in this psalm can be applied to the Church, too. God loves the Church as He loved Zion. Glorious things can be spoken about her because she is God's dwelling place. The Most High Himself has established her, and He makes her stand firm amid all the trials and scandal that threaten her. He records her members in the register of the peoples. Belonging to the Church is a great honor, for in the Church we have access to God's great grace poured out through the sacraments. When we enter God's Church through baptism, God enters our souls. We can receive God Himself, Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. We can feel God's loving mercy in Reconciliation. We can experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. We can bask in God's healing touch in the Anointing of the Sick. If called, we can mark our lives with God's grace through Marriage and Holy Orders. The Church is God's city, God's house, the new new Jerusalem. This is reason to celebrate. Singing and dancing, we should imitate our ancestors in the psalm by crying out, “All my springs are in you!”

No comments:

Post a Comment