Psalm 87:4

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 4. I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me. This shall be a glorious subject to speak of concerning Zion, that her old foes are new born and have become her friends, worshipping in the temple of her God. Rahab or Egypt which oppressed Israel shall become a sister nation, and Babylon in which the tribes endured their second great captivity, shall become a fellow worshipper; then shall there be mention made in familiar talk of the old enmities forgotten and the new friendships formed. Some consider that these are the words of God himself, and should be rendered "I will mention Rahab and Babylon as knowing me": but we feel content with our common version, and attribute the words to the Psalmist himself, who anticipates the conversion of the two great rival nations and speaks of it with exultation.

Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia. These also are to bow before the Lord. Philistia shall renounce her ancient hate, Tyre shall not be swallowed up by thoughts of her commerce, and distant Ethiopia shall not be too far off to receive the salvation of the Lord.

This man was born there. The word man is inserted by the translators to the marring of the sense, which is clear enough when the superfluous word is dropped, -- "Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this was born there" -- i.e., this nation has been born into Zion, regenerated into the church of God. Of the new births of nations we will make mention, for it is at once a great blessing and a great wonder. It is a glorious thing indeed when whole nations are born unto God.

"Mark ye well Philistia's legions,
Lo, to seek the Lord they came;
And within the sacred regions
Tyre and Cush have found a home."

Many understand the sense of these verses to be that all men are proud of their native country, and so also is the citizen of Zion, so that while of one it is said, "he was born in Egypt" and of another, "he came from Ethiopia", it would be equally to the honour of others that they were home born sons of the city of God. The passage is not so clear that any one should become dogmatical as to its meaning, but we prefer the interpretation given above.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 4. -- I will make mention, etc. As if he had said, I do not deny the due praises which belong to other places and countries, but rather am wont to make honourable mention of them among my acquaintance; and to allow that this man, that is, some notable person, though comparatively of no great value, was born in them. --Thomas Fenton.

Verse 4. Rahab, a poetical name of Egypt. The same word signifies "fierceness, insolence, pride"; if Hebrew when applied to Egypt, it would indicate the national character of the inhabitants. --Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.

Verse 4. -- It should comfort the church that God is able to make her chiefest enemies to become converts, and that he hath done it sundry times, and will yet do it more; and that he can take order with those enemies which shall not be converted, as he did with Rahab and Babylon; for, I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me, signifieth a mention making of them; viz., to the edification of the church's children, both concerning what God had done in those nations in justice; and what he would do to them in mercy, or unto other enemies like unto them. --David Dickson.

Verse 4. Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia. This is the glory of the Church, that into her the fulness of the nations shall enter, -- the proud from Egypt, who for her haughtiness is called Rahab, -- the worldly from Babylon, the city of confusion, -- the wrathful from Philistia, so long the enemies of Israel, -- the covetous from Tyre, the rich city of the traders, -- and the slaves of ignorance from Cush, and from the land of Ham, -- all these shall learn the love of Christ and confess his truth, and shall enter into that all glorious city, and be admitted and acknowledged as citizens of the celestial Sion. --"Plain Commentary".

Verse 4.-- By this testimony of the nations here mentioned, we may understand the testimony of the Gentile Christians in general, though, perhaps, a special reference is had to that extraordinary scene which took place at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost: "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in his own tongue, wherein we were born?" Acts 2:5-8 .

The reader will find that there is a remarkable agreement between the nations specified in the book of the Acts, and the nations pointed out in the Psalm before us. Rahab, that is, Egypt, is first mentioned; and in the Acts we find enumerated, "Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene"; next Babylon is in the record; and the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, were inhabitants of what once was the Babylonian empire: Philistia is also mentioned; and "dwellers in Judea" are spoken of in the Acts -- "dwellers in Judea" speaking a different language from what was common at Jerusalem. Who could these be, so probably, as the inhabitants of the ancient Philistia, which was in the precincts of the allotment of Judah? Here, too, perhaps, on account of its port of Joppa, was a grand resort of "Cretes and Arabians", and "strangers of Rome".

The Grecian settlements of Asia Minor are the only ones specified in the Acts of the Apostles, which we have not noticed in the Psalm -- "Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia": but what could so probably indicate these countries, and all who spoke the dialects of the Grecian tongue, as the great mart of Tyre, in frequenting which, the Jews would have the most frequent opportunity of intercourse with these nations? -- John Fry.

Verse 4. Born in her. The Missionary Society set forth in the Prophets, by our Lord and by his apostles, is, the Church; and so, whereas our natural state, after Adam's fall, was alienation from God, and disunion among ourselves, would He restore "glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men", by binding us up in one holy fellowship, and making the continuance of his blessings dependent upon that unity, which he imparted and preserves. To adduce the whole proof for this, would be to go through the whole Old Testament; for the Old Testament is direct prophecy and type, is one large prophecy of the Redeemer and his Kingdom or Church. No sooner had disunion multiplied with the multiplying of men, but in the second generation from Adam, he formed union through a Church, and "Men began to call upon the name of the Lord" (Ge 4:26), i.e., they began to unite in worshipping the Lord, and amid the growing corruption, religion was no longer entrusted to the insulated care of single families, but concentrated in a church. And when, after the flood, one righteous man was called out of the fast corrupting world, unity was preserved, in that one only was called, but in that one a church was founded; for this was the reason assigned by God himself: "All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord", ( Genesis 18:18-19 ). "God called Abraham alone, and blessed him, and increased him" ( Isaiah 51:2 ), and formed the Jewish Church out of him, that however largely it might spread, it might be bound in one by its origin of one; and he gave it also outward marks and signs between him and it, which by severing it from others, might keep it one in itself. The temporal people had their union through a temporal birth of one, and outward signs; the Christian Church has its unity by a spiritual birth, and inward graces, through the power deposited in her to give spiritual birth, so that through one mother, we are all born of one Father, God, and amongst ourselves are brethren, by being members of One, our ever blessed Lord.

The unity of the Christian Church and her office of gathering all nations unto the Lord, are set forth, in many ways, in prophecy. Thus, in our Psalm, Zion is set forth as the special object of God's love, as having (in language which anticipates the Gospel) been "founded" by him "on the holy mountains", as the "city of God", whereof "glorious things are spoken." And what are these? That she should be the spiritual birthplace of all nations. It is not merely said, as in other places, that they should "come to her", should "flow into her", but that they should be "born in her." "Of Zion it shall be said, This and that man (i.e. all, one by one) was born in her;" and whence? all the nations of the earth, Rahab or Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, Ethiopia, Philistia, the most learned, the most powerful, the wealthiest, the furthest, and her nearest, oldest and bitterest enemy Philistia, all, being already born after the flesh, as Egyptians, Babylonians, Ethiopians, Tyrians, Philistines, should be "born in her", and by being "born there", should become children of God, citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, written by God in the roll of his book. "The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there"; he shall account them as his, being reborn in his Church.

In like manner, with regard to every prophecy, whereat men's hearts beat, as an encouragement to Missionary labours. Throughout, it is the Lord and Saviour of the Church, or the Church itself, filled with his Spirit, and restored and enlarged, and widening herself by his favour, and gathering his people into herself, his fold. --E.B. Pusey, in a Sermon entitled, "The Church the Converter of the Heathen." 1838.

Verse 4-6. -- It is made the honour and dignity of Sion, that is, of the true Church of God, to have such and such born in it: "this and that man was born in her." There are two things signified in this expression, as branches of their honour; the one is the quality of the persons; and the other is the number of them. For the quality of them, this; for the number of them, this and that. To have both of these born in Sion, persons of note and eminency, and a multitude and plurality of such persons; this is a part of that dignity and renown which belongs unto it ...

And so for the noun, man; the Hebrew word fya which is here used for a man, except qualified by some other word as joined with it, signifies a man of worth, not a common or ordinary person. The Church brings forth such as these, ~fh yfna, men of renown, famous and eminent men, and that in all kinds of perfections, whether natural, or civil, or spiritual; men of parts, or men of power, or men of piety. There are those in all these excellencies which have been and still are born in her.

First, take it for natural or acquired abilities; men of parts, and knowledge, and wisdom, and improved understandings; the church is not without these: this man, i.e., this learned man, or this wise man was born in Sion. All are not idiots who are Christians; no, but there are some of very rare and admirable accomplishments in all kinds and pieces of learning and secular knowledge, which are graciously qualified. There's Paul with his parchments, and Peter with his fisher's net. So also secondly, take it for civil or secular qualifications; men of dignity, and power, and estate: "this man", i.e., this honourable man, ~ynp awfn, eminent in countenance, as he is called, Isaiah 3:2 , he is likewise born in Sion; the mighty man, and the man of war. The Syriac interpreter was so far sensible of this, as that he expresses it in the very text; and therefore instead of saying, "This man was born there", he says, "A potent man was born there, `and he has established it;'" whereby (as I conceive), he takes in the word highest, which follows afterwards in the verse, and refers it here to this place ... And again, the Chaldee paraphrast in the text, "This King was born there", understanding thereby Solomon, as most conceive and apprehend it.

Thirdly, take it for spirituals, and for these accomplishments especially; This man, i.e., this godly man; this is that which is most proper and essential to Sion, and to the being born in it; yea, it is that which makes Sion itself, in the sense we now take it. It is the highest perfection of it, and the greatest commendation to it of any thing else. This is the great honour of the church, that it forms men to such qualities and dispositions as those are, which no other place does beside...As for other places, they may perhaps now and then reach to some other principles, and those likewise very glorious in the eyes of the world -- morality, and civility, and ingenuity, and smoothness of behaviour. The school of nature and common reason may sometimes come up to these, and that in a very great measure; yea, but now go a little higher, to brokenness of heart, to self denial, to love of enemies, to closing with Christ, the frame and spirit of the gospel; this is to be found nowhere but only in Sion. And here it is: "This man was born there."

Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there. Here's the excellency of the ordinances, and that power and energy which is stirring in the Church of Christ; that it is able to work such a miraculous alteration as this; to bring men from darkness to light, from Satan to God, from a state of sin and corruption and unregeneracy, to a state of grace and holiness and regeneration; yea, from the lowest degree of the one to the highest degree of the other. That Philistia should turn into Palestina, Tyre into, Jerusalem, Ethiopia into Judea; here's the wonder of all; the reconciling of these two opposite terms thus both together. That "princes should come out of Egypt", and that Ethiopia should stretch out her hands to God, as it is in Psalms 68:31 ; that the blackamoor should change his skin, and that the leopard should change his spots; and that this Ethiopian should become this Christian; "that he which was born there, should be born here." Thomas Horton, in "Zion's Birth Register unfolded in a Sermon to the native citizens of London." 1656.

Verse 4-6. -- Foreign nations are here described not as captives or tributaries, not even as doing voluntary homage to the greatness and glory of Zion, but as actually incorporated and enrolled, by a new birth, among her sons. Even the worst enemies of their race, the tyrants and oppressors of the Jews, Egypt and Babylon, are threatened with no curse, no shout of joy is raised at the prospect of their overthrow, but the privileges of citizenship are extended to them, and they are welcomed as brothers. Nay more, God himself receives each one as a child newly born into his family, acknowledges each as his son, and enrols him with his own hand on the sacred register of his children. It is the mode of anticipating a future union and brotherhood of all the nations of the earth, not by conquest, but by incorporation into one state, and by a birthright so acquired, which is so remarkable. In some of the prophets, more especially in Isaiah, we observe the same liberal, conciliatory, comprehensive language towards foreign states, as Tyre and Ethiopia, and still more strikingly toward Egypt and Assyria ( Isaiah 19:22-25 ). But the Psalm stands alone amongst the writings of the Old Testament, in representing this union of nations as a new birth unto the city of God ... It is the first announcement of that great amity of nations, or rather of that universal common citizenship of which heathen philosophers dreamt, which was "in the mind of Socrates when he called himself a citizen of the world", which had become a common place of Stoic philosophy, which Judaism tried finally to realize by the admission of proselytes, through baptism, into the Jewish community; which Rome accomplished, so far as the external semblance went, first by subduing the nations, and then by admitting them to the rights of Roman citizenship. But the true fulfilment of this hope is to be found only in that kingdom which Christ has set up. He has gathered into his commonwealth all the kingdoms of the earth. He has made men one, members of the same family, by teaching them to feel that they are all children of the same Father. He has made it evident that the hope of the Jewish singer is no false hope; that there is a Father in heaven who cares for all, whatever name they bear. Thus the Psalm has received a better and higher fulfilment than that which lies on the surface of its words. It was fulfilled in Christ. --J. J. Stewart Perowne.

Verse 4-7. -- The main thought is that contained in Psalms 87:4-7 , the glorifying of Sion by the reception of the heathen into the number of its citizens; and a well defined form and arrangement of this thought forms the proper kernel of the Psalms 87:1-7 , "Sion, the birth place of the nations", which occurs in every one of the three verses ( Psalms 87:4-6 ), which are bounded by a Selah behind and before. --E. W. Hengstenberg.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 4. (last clause).

  1. Behold what the "man" was: a native of "Philistia", a heathen, and an enemy to God.
  2. Behold what happened to him: he

"was born there", i.e. new born in Zion.

  1. Behold what he became -- he became by his new birth a freeman and burgess of Zion, & c.

Verse 4-5.

  1. What is not the most honourable birth place -- not Rahab nor Egypt, nor Babylon, nor any earthly palace or kingdom.
  2. What is? "Of Zion", & c.
(a) Because it is a nobler birth; a being born again of the Spirit of God.

(b) Because it is a nobler place; the residence of the Highest, and established for ever.

(c) Because it brings nobler rank and privileges. --G.R.

Verse 4-7.

  1. Zion shall produce many good and great men.
  2. Zion's interest shall be established by divine power.
  3. Zion's sons shall be registered with honour.
  4. Zion's songs shall be sung with joy and triumph. --Matthew Henry.

Verse 4-7.

  1. The excellence of the church is here stated.
  2. Her enlargement is here promised. --J. Scholefield, 1825.