Glorious things of thee are spoken — Psalm 87

Psalms of the Sons of Korah

Some hymns are little more than setting the words of the psalm to fit a tune and adding a rhyme, The Lord’s my shepherd and The king of love my shepherd is are both more or less direct translations of Psalm 23. There are lots of examples of this in the Scottish Psalter. Glorious things of thee are spoken is not a direct translation, but is clearly inspired by Psalm 87:3.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem as it is now.
Photo by Haley Black on Pexels.com

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88 are attributed to the Sons of Korah. Korah, was a cousin of Moses and Arron who led a revolt against Moses: Korah died in the rebellion. His three sons were named as singers in the Tabernacle and their offspring in the Temple. The sons of Korah who wrote these psalms are descended from Korah’s sons, not necessarily the sons themselves.

A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
    the Lord loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
Glorious things of you are spoken,
    O city of God. Selah

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.” Selah

Singers and dancers alike say,
    “All my springs are in you.”

Psalm 87 ESVUK

The psalms are poetry, and the form of the poem helps with the meaning as it shows which verses have the emphasis. That is why I look at the form of the psalms to try to see where the original singers would have put the emphasis in order to get a clearer meaning out. The psalms attributed to the sons of Korah have been very helpful in this, up to now, as they have very significant form. Psalm 87 is an exception, it comes over as a series of statements that stand on their own. The only help is that it falls into three sections, divided by a Selah, an instruction to pause and reflect on what has been sung, possibly over an instrumental piece of music. It also shares a literal theme with Psalms 46, 48 and 84, psalms also by the sons of Korah, which all glorify Jerusalem and its sanctuary.

Psalm 46 God is our shelter – all will come to know God.
Psalm 48 The city on mount Zion is a metaphor for God’s power.
Psalm 84 A love song for God’s kingdom.

On the holy mount

vv. 1 – 3: God loves the gates because that is where people come and go from his presence. In the book of Revelation, John describes the holy city coming down from God with 12 gates representing the tribes of Israel. The gates of the city of God are precious. We are not supposed to sit in the place of God’s power we are supposed to come and go, taking God’s love and power out into the world. God loves Zion more than the habitations of Jacob is a use of words I first came to understand whilst meditating on Isaiah 44:1, “Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, And Israel whom I have chosen.” Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he met with God and was transformed, Isaiah was not only using parallelism but is contrasting the former person, Jacob the servant of God to the transformed person, Israel the man chosen by God. The psalmist is using language to imply the people, Jacob, have not been transformed by God.

This one was born again here

vv, 4 – 6: The phrase, “This one was born there,” in each of the verses in this section. Following on from using the name Jacob in the first section of the psalm, the psalmist uses language of transformation which does mot come through clearly in a direct translation, but The Message paraphrase says, “This one was born again here!” Even though Jacob, the residents who call themselves God’s people are not transformed by God, the people of Egypt and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Cush can be. This fits in with the theme in the psalms by the sons of Korah that God is all around and for all people. Those who call themselves God’s people will not let God transform them yet God can transform the surrounding nations including Egypt and Babylon where they were slaves and in exile.

All my springs

“All my springs are in you.” What an odd phrase.

In a desert culture a spring was life.  It was likely the only available source of water within travelling distance.  If a spring dried up, you moved, or died. That is the psalmist’s image: What could be better than life-giving water? A life-giving God. ALL my springs are in you he says. Everything I need for life is found in God.


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