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Psalm 87

All made one in Zion

A Korahite psalm.

Racial superiority and exclusivism remain major problems in the Church, as in the world at large. Despite ancient Israel’s misunderstanding, God has always intended to unite all of humankind as one in him.

He founded his city on the holy mountain.
2 Yahveh loves the gates of Zion
more than any of Jacob’s towns.

3 What glorious things are said of you
city of God:
4 “I name Rahab[1] and Babylon
among those who know me.
Look! Philistia and Tyre, along with Nubia:
‘This one was born there.’
5 Of Zion it will be said:
‘Each and every one was born in it.’
For the Most High himself will establish it.
6 Yahveh writes in the register of peoples:
‘This one was born there.’”

7 Singers and dancers join together to say:
“All my springs are in you!”

This psalm begins much like others celebrating Zion, God’s earthly residence. Zion’s location is sanctified by God’s presence. Yahveh, not David, is Zion’s founder, and Yahveh loves Zion supremely because it’s where heaven and earth uniquely intersect.

But the psalm takes an astonishing turn in describing the glorious things to characterize Zion. Namely, that various peoples that threatened Israel’s existence—some joining together to destroy Israel[2]—are declared to know God and be “born in Zion.” This means God includes these peoples in his kingdom with not second-class, but rather full-status citizenship. Though they’re born in Zion only figuratively, God records their status in writing, making it indelible, incontestable.

Shockingly, Zion’s gates swing open—not just closed—to the Gentiles. Since it’s God’s city, he’s free to welcome them in as he chooses. And the psalm’s focal point, verse 5, says God himself will ensure that this evidently reconstituted Zion is a resounding success, as the wider purpose of its original founding.[3] All of earth’s peoples are thus included in Abraham’s blessing, as they submit to Abraham’s God.[4]

Having begun with God’s love for Zion, the psalmist appropriately ends with Zion’s love for God, as its people respond in joyful song and dance, telling him he’s their only source of life.

Lord, forgive us for hoarding the gifts and freedoms you’ve lavished on us, excluding Blacks, women, Indigenous, the poor as somehow less deserving. Give us your heart for humankind, in which all are second-to-none VIPs made gloriously one in your Son’s eternal kingdom. Amen.

In your free moments today, celebrate this truth:

“Of Zion it will be said:
‘Each and every one was born in it.’
For the Most High himself will establish it.”


[1] A sea monster figuratively referring to Egypt as an existential threat to Israel.

[2] Psa. 83:5-8.

[3] Verses 3-7 reveal a chiastic, or reverse-image, structure pointing emphatically to verse 5, its midpoint.

[4] Gen. 12:3; Psa. 86:9; cf. Gal. 3:28. Verses 3-6 refer to not God’s admission of individual proselytes, but rather his radical inclusion of Gentile peoples in his kingdom.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.