2–8 December 2018.
Psalm 87 is one of the so-called “Songs of Zion”, hymns that praise Zion (another name for Jerusalem) for its role in God’s work of ruling and blessing the world. Jewish scholars tell us that Psalm 87 may have been sung by pilgrims on their yearly journey to Jerusalem. That’s because one of the great themes in this psalm is the way that people from all over the earth will stream into Jerusalem to find their home there together with God.
We often think of the Jewish faith as being very exclusive, in the sense that some Jews focussed on God’s election of Jews and his special love for them above all other people. And while we do find that idea in places, it certainly doesn’t represent the whole Jewish faith. There are other voices which praise God’s love and grace not just for Israelites but for the people of all nations. Scripture also has great promises of universal hope for all people and nations. In these Old Testament traditions, just because God chose Israel, that doesn’t mean other peoples are not chosen or loved by God too. This was the hard lesson that Jonah had to learn, that God’s love also includes those outside Israel – even Israel’s enemies.
We find this same good news in Psalm 87. If Jerusalem is God’s city, then God welcomes all peoples and all nations to join the Jewish pilgrims and come to Jerusalem, and to find their rest and home there. Even if those people are born in other countries – in Philistia, in Tyre, even in distant Ethiopia – they will still be counted as citizens of Jerusalem and will find welcome and inclusion there. And again, this promise of welcome and acceptance is even given to Israel’s two greatest enemies: Egypt (called Rahab in v. 4) and Babylon! These Jewish pilgrims imagined the city of Jerusalem as the home and place of blessing for all people.
Of course for us Christians, the focus of our faith is not on a city. Our hope and salvation are not focused on a piece of land. The firm foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ, and he is our spiritual home. That’s why in the New Testament Matthew and Luke and Paul all stress that Jesus Christ is the True Israel. And that’s why in John 12:32 Jesus swaps himself into Jerusalem’s place and proclaims this universal good news for the whole world: “When I am lifted up from the earth,” Jesus says, “I will draw all people to myself.” That’s great news for you and me, and that’s great news for the whole world!
Pastor Stephen Lakkis