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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 87


psa 87:0

The City of the New Birth of the Nations

The mission thought in Psa 86:9 becomes the ruling thought in this Korahitic Psalm. It is a prophetic Psalm in the style, boldly and expressively concise even to obscurity (Eusebius, σφόδρα αἰνιγματώδης καὶ σκοτεινῶς εἰρημένος), in which the first three oracles of the tetralogy Isa 21:1, and the passage Isa 30:6, Isa 30:7 - a passage designed to be as it were a memorial exhibition - are also written. It also resembles these oracles in this respect, that Psa 87:1 opens the whole arsis-like by a solemn statement of its subject, like the emblematical inscriptions there. As to the rest, Isa 44:5 is the key to its meaning. The threefold ילּד here corresponds to the threefold זה in that passage.

Since Rahab and Babylon as the foremost worldly powers are mentioned first among the peoples who come into the congregation of Jahve, and since the prospect of the poet has moulded itself according to a present rich in promise and carrying such a future in its bosom, it is natural (with Tholuck, Hengstenberg, Vaihinger, Keil, and others) to suppose that the Psalm was composed when, in consequence of the destruction of the Assyrian army before Jerusalem, offerings and presents were brought from many quarters for Jahve and the king of Judah (Ch2 32:23), and the admiration of Hezekiah, the favoured one of God, had spread as far as Babylon. Just as Micah (Mic 4:10) mentions Babylon as the place of the chastisement and of the redemption of his nation, and as Isaiah, about the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign, predicts to the king a carrying away of his treasures and his posterity to Babylon, so here Egypt and Babylon, the inheritress of Assyria, stand most prominent among the worldly powers that shall be obliged one day to bow themselves to the God of Israel. In a similar connection Isaiah (Isa 19:1) does not as yet mention Babylon side by side with Egypt, but Assyria.

Psalms 87:1

psa 87:1

The poet is absorbed in the contemplation of the glory of a matter which he begins to celebrate, without naming it. Whether we render it: His founded, or (since מיסּד and מוּסּד are both used elsewhere as part. pass.): His foundation (after the form מלוּכה, poetically for יסוד, a founding, then that which is set fast = a foundation), the meaning remains the same; but the more definite statement of the object with שׁערי ציּון is more easily connected with what precedes by regarding it as a participle. The suffix refers to Jahve, and it is Zion, whose praise is a favourite theme of the Korahitic songs, that is intended. We cannot tell by looking to the accents whether the clause is to be taken as a substantival clause (His founded city is upon the holy mountains) or not. Since, however, the expression is not יסוּדתו היא בהררי־קדשׁ, יסודתו בהררי קדשׁ is an object placed first in advance (which the antithesis to the other dwellings of Jacob would admit of), and in Psa 87:2 a new synonymous object is subordinated to אהב by a similar turn of the discourse to Jer 13:27; Jer 6:2 (Hitzig). By altering the division of the verses as Hupfeld and Hofmann do (His foundation or founded city upon the holy mountains doth Jahve love), Psa 87:2 is decapitated. Even now the God-founded city (surrounded on three sides by deep valleys), whose firm and visible foundation is the outward manifestation of its imperishable inner nature, rises aloft above all the other dwelling-places of Israel. Jahve stands in a lasting, faithful, loving relationship (אהב, not 3 praet. אהב) to the gates of Zion. These gates are named as a periphrasis for Zion, because they bound the circuit of the city, and any one who loves a city delights to go frequently through its gates; and they are perhaps mentioned in prospect of the fulness of the heathen that shall enter into them. In Psa 87:3 the lxx correctly, and at the same time in harmony with the syntax, renders: Δεδοξασμένα ἐλαλήθη περὶ σοῦ. The construction of a plural subject with a singular predicate is a syntax common in other instances also, whether the subject is conceived of as a unity in the form of the plural (e.g., Psa 66:3; Psa 119:137; Isa 16:8), or is individualized in the pursuance of the thought (as is the case most likely in Gen 27:29, cf. Psa 12:3); here the glorious things are conceived of as the sum-total of such. The operation of the construction of the active (Ew. 295, b) is not probable here in connection with the participle. בּ beside דּבּר may signify the place or the instrument, substance and object of the speech (e.g., Psa 119:46), but also the person against whom the words are spoken (e.g., Psa 50:20), or concerning whom they are uttered (as the words of the suitor to the father or the relatives of the maiden, Sa1 25:39; Sol 8:8; cf. on the construction, Sa1 19:3). The poet, without doubt, here refers to the words of promise concerning the eternal continuance and future glory of Jerusalem: Glorious things are spoken, i.e., exist as spoken, in reference to thee, O thou city of God, city of His choice and of His love.

The glorious contents of the promise are now unfolded, and that with the most vivid directness: Jahve Himself takes up the discourse, and declares the gracious, glorious, world-wide mission of His chosen and beloved city: it shall become the birth-place of all nations. Rahab is Egypt, as in Psa 89:11; Isa 30:7; Isa 51:9, the southern worldly power, and Babylon the northern. הזכּיר, as frequently, of loud (Jer 4:16) and honourable public mention or commemoration, Ps 45:18. It does not signify "to record or register in writing;" for the official name מזכּיר, which is cited in support of this meaning, designates the historian of the empire as one who keeps in remembrance the memorable events of the history of his time. It is therefore impossible, with Hofmann, to render: I will add Rahab and Babylon to those who know me. In general ל is not used to point out to whom the addition is made as belonging to them, but for what purpose, or as what (cf. Sa2 5:3; Isa 4:3), these kingdoms, hitherto hostile towards God and His people, shall be declared: Jahve completes what He Himself has brought about, inasmuch as He publicly and solemnly declares them to be those who know Him, i.e., those who experimentally (vid., Psa 36:11) know Him as their God. Accordingly, it is clear that זה ילּד־שׁם is also meant to refer to the conversion of the other three nations to whom the finger of God points with הנּה, viz., the war-loving Philistia, the rich and proud Tyre, and the adventurous and powerful Ethiopia (Isa 18:1-7). זה does not refer to the individuals, nor to the sum-total of these nations, but to nation after nation (cf. זה העם, Isa 23:13), by fixing the eye upon each one separately. And שׁם refers to Zion. The words of Jahve, which come in without any intermediary preparation, stand in the closest connection with the language of the poet and seer. Zion appears elsewhere as the mother who brings forth Israel again as a numerous people (Isa 66:7; Psa 54:1-3): it is the children of the dispersion (diaspora) which Zion regains in Isa 60:4.; here, however, it is the nations which are born in Zion. The poet does not combine with it the idea of being born again in the depth of its New Testament meaning; he means, however, that the nations will attain a right of citizenship in Zion (πολιτεία τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, Eph 2:12) as in their second mother-city, that they will therefore at any rate experience a spiritual change which, regarded from the New Testament point of view, is the new birth out of water and the Spirit.

Psalms 87:5

psa 87:5

Inasmuch now as the nations come thus into the church (or congregation) of the children of God and of the children of Abraham, Zion becomes by degrees a church immeasurably great. To Zion, however, or of Zion (ל of reference to), shall it be said אישׁ ואישׁ ילּד־בּהּ. Zion, the one city, stands in contrast to all the countries, the one city of God in contrast to the kingdoms of the world, and אישׁ ואישׁ in contrast to זה. This contrast, upon the correct apprehension of which depends the understanding of the whole Psalm, is missed when it is said, "whilst in relation to other countries it is always only the whole nation that comes under consideration, Zion is not reckoned up as a nation, but by persons" (Hofmann). With this rendering the ילּד retires into the background; in that case this giving of prominence to the value of the individual exceeds the ancient range of conception, and it is also an inadmissible appraisement that in Zion each individual is as important as a nation as a whole. Elsewhere אישׁ אישׁ, Lev 17:10, Lev 17:13, or אישׁ ואישׁ, Est 1:8, signifies each and every one; accordingly here אישׁ ואישׁ (individual and, or after, individual) affirms a progressus in infinitum, where one is ever added to another. Of an immeasurable multitude, and of each individual in this multitude in particular, it is said that he was born in Zion. Now, too, והוּא כוננה עליון has a significant connection with what precedes. Whilst from among foreign peoples more and more are continually acquiring the right of natives in Zion, and thus are entering into a new national alliance, so that a breach of their original national friendships is taking place, He Himself (cf. Sa1 20:9), the Most High, will uphold Zion (Psa 48:9), so that under His protection and blessing it shall become ever greater and more glorious. Psa 87:6 tells us what will be the result of such a progressive incorporation in the church of Zion of those who have hitherto been far removed, viz., Jahve will reckon when He writeth down (כּתוב as in Jos 18:8) the nations; or better - since this would more readily be expressed by בּכתבו, and the book of the living (Isa 4:3) is one already existing from time immemorial - He will reckon in the list (כתוב after the form חלום, חלו, פּקוד = כּתב, Eze 13:9) of the nations, i.e., when He goes over the nations that are written down there and chosen for the coming salvation, "this one was born there;" He will therefore acknowledge them one after another as those born in Zion. The end of all history is that Zion shall become the metropolis of all nations. When the fulness of the Gentiles is thus come in, then shall all and each one as well singing as dancing say (supply יאמרוּ): All my fountains are in thee. Among the old translators the rendering of Aquila is the best: καὶ ᾄδοντες ὡς χοροί· πᾶσαι πηγαὶ ἐν σοί, which Jerome follows, et cantores quasi in choris: omnes fontes mei in te. One would rather render cholaliym, "flute-players" (lxx ὡς ἐν αὐλοῖς); but to pipe or play the flute is חלּל (a denominative from חליל), Kg1 1:40, whereas to dance is חלל (Pilel of חוּל); it is therefore = מחוללים, like לצצים, Hos 7:5. But it must not moreover be rendered, "And singers as well as dancers (will say);" for "singers" is משׁררים, not שׁרים, which signifies cantantes, not cantores. Singing as dancing, i.e., making known their festive joy as well by the one as by the other, shall the men of all nations incorporated in Zion say: All my fountains, i.e., fountains of salvation (after Isa 12:3), are in thee (O city of God). It has also been interpreted: my looks (i.e., the object on which my eye is fixed, or the delight of my eyes), or: my thoughts (after the modern Hebrew עיּן of spiritual meditation); but both are incongruous. The conjecture, too, of Bttcher, and even before him of Schnurrer (Dissertationes, p. 150), כל־מעיני, all who take up their abode (instead of which Hupfeld conjectures מעיני, all my near-dwellers, i.e., those who dwell with me under the same roof)

(Note: Hupfeld cites Rashi as having thus explained it; but his gloss is to be rendered: my whole inmost part (after the Aramaic = מעי) is with thee, i.e., they salvation.)),

is not Hebrew, and deprives us of the thought which corresponds to the aim of the whole, that Jerusalem shall be universally regarded as the place where the water of life springs for the whole of mankind, and shall be universally praised as this place of fountains.

Next: Psalms Chapter 88