The Lord’s Delight In Zion

a brief study of Psalm 87, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 24 July 2009

Psalm 87 is a short psalm, but it is very cryptic and profound psalm. Most of us would know snippets of this psalm. Those of us who were from uninspired hymn-singing background would be familiar with verse 3, because it entered into the hymn of John Newton—“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”:

Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, city of our God;

He whose word cannot be broken

Formed thee for His own abode.

Those of us who have come to embrace Psalm-singing would probably be familiar with verse 2—“ The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” We know from Matthew Henry that this means that while private family worship is pleasing to God, and must not be neglected, yet “when they come in competition, public worship [other things being equal] is to be preferred before private.”

But that is just a couple of verses. What about the rest of the psalm? I suspect that most of us have very little idea what it is about. We can probably read it five or six times and still do not know what it is saying. To tell you honestly when I first studied this psalm, and after reading a couple of commentaries, a fleeting thought crossed my mind that the writer might have been either very distracted or not of sound mind when he wrote it.

Well, I don’t think so! But it is true that this psalm is difficult to understand. Yet however difficult it is, it is part of the inspired Word of God; and so it beckons us to study it to see what the Lord would teach us through it.

Now, while it is difficult to understand at first sight what this psalm us saying, it is clear that it is about Zion. We may entitle it: “The LORD’s delight in Zion

Quite clearly, this psalm has three strophes or poetic movement of unequal length—as the two selahs in verses 3 and 6 would indicate.

In the first part, verse 1-3, we see the worship of Zion beloved of the LORD. In the second part, verse 4-6, we see the membership of Zion established by the LORD. In the third part, verse 7, we a Delight in Zion acknowledged by the LORD.

1. The Worship of Zion
Beloved of the LORD

1  His foundation is in the holy mountains.  2 The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. 3 Glorious things are spoken of [or by] thee, O city of God.

Now, immediately as we enter into this psalm we are confronted with a unique feature of this psalm that make it difficult to interpret it. For notice the abruptness and brevity. The psalm begins with a third person pronoun that is not even defined.

But we have no difficulty understanding that it is the Lord. The LORD’s foundation is in the holy mountains. But what is this foundation?

I believe this foundation refers to Christ.

·  “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa 28:16).

·  “For he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10).

·  “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor 3:11).

The city of Zion is, as it were, built upon Christ. It is significant and beloved for Christ’s sake.

It is for the same reason that the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than the dwellings of Jacob (v. 2). We noted how this verse has to do with the worship of God’s people.

Family worship is of course important. But nothing exalts God’s name more than the public worship of God’s people as they are gathered together in the name of Christ and sounding their praises together in union with him: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee” declares Christ our Lord (Ps 22:22).

The worship of Zion is especially beloved of the LORD because it is the corporate worship of the people purchased by the precious blood of the Son of God. Such public worship best reflects the people as a holy nation, or the temple of God comprising of living stones built upon the foundation, the chief corner stone, Christ, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable unto God.

Such are the ‘glorious things’ that are spoken of or by Zion, the city of God. Oh what a privilege it is to speak such glorious things that brings great delight and honour to our God and King.

And what a great privilege it is to be part of this city of God, for consider how…

2. The Membership of Zion
Established by the LORD

4 I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to[1] them that know me: behold  Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there. 5 And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. 6 The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.

Psalm 87 is very cryptic, and no part of this psalm is more cryptic than this second stanza. What does it mean? Well, we may fill in the blanks and add some clarifying words to read it thus:

4 I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon [as amongst] them that know me: behold [also] Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; [and I shall say] this man was born there [in Zion]. 5 And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. 6 The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.

But even with these clarifying words, most of us would still have trouble with it. What is needed is really for us to use our imagination to think of what circumstance will lead to these words being spoken. This psalm is cryptic because we are expected to fill in the blanks.

Its like, if you hear on radio some saying: “Oh, what a beautiful place this is! What majesty! What grandeur! Oh how it thrills my heart to behold this breathtaking view!”

Where do you think the speaker is standing? What do you think he is seeing? You will no doubt imagine, won’t you that he is standing in front of a majestic scenery won’t you? Perhaps he is standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or maybe he is looking across Yosemite Valley. Whatever it is, from his words, we can imagine where he is.

So it is with our text. Now, we have no doubt that the speaker here is the LORD himself. But what is the context of his saying these things?

Well, I would suggest to you that the LORD is, as it were, visiting Zion on a day of public worship? He hears glorious things being spoken of her (v. 3), but what does He see?

He sees not only those who are Jews. He sees Egyptians (that is what Rahab refers to). He sees Babylonians. He sees Philistines and Sidonians or Tyrians, and Ethiopians. He sees all the different nationalities in the world! But behold they are joint together in worship with the Jews! They are all united in Christ!

Oh what a delight it is to our LORD!

What does the Lord say of them? He says of each one of them: This man is born there in Zion! This man is one of mine! This man is part of the commonwealth of Israel. This man is no more strangers of the covenant for Christ and joined them unto himself. He is a citizen of Zion!

Can you see now the meaning of this second stanza!

God himself will establish Zion. He will declare her membership. He will draw them from the four corners of the world!  The LORD says to His servant Christ, in Isaiah 49:6—

It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.

Jews and Gentiles saved together in Christ! This is the vision painted in our psalm.

Oh what a great privilege, we enjoy, beloved brethren and children, of being part of this glorious city of God!

And it is this city that afford the greatest delight to the LORD, for we see thirdly in this Psalm…

3. Delight in Zion Acknowledged
by the LORD

7 As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.

Zion is God’s royal priesthood and holy nation. There in Zion will God be praised with the calves of the lips. There in Zion will the highest praises. In the Old Covenant times, when the people were waiting for Christ in the shadow, there were the musical instruments, but now in the New Covenant, when the Spirit has been poured out, we have heart-string tuned to heavenly strains.

There is the Lord’s delight. “All my springs are in thee” says the Lord. God’s people in ancient times would understand the value of springs of water and the delight they bring.

When Isaiah would persuade the people to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, he encouraged them with the blessings and joy they would experience if they did so. He says…

“And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isa 58:11).

Springs of waters are synonymous with spiritual delights. All of the LORD’s springs are in Zion. And the LORD’s greatest delight is when the people praise and glorify Him in worship.


Dearly beloved brethren and children, can you appreciate this psalm better now? Can you see what a great privilege we have to be part of Zion, the city of God that we may be instruments of God’s delight.

The Lord has redeemed us with his precious blood that we may be instruments of God’s praise. Oh may the Lord grant us that we may be filled with such gratitude to Him that our praise will never more be a mere going through the motion.

May the Lord grant us that we will never again drag our feet to worship. Never again refuse to sing His praise. Never again despise God goodness in accounting us members of Zion. Amen.

—JJ Lim




[1] l] also ‘for’ or ‘as’ or ‘amongst’ – see BAGD