Theme: True Spiritual Brotherhood
In this week’s lessons we look at the nature of the church, which is itself a picture of the eternal City of Zion, of which every Christian is a citizen.
Scripture: Psalm 87:1-7
The theme of these verses is Gentiles and Jews in Jesus’ fold. Even more, it is the chief idea of the psalm. The idea is that in the latter days envisioned by the psalmist the Gentile nations will join the sons and daughters of Israel in acknowledging and worshipping the true God. I also call it the chief idea because it is from this that the psalmist gets his vision of a true brotherhood of nations and world peace.
To show what he means the writer mentions five representative nations. (1) Rahab. The psalm does not indicate what Rahab stands for, but other texts show that it was a name for Egypt, the great power to the south of Israel (see Isaiah 30:7; 51:9, 10). The word itself denotes pride or ferocity. (2) Babylon is next, the great power to the east. Since Babylon did not emerge to prominence until after the decline of Assyria, this reference probably dates the psalm from the time of the later kings of Judah, perhaps during the reign of Hezekiah. (3) Philistia. The first two names pointed to major world powers, the first to the south, and the second to the east. Philistia was a closer, more immediate threat. It was located to the west. (4) Tyre was a powerful city-state to the north. With these four names, all four points of the compass are covered. (5) Cush stands for Ethiopia, often used as a representative, far-distant nation. Thus, in a very short space, the psalmist indicates that in the day of God’s future blessing all the nations of the world (or at least representatives of all the nations of the world) will come to know and praise the true God.
It is hard to read this without thinking of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of how God began to draw people from diverse backgrounds and races to faith in Christ on that occasion (see Acts 2:9-11). The names of the nations had changed from the psalmist’s day, but many from all the points of the compass are mentioned: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome…; Cretans and Arabs.”
The vision of Gentiles and Jews together knowing and praising God is frequent in the New Testament. It is found, for example, in Romans 11; Ephesians 3:3-9; Hebrews 12:22, 23; and Revelation 14:1-5; 7:9, as well as in other less explicit passages.
Noticing the parallel between Psalm 87 and the Christian church, one of the ancient writers said, “This is the glory of the church, that into her the fullness of the nations shall enter—the proud from Egypt, who for her haughtiness is called Rahab; the worldly from Babylon, the city of confusion; the wrathful from Philistia, so long the enemies of Israel; the covetous from Tyre, the rich city of the traders; and the slaves of ignorance from Cush, and from the land of Ham.”1 It is true that we do not yet see all the peoples of the world bowing in grateful submission to Jesus Christ, as we will one day. But we do have a foretaste of this in the wonderful fellowship and unity of purpose the people of God have within the fellowship of Christ’s church.
1This is quoted from an old work called “Plain Commentary” in Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87, p. 483.
What is the chief idea of the psalm?
Of what are the five nations mentioned representative?
What does the psalmist expect to happen in the latter days?
How does the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11) fit into this study?
Application: Do you faithfully pray for the salvation of those from other parts of the world? What will you do to support and encourage missionaries you know who are serving abroad?