Treasury of David
SUBJECT AND DIVISION. The song is in honor of Zion, or Jerusalem, and it treats of God's favor to that city among the mountains, the prophecies which made it illustrious, and the honor of being a native of it. Many conceive that it was written at the founding of David's city of Zion, but does not the mention of Babylon imply a later date? It would seem to have been written after Jerusalem and the Temple had been built, and had enjoyed a history, of which glorious things could be spoken. Among other marvels of God's love in its later history, it had been untouched by Sennacherib when other cities of Israel and Judah had fallen victims to his cruelty. It was in Hezekiah's reign that Babylon became prominent, when the ambassadors came to congratulate the king concerning his recovery, at that time also Tyre would be more famous than at any period in David's day. But as we have no information, and the point is not important, we may leave it, and proceed to meditate upon the Psalm itself. We have no need to divide so brief a song.
Verse 1. His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The Psalm begins abruptly, the poet's heart was full, and it gained vent on a sudden.
"God's foundation stands forever
On the holy mountain towers;
Zion's gates Jehovah favors
More than Jacob's thousand bowers."
Sudden passion is evil—but bursts of holy joy are most precious. God has chosen to found his earthly temple upon the mountains; he might have selected other spots—but it was his pleasure to have his chosen abode upon Zion. His election made the mountains holy, they were by his determination ordained and set apart for the Lord's use.
The foundation of the church, which is the mystical Jerusalem, is laid in the eternal, immutable, and invincible decrees of Jehovah. He wills that the church shall be, he settles all arrangements for her calling, salvation, maintenance and perfection, and all his attributes, like the mountains round about Jerusalem, lend their strength for her support. Not on the sand of carnal policy, nor in the morass of human kingdoms, has the Lord founded his church—but on his own power and godhead, which are pledged for the establishment of his beloved church, which is to him the chief of all his works.
What a theme for meditation is the founding of the church of God in the ancient covenant engagements of eternity; the abrupt character of this first verse indicates long consideration on the part of the writer, leading up to his bursting forth in wonder and adoration. Well might such a theme cause his heart to glow.
Rome stands on her seven hills and has never lacked a poet's tongue to sing her glories—but more glorious far are you, O Zion, among the eternal mountains of God: while pen can write or mouth can speak, your praises shall never lie buried in inglorious silence.
Verse 2. The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
The gates are put for the city itself. The love of God is greatest to his own elect nation, descended from his servant Jacob—yet the central seat of his worship is dearer still; no other supposable comparison could have so fully displayed the favor which Jehovah bore to Jerusalem—he loves Jacob best and Zion better than the best. The mystical teaching of these words is plain, God delights in the prayers and praises of Christian families and individuals—but he has a special eye to the assemblies of the faithful, and he has a special delight in their devotions in their church capacity.
The great festivals, when the crowds surrounded the temple gates, were fair in the Lord's eyes, and even such is the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in Heaven. This should lead each separate believer to identify himself with the church of God; where the Lord reveals his love the most, there should each believer most delight to be found. Our own dwellings are very dear to us—but we must not prefer them to the assemblies of the saints; we must say of the church—
"Here my best friends, my kindred dwell:
Here God, my Savior reigns."
Verse 3. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God.
This is true of Jerusalem. Her history, which is the story of the nation of which she is the capital, is full of glorious incidents, and her use and end as the abode of the true God, and of his worship, was preeminently glorious. Glorious things were taught in the streets, and seen in her temples. Glorious things were foretold of her, and she was the type of the most glorious things of all.
This is yet more true of the church: she is founded in grace—but her pinnacles glow with glory. Men may glory in her without being braggarts, she has a luster about her brow which none can rival. Whatever glorious things the saints may say of the church in their eulogies, they cannot exceed what prophets have foretold, what angels have sung, or what God himself has declared. Happy are the tongues which learn to occupy themselves with so excellent a subject; may they be found around our fire sides, in our market places, and in all the spots where men most congregate.
Never let your praises cease, O bride of Christ, you fairest among women, you in whom the Lord himself has placed his delight, calling you by that pearl of names, Hephzibah, "for my delight is in her." Since the Lord has chosen you, and deigns to dwell in you, O city of beauty, none can rival you, you are the eye of the world, the pearl, the queen of all the cities of the universe; the true "eternal city", the metropolitan, the mother of us all. The years to come shall unveil your beauties to the astonished eyes of all peoples, and the day of your splendor shall come to its sevenfold noon.
With the prospect before him of a world converted, and the most implacable foes transformed into friends, it was fit that the Psalmist should pause. How could he sing the glories of new born Tyre and Ethiopia, received with open arms into union with Zion, until he had taken breath and prepared both voice and heart for so divine a song.
Verse 4. I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know me.
This shall be a glorious subject to speak of concerning Zion, that her old foes are new born and have become her friends, worshiping in the temple of her God. Rahab or Egypt which oppressed Israel shall become a sister nation, and Babylon in which the tribes endured their second great captivity, shall become a fellow worshiper; then shall there be mention made in familiar talk of the old enmities forgotten and the new friendships formed.
Some consider that these are the words of God himself, and should be rendered "I will mention Rahab and Babylon as knowing me": but we feel content with our common version, and attribute the words to the Psalmist himself, who anticipates the conversion of the two great rival nations and speaks of it with exultation.
Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia.
These also are to bow before the Lord. Philistia shall renounce her ancient hate, Tyre shall not be swallowed up by thoughts of her commerce, and distant Ethiopia shall not be too far off to receive the salvation of the Lord.
This man was born there.
The word man is inserted by the translators to the marring of the sense, which is clear enough when the superfluous word is dropped, "Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—this was born there"—that is, this nation has been born into Zion, regenerated into the church of God. Of the new births of nations we will make mention, for it is at once a great blessing and a great wonder. It is a glorious thing indeed when whole nations are born unto God.
"Mark you well Philistia's legions,
Lo, to seek the Lord they came;
And within the sacred regions
Tyre and Cush have found a home."
Many understand the sense of these verses to be that all men are proud of their native country, and so also is the citizen of Zion, so that while of one it is said, "he was born in Egypt" and of another, "he came from Ethiopia", it would be equally to the honor of others that they were home born sons of the city of God. The passage is not so clear that any one should become dogmatic as to its meaning—but we prefer the interpretation given above.
Verse 5. And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her.
Not as nations only—but one by one, as individuals, the citizens of the New Jerusalem shall be counted, and their names publicly declared. Man by man will the Lord reckon them, for they are each one precious in his sight; the individual shall not be lost in the mass—but each one shall be of high account. What a patent of nobility is it, for a man to have it certified that he was born in Zion; the twice born are a royal priesthood, the true aristocracy, the imperial race of men.
The original, by using the noblest word for man, intimates that many remarkable men will be born in the church, and indeed every man who is renewed in the image of Christ is an eminent personage, while there are some, who, even to the dim eyes of the world, shine forth with a luster of character which cannot but be admitted to be unusual and admirable. The church has illustrious names of prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, reformers, missionaries and the like, which bear comparison with the grandest names honored by the world, nay, in many respects far excel them. Zion has no reason to be ashamed of her sons, nor her sons of her. "Wisdom is justified of her children."
And the highest himself shall establish her.
The only establishment worth having. When the numbers of the faithful are increased by the new birth, the Lord proves himself to be the builder of the church. The Lord alone deserves to wear the title of Defender of the Faith; he is the sole and sufficient Patron and Protector of the true church. There is no fear for the Lord's heritage, his own arm is sufficient to maintain his rights. The Highest is higher than all those who are against us, and the good old cause shall triumph over all.
Verse 6. The Lord shall count, when he writes up the people, that this man was born there.
At the great census which the Lord himself shall take, he will number the nations without exception and make an exact registry of them, whether they were by their natural descent Babylonians or Tyrians, or other far off heathen. May it be our happy lot to be numbered with the Lord's chosen both in life and death, in the church roll below, and in the church roll above.
Jehovah's census of his chosen will differ much from ours; he will count many whom we should have disowned, and he will leave out many whom we should have reckoned. His registration is infallible. Let us pray then for that adoption and regeneration which will secure us a place among the Heaven born. It was thought to be a great honor to have one's name written in the golden book of the Republic of Venice, kings and princes paid dearly for the honor—but the book of life confers far rarer dignity upon all whose names are recorded therein.
Verse 7. As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there.
In vision the Psalmist sees the citizens of Zion rejoicing at some sacred festival, and marching in triumphant procession with vocal and instrumental music. Where God is there must be joy, and where the church is increased by numerous conversions the joy becomes exuberant and finds out ways of displaying itself. Singers and dancers, Psalmists and pipers, united their efforts and made a joyful procession to the temple, inspired not by Bacchus, or by the Castalian fount—but by draughts from the sacred source of all good, of which they each one sing
All my springs are in you.
Did the poet mean that henceforth he would find all his joys in Zion, or that to the Lord he would look for all inspiration, comfort, strength, joy, life and everything. The last is the truest doctrine. Churches have not such all sufficiency within them that we can afford to look to them for all—but the Lord who founded the church is the eternal source of all our supplies, and looking to him we shall never flag or fail.
How truly does all our experience lead us to look to the Lord by faith, and say "all my fresh springs are in you." The springs of my faith and all my graces; the springs of my life and all my pleasures; the springs of my activity and all its right doings; the springs of my hope, and all its heavenly anticipations, all lie in you, my Lord. Without your Spirit I would be as a dry well, a mocking cistern, destitute of power to bless myself or others. O Lord, I am assured that I belong to the regenerate whose life is in you, for I feel that I cannot live without you; therefore, with all your joyful people will I sing your praises.