Psalms For Life
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Psalm 87

All one in Zion

A descendants of Korah psalm.

Racism and exclusivism have always been major problems, as in the Church today. Similarly, the Israelites often forgot the breadth of his plan, but God has always intended to unite humankind as one in him.

1 The city he founded
stands on the holy mountain.
2 YHWH loves the gates of Zion
more than any of Jacob’s towns.

3 What glorious things are said of you
city of God:     Selah
4 “I will register Rahab and Babylon
among the nations that know me.
Philistia and Tyre too, along with Nubia:
‘This one was born there.’
5 Of Zion it will be said:
‘Each and every one was born in it.’
And the Most High himself will establish it.
6 YHWH himself
will write in the register of peoples:
‘This one was born in it.’”

7 Singers and dancers join together to say:
“All my springs are in you!”     Selah

This psalm begins much like others celebrating Zion, God’s earthly home. Zion’s location is sanctified by God’s presence. YHWH, not David, is Zion’s founder, and YHWH loves Zion supremely because it’s where heaven and earth uniquely intersect. Zion embodies all of God’s hopes for a new world order, founded on justice and peace.

But the psalm takes an astonishing turn in describing Zion’s glories—that the peoples that threatened Israel’s existence are declared to know God and be born in Zion. Rahab refers figuratively to Egypt as a sea monster intent on devouring little Israel. The Philistines represent Israel’s equivalent threat within Canaan. The other nations named all tried to wipe Israel off the map at some point.

How amazing that God would grant these peoples not second-class status, but rather full citizenship. Though they’re born in Zion only figuratively, God records their status in writing, making it indelible, incontestable. And God himself guarantees multi-ethnic Zion’s success, the point emphasized at the center of the psalm’s chiasm.[1] St. Paul would later say that this refers to not just the conversion of individual proselytes, but rather God’s radical inclusion of Gentile peoples in his kingdom, which he envisioned way back in his call to Abram.

Shockingly, Zion’s gates swing open—not just closed—to the Gentiles. Since it’s God’s city, he’s free to welcome them in as he chooses. And the psalm’s focal point, verse 5, says God himself will ensure that this clearly reconstituted Zion is a resounding success, as the broader purpose of its original founding. All of earth’s peoples are thus included in Abraham’s blessing, as they submit to Abraham’s God. In his eternal kingdom, the outsiders are second-to-none VIPs made gloriously one with the insiders.

Having begun with God’s love for Zion, the psalmist appropriately ends with Zion’s love for God, as its people tell him in ecstatic song and dance that he’s their only source of life.


Jesus, forgive us for hoarding the gifts and freedoms you’ve lavished on us—excluding Blacks, women, Indigenous, the poor, and so many others, as less deserving than us. Give us your heart for humankind, and help us to welcome all you came to embrace. Amen.

In your free moments today, celebrate this truth:

“Of Zion it will be said:
‘Each and every one was born in it.’
And the Most High himself will establish it.”


[1] The psalm’s chiasm is as follows:  A: God loves Zion (vv. 1-2), B: God registers Zion’s peoples (vv. 3-4), C: GOD ENSURES MULTI-ETHNIC ZION’S SUCCESS (v. 5), B: God registers Zion’s peoples (v. 6), A: Zion loves God (v. 7).


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.