Did God change His plan between the Old and New Testament? That’s how it can seem sometimes upon quick reading. The Old Testament, God seems focused on one people group, to the exclusion of all others. So, it can seem like a shift when in the New Testament Jesus starts talking about God’s love for all the world, and His desire that all should come to Him.
In reality, God’s story has always been that of His love for all the world. It was His people who were (and still are) at times confused about that fact.
His purpose for Israel was to be a light for the nations. At the same time as giving them commands that set them apart from their neighbors, He charged them to welcome strangers with open arms. They were to practice hospitality and show mercy and demonstrate His love to any who came across their path, not just their own people.
It was they who most often lost sight of this purpose, who hoarded the light for themselves, instead of sharing it with those lost in the dark.
The story does get jumbled and confusing when it comes to territorial invasion and God’s directives in times of war, let’s be honest. But, still, over and over, God shares His heart…
As God tells Abram, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3
As Moses encourages the Israelites to emulate their God, who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:18-19
As God says through Isaiah, “my justice will become a light to the nations.” – Isaiah 51:4
And perhaps no section of Old Testament Scripture emphasizes this inclusive heart of God more than Psalm 87. It is a Psalm written for the people to sing in celebration of Jerusalem, an outflow of the joy of being in God’s chosen city. It is a commemoration of Zion, as the city is often called in these types of hymns, the location of The Holy Temple, the place in which the presence of God resided in a special way.
The Psalm starts as one might expect.
He has founded his city on the holy mountain. The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, city of God: –Psalm 87:1-3
This is a special city. But why? What are the glorious things that are said about it? What comes next may surprise the listener who has not heard God’s heart for all.
“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” –Psalm 87:3-6
Rahab is the poetic name for Egypt, where the Israelites were once slaves. Babylon was the empire that once held the Israelites in exile. This a list of Israel’s enemies, and a longing for the day they could be registered among God’s people in Jerusalem.
Zion is being declared beautiful because of the way it could one day welcome all people into God’s family. Zion was meant to be a place of reconciliation and love and inclusion and joy, not a different story from that of Christ, but a prequel. The same love, manifested in a different way.
Just as these desert people would celebrate the discovery of a spring, the people are jubilant at the thought of how Jerusalem could be an oasis of refreshment for all.
As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.” – Psalm 87:7
This world was, and is, parched in search for a love that pushes beyond barriers. That is the love of our God.
(Have you heard the Chris Tomlin song by that name? It seems only appropriate to link to it as the conclusion of this post.)
That was my reflection on Psalm 87. Add a link to your own post on it below. And stop by next week to continue our Psalms Journey into Psalm 88.
"To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain." - Exodus 24:17
"When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it." -2 Chronicles 7:1-2
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'" -Luke 2:8-12
In Luke 2, when an angel appears to shepherds, we are not surprised they were terrified. That not only seems to be the common response to angels, but also the way we would likely feel in the same circumstance.
But I wonder if not only the angel scared the shepherds, but by the other thing the text mentions. The thing not pictured in our nativity scenes because there’s no easy way to depict it: the glory of the Lord.
The glory of the Lord surrounded the shepherds. Original readers would have been shocked by the scene that has become so familiar to us.
The glory of the Lord rarely appeared to people. And when it did, it was frightening in its otherness. When the glory of the Lord appeared in the temple, the priests dared not even enter. When the glory of the Lord appeared on the mountain, the Israelites compared it to a consuming fire.
And now this fire, this otherness, this glory, was surrounding shepherds.
Shepherds, who were considered religious outcasts. Whose profession made it virtually impossible to follow the oppressively detailed religious laws. Whose 24-7 in the field duties kept them away from religious festivals.
Shepherds, who were lowly. Whose job kept them away from society and gave them little money in return. Whose responsibilities took ruggedness and grit.
At the birth of Jesus, God tore the curtain between heaven and earth and ripped apart human expectations of who was worthy to be in His presence.
God sent His glory to outcasts. His fire was no longer restricted to the mountaintop or the most holy place; it was sent to warm the hearts of all.
Loving God, remind us how Christ broke through the divide. Bring us into Your presence. Help us know how we are loved and welcomed there, no matter what. May we embody that same kind of welcoming. May we bring those who are feeling on the outside this Christmas into our homes and churches so that they may see their place in Your story, too. Amen.
Glory in the Highest- Chris Tomlin
Noticing Immanuel: a series for Advent. Each day starts with noticing: a picture of an everyday Christmas moment. That picture leads to a verse, a meditation, a prayer, and a song. My hope is that when we see those Christmas moments a second time, they will strike us differently. That we might feel the presence of Immanuel this Christmas season, whether we are sitting in quiet or moving in chaos.
I am so excited to write this first post at my new Everyday Awe site. If you have been one of my readers for awhile, you will notice that many things have remained the same. I will continue to post twice a week, once with a reflection on life, and once with a reflection from my Walk through the Psalms series. You can still navigate through pages and categories to find resources that I hope will help you engage with God in your everyday life.
I hope this site will help me meet those goals even better, as my posts now have features like "related posts" listed at the bottom, and the Discuss commenting section to help readers become part of the discussion.
I would love to hear what you think. Have you seen features on other blogs that you would like to see me add here? Please leave a comment and let me know? Is there something here that you particularly like or don't like? Please let me know that too!
Thank you so much for reading. I am humbled by the way God has used this site to touch lives. It is a privilege to write here.