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.