Monday, 19 January 2015

Psalm 87

I’m mesmerised at the moment by Psalm 87.

It has a poetic twist.  It assumes that being born in Zion (Jerusalem) puts one at the head of the queue, but it also assumes that when God makes the roll-call he will simply say each of us was born there.

The really mesmerising part of this is that those who sing it have God say ‘I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me... of Zion it will be said “this one and that one were born in her”’.

Rahab is Egypt – remember that the defining myth of the people who sang the Psalm is that this is the country which enslaved them.  And remember that Babylon is the country which had recently destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and deported its people.

The present book of Psalms was the collection brought together for and used in the newly rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.  I don’t know why I hadn’t previously found it astounding that they sang of Egypt and Babylon as sharing their inheritance.

It is the Psalm on which John Newton based his hymn ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God’, and these opening words of the hymn are a direct quotation from the Psalm.

Newton’s mediation on it is that of an eighteenth century evangelical who also wrote ‘Amazing Grace’, so his version spells out the consequences ‘if of Zion’s city I through grace a member am’ given that ‘solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion ‘s children know’.

The Psalm ends with those born in Zion saying ‘all my fresh springs are in you’ and Newton reads this alongside Jesus’ promise of living water: ‘the streams of living waters springing from eternal love well supply thy songs and daughters’.

But, as interesting as I’m finding it to trace how the favourite hymn is simply expounding the Psalm, it is the thought of the people of ‘Second Temple’ singing of God’s inclusion of both Egypt and Babylon which is the fresh spring for me at the moment.

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