Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
2. the Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
3. Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God. Selah

4. Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia -
'This one was born there,' they say.

5. And of Zion it shall be said,
'This one and that one were born in it';
for the Most High himself will establish it.
6. The Lord records, as he registers the peoples,
'This one was born there.' Selah

7. Singers and dancers alike say,
'All my springs are in you'."

This is a short psalm, and one not easy to understand when we first read it. It makes two main points:

The glory of Zion as the city of God

The psalm is like Psalm 84 (and also 46 and 48 and 76) in speaking of the glory of Jerusalem and of the temple built there on Mount Zion. Jerusalem is the "city of God", and when verse 2 says that Zion is loved "more than all the dwellings of Jacob", it does not mean that she is more deserving of the Lord's love, but that God has a special purpose for her. "Glorious things" (verse 3) could be said of the city, because of God's presence, because of the worship of God there, and because of God's past blessing and future purpose.

The city of God for all nations

Many peoples have thought of their land as the most important country in the world, and their city as the centre of the world, even the centre of the universe. Often they have thought themselves superior to other nations and peoples, and have looked down on others. The Old Testament prophets and psalmists did not allow Israel to think like that. Whatever privilege of the knowledge of God - the God of the whole earth - that they thought they had, it was theirs to share with others. So in this psalm it says that although the people of Israel could say that by their birth they had the opportunity to belong to the city of God, God wanted people of other nations to share that privilege. Rahab and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre and Ethiopia would be brought to know the Lord. Rahab, the name of a monster in ancient Near Eastern mythology, stood for Egypt (see Isaiah 30:7), the nation that had held Israel captive for generations. Babylon was the powerful enemy who had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The Philistines had tried to take land from Israel for many years. Tyre had a dominant commercial empire in Old Testament days. Ethiopia, Cush in the Bible, was to Israel a strange and distant land on the African continent. Yet God wanted people of all these nations to be as freeborn citizens of Zion (verse 5) and recorded in his book (verse 6).

So let the people of Israel sing and dance! Let those of the other nations sing and dance with them! The presence of God in his city and among those who know him is like a never-failing spring. The thought of the last verse is like that of Psalm 46:4, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God". It is like the vision of Ezekiel 47 of the stream that flowed down from the temple in Jerusalem and became a river and brought life and fruitfulness in all the dry places to which it went.

As we have done in the study of Psalm 84, so we have to ask here, How does this apply to Christian people? We have been made members of a new Zion, the spiritual Jerusalem, the Christian Church which the apostle Paul speaks of as "our mother" (Galatians 4:26). By the new birth of which John 3 speaks, we are members of God's people, and we belong with those of every tribe and nation. The barriers between different tribes and nations, cultures and races, have been broken down in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). We belong together in the city of God. We are intended to express that in every way we can. It will be realised perfectly in our heavenly home, when we all together from our different tribes and nations, free at last, will "stand before the Lamb" and worship him (read Revelation 21 about the new Jerusalem, and Revelation 7:9-17 about those who will belong to it.)

Meditation "You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the corner-stone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).

For further thought and study

a. Compare with this psalm what the prophets said about God's purpose for Israel and for Jerusalem. See especially Isaiah 2:2-4, 19:23-25, 44:5, 56:6-7, 60:1-3 and Zechariah 8:20-23.

b. With what is said of God's love for Zion read Deuteronomy 7:6-8 and 10:15 with their emphasis on the fact that God's people can never deserve his love.


1. The heading of this psalm links it with the Korahites, the temple singers of whom we read in 1 Chronicles 6:31-37. See Note 1 on Psalm 84.

2. The gate of an ancient city was a place where meetings took place, justice was administered, and many important transactions were carried out, but in verse 2 "the gates of Zion" means Zion itself, more favoured "than all the dwellings of Jacob" because of its being the location of the temple.