Friday, August 19, 2016
The Church in the Old Testament: The City of God
Many readers will be familiar with the hymn, "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," by John Newton (also the author of "Amazing Grace"). However, you may not be aware that he was inspired by Psalm 87:3: "Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God." What city would that be? Jerusalem, of course, or, as it is called here, Zion. But not the Jerusalem on the map, but rather the one spoken of in Hebrews 12:22-23: "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."
How do we know that it isn't the Jerusalem on the map? Well, first because of the use of "Zion," rather than "Jerusalem." That name was used, especially by the prophets, when the emphasis was on God's presence among His people. Consider, for example, Joel 3:17: "So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it." and also Zephaniah 3:14-16: "Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: 'Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.'" Notice especially that the latter prophet interchanges "Zion" with "Jerusalem," so that there is no question as to of whom He is speaking. And second, because he doesn't talk about the Temple, its ceremonies, or even about the Jews.
The Psalmist proceeds with a list of countries, Rahab (a nickname for Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Cush (modern Ethiopia). What of them (verse 4)? "This one was born there." Born where (verse 5)? "Of Zion it shall be said, 'This one and that one were born in her.'" This is a marvelous prophecy of the extension of the church among the Gentiles, of their people reborn as children of the Church of Christ. Contrary to the expectations of the Jews, people from every nation and tribe (Revelation 5:9) will flock to the church, brought by the Holy Spirit, and praising our Redeemer Jesus Christ! This is part of the promise of the Father to the Son in the intra-Trinitarian covenant, seen in Isaiah 49:6: "It is too light a thing that You should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
To my mind this is such a glorious thing! No wonder it inspired John Newton to put those words to music, "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God"!