Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Selah.
Psalm 87 began with a call to what the Lord has founded – his city, it then shared how God loves the purpose and reason for founding the city, and now we see the echoes of those within the city walls. “Glorious things” are spoken of God’s city. We must think through what is actually being referred to here. It is not that the citizens are supposed to discuss the use of color or the mountainous architecture. The people of God are rejoicing about the intention of God’s city. The city declares who God is. As people made in the image of God, the city of God is unique and everywhere upon it is the imprint of God’s affectionate characteristics. The city serves as a display of how the Creator manifests his attributes upon his chosen people. What is remarkable of this City is that we are gifted citizenship prior to actually walking through the gate! With such a glorious citizenship, can you imagine the kinds of songs and discussions you’d have in the City of God?
What is a typical conversation like in God’s city? The typical kinds of conversations mentioned in this verse point to true fellowship, not just talking about the weather or the church schedule. “Glorious things” refers to, like the previous verse, who God is, how he founded the city in the first verse, and how he calls his people in the sixth verse. Allen Ross notes, these glorious things pertain to “all that has happened in the holy city that attested to the divine presence.” All that happens within the city directly corresponds to God’s sovereign purpose in laying its foundations. From the setting of the first stone, God founded the city in his loyal love and his divine providence. God decreed the city because he decreed salvation for its citizens. These are the things spoken of in God’s city.
In the City of God, every conversation is the Gospel.
The very act of speaking in these conversations requires fellowship. Fellowship, or koinonia, is not merely a word for association, but a biblical word for participation. A willing ear shines with the hospitality of the Spirit’s action in the Christian. When a fellow believer listens they are thereby joining in the joy of the speaker. When a Christian chooses to speak they are actively asking to be involved in an intimate act with the listener, an act of worship and communion with the God of their city. Speaking the things of God provokes tender affections from the regenerate heart of God’s people. Words of the Gospel openly acknowledge the presence and power of God’s grace in fellow believers. Do you want others to have blessed-feet (Isaiah 52:7)? Do you want to explore the depths of God’s favor with others?
This verse, like the one before it, points us again to the public worship of our Triune God. We are called to be a people who come together to adore and acknowledge the wonderfulness of God’s decrees. We are once again reminded we are to be gate-people, those who don’t just think of how God’s plan and God’s love come to us, but how others can be drawn and oriented to the Founder of such a city. The beauty of God’s city is a staple in the language of each citizen.
The City of God, described by Augustine, is one that we inhabit now, but will eventually inhabit fully when God destroys evil and makes Eden anew (Revelation 21:1-3). For now, we have dual citizenship, where the present pagan city is mingled with our understanding of our eternal home. We are hopeful and striving in faith toward our future dwelling with God. Augustine describes the reality of the City of God where we’ll sing our final and eternal praises, describing the fullness, certainty, security, and everlasting felicity:
For all those elements of the body’s harmony of which I have already spoken, those harmonies which are now hidden, will then be hidden no longer. Distributed through the whole body, within and without, and combined with the other great and wondrous things that will then be revealed, the delight which their rational beauty gives us will kindle our rational minds to the praise of so great an Artist.
Augustine rightly refers to the Creator and Founder of the city as an Artist. This is not simply an artist of pigments and clays, but of matter, time, light, and, most importantly, salvation. When we come to the place wherein the Gospel is most clearly manifested, we finally will be able to rationally understand (in very limited degrees) just how breathtaking the scope of God’s artistry is. These are the conversations going on in Heaven. These are the types of conversations we should be foreshadowing now in our church and homes.
The City of God is the subject of this poem. This is the same City described in Psalm 50:2 as “the perfection of beauty” wherein God himself shines. The power and purpose, perfection and gloriousness, rests with the God who founded the city for his glory. Here Scripture attests to the attitude of Christians, those who are citizens of the King, Jesus Christ. This attitude is one of adoration; the citizens cannot help but speak and rejoice about their city. So often we assume patriotism of a particular nation, while holding to the values of a governing body is appropriate to certain degrees, Christians must remember that our citizenship is truly in the City of God. God is sovereign; his will and desire is of primary importance, therefore, our values, morality, and enthusiasm ought to reflect his kingdom no matter where we temporarily live. Do your conversations reflect your true and eternal citizenship? Are we seeking to start conversations about the Gospel? Are we placing ourselves in positions to hear the effects of the Gospel? Are we writing poems like this psalm because of our joy in the Gospel? Let every breath of your speech result in the exaltation of the One who has Founded your home. With the Psalmist we breathe amen (Selah*).
Pastor Chris Osterbrock
*The notation “selah” was often used as a note of benediction in the place of the Christian “amen.” There is valid evidence it was also an indicator to irregular reading; as in the place where a worship leader might stop singing and begin a new act within the worship liturgy. There is a wide range of usage for the mysterious term “selah,” but most textual evidence points to liturgical significance and nothing particularly theological.
All Scripture taken from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Allen P. Ross. A Commentary on the Psalms. Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2013), 151-52. We will not spend much time on this word except to note the reason it is included here. The term is translated as “pause” in the Septuagint (commonly referred to as LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible from around the third-century BC). The term in Hebrew generally means to “lift up,” to “build,” or to “exalt” (See Isaiah 57:14; 62:10 for its regular usage). The idea is proposed that the reason for including this word in so many different places is to signify places within the act of singing wherein a congregation may pause to pray as in a specific liturgy, to lift up their hands, or to crescendo.