City of New Birth (Ps 87:5)

And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her.

Psalm 87:5

Verse five serves to elaborate upon, and actually extend ever further, God’s involvement in the salvation of his people described in the previous verse. First, the people are declaring the favor God has shown them. Second, God, through his Spirit, is initiating new birth for his City people. Third, the Psalmist shows the people are established by the Most High. It may at first glance just seem like the Psalmist is repeating himself, but keep in mind this is a song of praise. Keep in mind as well that when something sounds similar in Scripture, that is usually an indicator that the reader must dig deeper and find the nuance. Repeated speech in our fallible tongues often serves only to highlight our lack of perfect creativity. Repetition in Scripture serves to indicate a blossoming and flourishing doctrine worthy of deep consideration.

To many contemporary readers (or singers) this phrase of being born into the City of God was likely perplexing. Not only was it perplexing, but the Psalmist is describing the people of God as the ones explaining this new birth. The singers had such a limited grasp of what this prophecy meant. Paul reminds his readers in Romans 16:25-26 that for the longest time God’s plan was a mystery. He quickly explains this is no longer the case. Here is what the Lord speaks through the Word:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith….

This explanation serves to show the worshippers now have a far greater understanding of just how they can praise God for his work of salvation. We need not be perplexed, we need be obedient worshippers: we shall say, “I was born in Zion!”

This verse is sandwiched between two verses all of which detail how God brings sons and daughters to adoption. Adoption is a hard doctrine to wrap your head around when you consider you are co-heirs with Christ while unequal to Christ. James Boyce writes on the doctrine of adoption, “It is an everlasting sonship; because its continuance depends not upon what you do, and are, but upon what He has done, and is.”[1] God’s adoption work originates entirely by the grace of God and has nothing to do with any natural relation or restored relation by justification. Adoption as sons and daughters is “God’s good pleasure” when there could be no grounds due the recipient.

The Most High himself established who is and is not a child of his City. The Psalmist asserts, it’s not about you being good enough, your self-esteem is not part of the equation and never should it be. Your assurance is based, is wholly dependent, upon who the True Son is and what the True Son accomplished on the cross. Rest in Jesus and, with humility, grasp onto him. God alone established your adoption. You were not capable of being God’s child, you could never give birth to yourself (John 1:12-13). But it is God’s good pleasure to establish you as his child that he might lavish his fatherly love on you in order to display his glorious fatherly nature. When you were far from him he showed his nature still to be true, as Luke 13:29 says, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” This is what we see in Psalm 87.

We are citizens of the City of God, we were re-born there as natural citizens. Therefore, we ought to have no problem leaving behind the baggage of our fading previous loyalty. Stephen Charnock shares, “There is nothing the Scripture uses more as an argument to separate our affections from the world than the uncertainty and fading nature of it. The perpetuity, then, of the church should be a motive to place our affections there, where they shall never want an object, and which we cannot love without loving her head and her establisher.”[2] Notice in this Psalm, the church is preserved by Christ while simultaneously gazing upon Christ for assurance and love. Everything else outside of the city is promised to fade away, but the mountain of God is established by God for the sake of his own glory. Would God let his glory fade? That would be outside of his character. God demonstrates his glory by giving us life with him through his Son. We need not look around us for the world’s assurance or its ability to establish good for us, we look to God alone.

The Psalmist is assuring the worshippers when he exclaims, “the Most High himself will establish her.” John Calvin wrote of the divine mercy involved in establishing his people, “That the faithful might not sink into despondency, through the long continuance of their calamities, they needed to be supported by the hope that an end to their captivity had been appointed by God.”[3] The end of captivity is appointed by means of God’s City of Zion. It is not simply that we have a hope of something better, it is that we have an actual object and anchor for our hope. We know and are assured of God’s City. We are able to claim of ourselves that we are beloved and chosen for such a city. The hope is not that God will act, the hope is that God has already acted. Our faith is held fast to the confirmation of our rest in God’s City. Is that incentive enough to show your adoration of God?

The use of the Hebrew word meaning “establish” is language identifying a particular accuracy, stability, kind of rest. The community of God’s adopted children will be confirmed within a predetermined designated place of human flourishing. The Psalmist is referring to the ultimate Sabbath as mentioned in Hebrews 4:9. None other than the Shepherd can make a person to rest in this way. And none other than God’s children will find such a flourishing everlasting moment within the safe walls of Zion. This flourishing is not restricted for us by the walls of the City. That is the miracle of grace. We are now capable of tasting this establishing even now. It starts in praise and knowledge of who God is by the reading of his Word and by prayer. Right now, in this reading, you are meditating on a verse from a particular Psalm. Perhaps you will soon pray to the God described in this Psalm. It is not just our duty, but it is our joy to learn more and more how to experience the Sabbath rest of Christ by our growing adoration of God. Let us practice this praise by focusing on how God has born us to himself and established us as his sons and daughters. Let us strive to thrive in this awareness today.

Pastor Chris Osterbrock


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.

[1]James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology(1887; repr., Cape Coral, FL: Founders, 2006), 405-06.

[2]Stephen Charnock, “A Discourse on the Church’s Stability,” in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866), 349.

 [3]John Calvin, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, ed. Sinclair Ferguson (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1999),250.