James Nisbet Commentary - Psalms 87:1 - 87:1

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James Nisbet Commentary - Psalms 87:1 - 87:1

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‘Her foundations are upon the holy hills.’

Psa_87:1 (Prayer Book Version)

The Psalmist, in his lovely songs, speaks to us sometimes as an historian, at other times as a prophet. There is yet another mode of interpretation, which belongs, indeed, to all Scripture, but especially to the Psalms, that which is called mystical: namely, where the reference may be either historical or prophetical, or both, according as each devout soul loves to understand it. The text is an instance of this latter kind. The occasion and origin of this psalm being doubtful, no man can positively say what was the exact train of thought passing through the mind of the sweet singer of Israel when he thus expressed himself. There were many ‘holy hills’ of sacred association in the history of God’s people of old to which he may have referred. There was Ararat; there was the hill of Moriah; the Mount of Horeb; Hor, where Aaron the High Priest was ‘stripped of his garments’ and died; Nebo, from whose summit Moses saw the promised land and died in solemn solitude, God burying him; and many others which might fairly come under the description of ‘holy hills,’ and which might with equal truth and spiritual significance be described as ‘the foundations’ of Zion.

I. For what is meant by Zion?—Surely, here there can be no doubt. By Zion is meant God’s Church, whether the Church of the Patriarchs, the Church of the Wilderness, the Church of the Prophets, or later still, the Church of Christ. And when the Holy Spirit tells us that ‘the Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob,’ I see here an allusion to the sad divisions which rend Christendom to-day. Fortunately, as has been often said, ‘Men are better than their systems,’ and doubtless many Dissenters will be saved and many Church people cast out when the great day of reckoning comes. But this does not justify either the corporate or the individual separation from God’s Zion (that is, His Church) which is the one great sin of schismatic bodies. This, however, by the way. Let us look at the gradual formation of the Catholic Church, and see whether she too has not, in even greater prominence than the Churches of old, her Holy Hills; nay, further, whether these Holy Hills be not the very foundations of that city of which its Founder hath said that being ‘set on a hill’ it cannot be hid.

II. You must have noticed that nearly all the chief acts of Christ’s life and work are connected with mountains or hills.—Nay, before that precious life was manifested unto men, at the very instant, as it were, of its first conception; scarcely had the Angel of God announced to Mary the wondrous message, and that message had been accepted in the words of bewildered compliance, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word’; scarcely had all this taken place when we read (St. Luk_1:39), ‘And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste.’ Yes, truly, it was a ‘hill country’ to which Jesus came when He graciously vouchsafed to ‘tabernacle among men.’

Rev. J. Harry Buchanan.


‘The words that pious Jews spoke of Jerusalem may be addressed by us to the Church of the Lord Jesus, using that term as the Apostle Paul uses it, of all those who believe in Him, and hold Him as their Head.

The Church is founded on the mountains of God’s righteousness and power, raised above the mists that brood in the valleys, in close converse with heaven.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, City of our God!

He whose word cannot be broken,

Chose thee for His own abode.

To that city all nations shall send their tributary streams.’