“On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob… Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—’This one was born there,’ they say” (Psalm 87:1-2, 4).
This psalm was written for us. It was written by God’s OT people, Israel, in anticipation of the day when more than Israel would know the LORD.
God “loves the gates of Zion,” has especially set his dwelling place among his people in Jerusalem. He has declared his love for his people in a special way. BUT, the psalmist anticipates that one day, Rahab (a Gentile prostitute) and Babylon (the worst of imperial pagans of the day) will know the Lord. They will be counted with God’s people; it will be said of them “This one was born there.”
To the religious sensibilities of many of the Jews, this would have been shocking. Gentiles were the enemy, unclean. Israel was especially God’s people; how could the psalmist say that these unclean, sinful people would be counted as native Israelites?
He could say this, because God knew before the foundation of the world that he would bring all these people into his spiritual city, Zion, and count them as his own. He would adopt all these peoples, not because they had cleaned up their act, but because he would make his grace known to them in Christ.
Before God, no one is clean. Next to him, we look no holier than the woman on the late night street corner. But God doesn’t fear our sinfulness; in Christ, he conquers it. In Christ, he lays our sin to waste and welcomes us with a party into the center of his holy city, to sing and dance before him for all eternity (87:7).