In 1779, John Newton, wrote the following words for a hymn based partly on Psalm 87:
Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken formed thee for his own abode;
On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou may’s smile at all thy foes.
In the Old Testament, Zion is another name for Jerusalem. Jerusalem was founded by the Jebusites, but Zion was founded by the Lord. It just happens to be on the same site as Jerusalem. Zion is the spiritual name of God’s city.
At first glance, the psalm is a glorification of Zion. It is the most favored city in all of Israel the writer says (vs. 2).
The reason for writing this, surprisingly, is evangelistic. Zion is God’s city. His blessing rests only on those born there. But the blessing extends to those of other nations – Egypt (Rahab), Babylon, Tyre, Cush – as long as they are born in Zion.
How can this be? How can you be “of Egypt” and yet “born in Zion”? That’s the evangelistic part. God always intended for all people to be His people, but that can never be done until we, casting off our earthly heritage, embrace the heritage of God and become one of His own.
But therein lies the problem. Our culture wants God to accept us as we are and approve of us remaining as we are. God will not. Only those who renounce all other allegiances and make Zion their home will find themselves founded on the Rock of Ages, surrounded by salvation’s walls.