The city of Jerusalem regularly appears in the news throughout the world due to its historical and political significance in the struggle of competing worldviews, religions, and even civilizations. While the current political conflict between Jews and Muslims, clearly seen in various security checkpoints, and the religious conflict represented by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall speak to the modern division in the city, this merely echoes its role throughout many centuries. However, the Bible introduces the city of Salem as the home of Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God and Salem’s king (Gen. 14). Centuries later the Israelites found it inhabited by the Jebusites (Jsh. 10) until the children of Judah took the city (Jdg. 1:8), though the Jebusites recaptured it sometime afterward (Jsh. 15:63), remaining in their possession until David recaptured it and made it the capital city (2 Sam. 5), continuing in that capacity until its destruction by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. Sometime during the latter portion of this captivity, when Jerusalem still lay in rubble, the sons of Korah likely penned Psalm 87, an ode to Jerusalem, in a sense, that offers hope for the rebirth of the city, looking unto even greater things.
Jerusalem would not return to greatness, however, because of the power of Israel or the grand design of an empire. Rather, the LORD Himself desired its restoration for His purposes, and this made Jerusalem holy (Psa. 87:1). God’s love for the city, rooted in His plan to use it, motivated its rebuilding (Psa. 87:2), so that the basis for its praise is rooted not in the past but in its potential: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” (Psa. 87:3). The means and significance of this purpose would center on how Gentiles from Israel’s greatest enemies and from far away lands would one day call Yahweh their God and think of Jerusalem as their place of origin (Psa. 87:4), all due to God’s provision (Psa. 87:5-6). Despite its destruction, which fulfilled God’s will, Jerusalem would become the source of blessing once more (Psa. 87:7).
Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, the Jews rebuilt the temple, and under the leadership of Nehemiah, they rebuilt the city. The LORD thus raised Jerusalem from the dead to serve His purposes. But while the Jews rejoiced in the restoration of temple worship, God and this psalm looked beyond the return of the Jews to their capital and pointed to the time when Jerusalem would serve as the place from which Christianity would rise (Acts 2) and offer Gentiles reason to embrace the city with thankfulness because of the message of the gospel that sprang forth from within its walls. Jerusalem deserves to be celebrated and embraced—not simply for its storied history, but for its spiritual significance—not as the capital of a holy land, but as the place from which God made it possible for people of all nations to become His holy people (1 Pet. 2:9-10) and have reason to think of Jerusalem as their hometown.