[Note: This message, and the last , were given at Legacy Institute on Sabbath, May 14, 2011, in Chaing Mai, Thailand.]
One of the studies in the Bible I have conducted is about a group of people known as the Sons of Korah. We first meet them when their father Korah rebelled against God, seeking to be made a priest of God when he had been placed in a position of service in the temple below the priesthood. Instead of joining in his rebellion, the Sons of Korah were loyal and faithful to God, and in the Bible we have a record of their service for more than a thousand years.
Among the service activities of the Sons of Korah was being musicians and singers in the wat, or temple, of God, as well as being gatekeepers protecting the temple from thieves and those who did not belong there. The Sons of Korah also wrote psalms, songs used in the worship service at God’s temple, and still sung by believers today. It is my goal to explain the mystery of one of those pslams today.
Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
Let us turn first in our hymnals to page 95. Here we see the hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” You have probably sung this hymn before—it is a very popular one in the churches I have attended. The hymn praises God for his strong will in protecting and defending the city of Jerusalem, and praises the power and glory of God and God’s city. But there is something very troubling about the song as well.
The trouble comes from the music. The music to which “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is set served as the national anthem for Hitler’s Germany, during World War II. The song was called “Deuschland” in honor of Germany, and its first line went like this, “Deuschland Deuschland uber alles,” which means, “Germany, Germany, is over all.” It was a song of ethnic pride, as the Germans thought themselves to be the master race, placed by God over all other peoples and tribes on the earth. They were wrong—there is no master race or tribe by blood or ancestry. But the music to the song “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” obscures the meaning of that psalm from which its words come. After all, what glorious things are spoken about Jerusalem? And what does it matter for us here today? It is that question I wish to answer.
What Glorious Things Are Spoken?
Please turn in your Bibles today to Psalm 87. It is from this psalm that the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is taken, but the most important part of the psalm is left out, that which is most glorious about God’s kingdom. Psalm 87:1-3 reads as follows: “His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” Indeed, we who are baptized into God are part of His people, the Israel of God, citizens of the New Jerusalem, members of the family of God. This is the glorious thing that is spoken.
We see this in the rest of Psalm 87, in verses 4-7. In Psalm 87:4-7 we read: “I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me; Behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia: ‘This one was born there.’ “ And of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her; And the Most High Himself shall establish her.” The Lord will record, when He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.” Both the singers and the players on instruments say, “All my springs are in you.”
What does this mean? First, let us examine the peoples that this psalm talks about. Many of them were enemies of Israel. Rahab is the name of a naga, a sea dragon, and is often used to describe Egypt, the place where the people of Israel were enslaved by cruel rulers. Babylon was the city where mankind first rebelled against God after the flood, where God placed the curse of many languages, dividing the tongues of man so they could not understand each other. It was also the city where the Jews went into captivity almost 2600 years ago when God judged them for disobedience to His laws and ways.
The Philistines were a cruel people who constantly sought to oppress and fight against Israel with weapons of iron, and they were a people who worshiped Dagon, another naga. Tyre was a wealthy city of Canaan with wealthy merchants who sold the people of God into slavery during its history. Ethiopia was, and is, a country of people with dark skin, who have always seemed very alien and different.
What the Bible says, though, is that all of these peoples, no matter that many of them are Israel’s blood enemies, like the Burmese are to the Karen and Thai, are counted to have been born in Israel if they repent and leave their worship of demons to worship the true God. Once they are brothers in faith, their tribe and nation does not matter. They are counted as citizens of Jerusalem just like anyone else. In this room, all of us who are baptized are citizens of God’s city, members of His family, regardless of where we come from or who we are descended from. For this reason we, and the psalm, celebrates the salvation of God that is open to all peoples all over the earth who come to worship God as He commands.
We Are One In Christ
This point is repeted often later in the Bible. Let us now turn to Galatians 3:26-29. In Galatians 3:26-29 we see the Apostle Paul saying that there are no distinctions based on tribe or even gender within the Kingdom of God: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither slave nor free, there is neithermale nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
What these verses are saying is that once you believe in God and are baptized than it no longer matters what tribe you come from. You are the brother and fellow citizen with all others who believe in God and have ever believed in God throughout history, and whoever will ever believe in God in the future. We are all one body of believers together, with the same father in God above, and the same king, savior, and elder brother in Jesus Christ.
Let us therefore remember that even though mankind may believe that some peoples and some nations are better than others, and look down on others, that we are called by God into one family to be citizens of one holy nation ruled by God. Unlike the Germans, who sang that they were above all, we do not sing of a master race or people. Instead, we are equal citizens with all of those who have been, are, or will be called by God into salvation. Let us therefore praise God for making us all one nation and one family out of the many peoples and tribes on the face of the earth, for that truly is a glorious blessing from our heavenly Father above.