For various reasons my relationship with the hymn “Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken” has always been complicated . The music itself comes from the patriotic and nationalistic German song Deutschland, most famous for having been Hitler’s national anthem with its lyrics beginning, “Germany, Germany, above all [else].” The lyrics come from John Newton, most famous for having been an anti-slavery figure within the Anglican church and a former slave trader himself before his conversion, and also the lyricist for the American spiritual “Amazing Grace.” The song itself is taken in part from Psalm 87, which itself has a noble history as a psalm of the Sons of Korah praising the ability of Jerusalem to serve as the adopted home of people of all nations who have come to believe in and follow God. The songleader today at services chose this particular hymn and I was struck by the line “With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou mayest smile at all thy foes.”
What does that mean? For one, it is a striking example of symbolism in that Jerusalem the glorious city is being equated with salvation, and that it is pictured as being under siege. Is Jerusalem of old being meant? There have been many sieges of Jerusalem in times past, and many of them did not end well. A few of them are worthy of mention. There is the siege of Jerusalem during David’s reign where David was mocked and where the Jebusite water tunnel was exploited for its vulnerabilities as Israel stormed the city and took it over for David’s capital. There is the siege where 185,000 Assyrians were smote and where the king of Assyria had to attempt to cover for his defeat by saying that he had trapped up Hezekiah like a bird within his capital. There was the siege where the Babylonians overthrew the Davidic line in 586 that is still mourned today by Jews on the 9th of Av, and the later siege against the Romans in 70AD that is also mourned on that same day. Many times the city of Jerusalem has been surrounded by enemies and put under siege by all kinds of peoples. It is one of the most, if not the most, contested spot of land in the history of the entire world, despite not being on any important trade routes itself. Its cultural importance has made it of pivotal interest to the world even where other cities in the promised land have been of greater commercial or logistical importance.
While the good people of Jerusalem have not done a great job at smiling down at the face of their besieging enemies, perhaps the spiritual Jerusalem is meant here. It has been common for believers, and for good reason given the small size of those who hold to biblical truth in the face of the world’s population as a whole, to consider themselves as being beleaguered and besieged by great evil, and viewing the freedom to believe, practice, and preach the Gospel to be under threat by the kingdoms of this world under the influence of the Evil One. Here, at least, it is appropriate to smile down at those who surround and besiege us, because we know the end of the story, and what’s more, so does our enemy. As far as sieges go, the siege of the heavenly Jerusalem is more like the siege of Skoder by the forces of tiny Montenegro during the First Balkan War, as it is a siege that lasted a long time but had more or less a predetermined outcome, and that was that Skoder would remain as a fortress for an independent Albania, and the forces of tiny Montenegro weren’t going to be able to do a lot about that, whatever their own ambitions. Perhaps it might be a bit harsh to consider Satan to the military of little Montenegro, a nation I view far more fondly and would like to visit, but it is at least illustrative of the sort of siege mentality we have in view, a siege that is conducted by a force that is somewhat desperate, and that is destined to lose regardless of the ferocity of its campaign.
Why should we smile at our foes? I do not view this, at least in the godly sense, as being a mocking sort of smile, a smile of ridicule or hostility or pride. Rather I believe that when we have foes, we ought to do what is possible to demonstrate to other people that we have no hostility or enmity to them. If we feel it necessary to defend ourselves or protect ourselves, we do not do so because of any hostile intentions, but rather because we have cause not to trust the good intentions of those who have set themselves against us. Once that hostility goes away and is replaced by goodwill, we should not hold on to our grudges or our hostility. Let us hope that we are able to do so in our lives. I know that I have often found myself having enemies that I did not seek and did not wish for a variety of reasons, and I have been gratified when, despite sometimes a great deal of effort and time, I have been able to make peace and to enjoy some sense of friendliness with those I have been estranged from, and I hope for many more examples of that in my future. Perhaps the same is true for you, as you feel yourself surrounded by foes as you smile down, secure that God will protect you and that you will not be enemies forever.
 See, for example: