Meditations on Psalm 87 and 90

Kevin J Youngblood

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;

the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.

Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Selah

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—

“This one was born there,” they say.

And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her.

The Lord records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah

(Psalm 87)

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

(Psalm 90:1-2)

The hymns of the Psalter strike a remarkable theological balance seldom witnessed elsewhere within a single book. Psalms 87 and 90 are a perfect example. Psalm 87 is difficult for Christians to relate to due to its over-the-top enthusiasm for physical space, its unrelenting insistence that YHWH loves Zion best. Jerusalem is, after all, where YHWH chose to live among the tribes of Israel. The psalm makes YHWH sound like a devoted New Yorker (“Start spreading the news. I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.”) or any resident of the state of Texas (“The stars at night shine big and bright deep in the heart of Texas”). Such loyalty to a particular city and determination to reside there seems inappropriate for YHWH on at least two grounds: first YHWH is omnipresent and, therefore, supposedly not located in any particular place that can be found on a map; second, YHWH loves all of his creation, all nations and cities and therefore, supposedly, cannot favor one over the others. Thus, Psalm 87 smacks of the kind of ethnocentrism and tribalism that is roundly condemned elsewhere in Scripture, especially the NT.
On the other hand, Psalm 87 reminds us that YHWH’s love is not “generic” because no two places, cities, or even people are the same. YHWH loves every city uniquely in a way appropriate to its idiosyncratic character as well as to its unique role in the divine plan. God, therefore, has an ability that we do not. God can love every city and every one in such a way that each one feels like God’s “favorite.” This impression is simply due to an inescapable human limitation. God, therefore, models and encourages an appropriate kind of “patriotism,” a love for one’s hometown that motivates neighborliness, community service, and active participation in its improvement and flourishing. One of the positive effects of local professional sports teams is the sense of solidarity they can bring to our hometowns. Watching an exciting game together against a neighboring town with all of our fellow citizens cheering for the same team can be a healthy bonding experience. In fact, we do owe the place where we live a kind of priority in our love and our service for the simple reason that it is within our sphere of influence. Proximity is a factor when it comes to our evangelism, our benevolence, and our service to the poor and hurting. It is wrong to focus on overseas missions and causes to the neglect of the needs that are at our own doorstep. The place where we should have the biggest impact is in the community where we live because these are the people who know us and witness our daily lives and can determine the sincerity and genuineness of our love.


Psalm 90 on the other hand warns of parochialism, tribalism, and ethnocentrism into which patriotism and city loyalty can easily devolve. Ultimately, YHWH himself is our dwelling place, not the city where we live. This fact was driven home to Judah when she found herself exiled in Babylon, displaced from the land she loved and the city she called home. Loyalty to our hometown must never exceed our even greater loyalty to God and to his ever-expanding kingdom. The admonition “Pray for the welfare of Jerusalem” found in Psalm 122:6 was ironically and drastically modified to “Pray for the welfare of Babylon” (Jer. 29:7). When YHWH relocates us, then our local loyalties must shift despite our personal preferences. I suppose that this a biblical version of the proverb “Bloom where you are planted.” This is possible, however, only because YHWH is in fact omnipresent and therefore able to be our dwelling place where ever we may wind up. Eden is more person than place, but it is in fact also a place. I confess that I struggle with this balance. My tendency is to withhold loyalty and love from the place I live for fear of succumbing to parochialism. By doing this, however, I inevitably lapse into failing to keep the second greatest commandment – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”



I confess that I struggle to have an appropriate love for my hometown, not because I do not appreciate its charms, but because in, my vanity, I want to be perceived as more cosmopolitan, more refined, more “world-wise” than my neighbors. Forgive me for this. Lord Jesus, your ministry never took you beyond an 80 mile radius of the place where you were born. You prioritized Israel during your earthly ministry but without losing sight of or diminishing your love for the rest of the world. I am in awe of your ability to do this and want so much to imitate you in this balance. Thank you for your inspiring example. Holy Spirit, you are everywhere and yet you reside especially within me and within all those who commit to following Christ. Please help me to love my neighbor as myself beginning with my literal neighbors. Help me to perceive the needs at my own doorstep and to give them priority in my service.