Psalm 87 - HIs Foundation is in the Holy Mountains
This mysterious Psalm prophesies that gentiles would be born again in Zion, having equal status as the Jewish believers.

The Old Testament prophesies in many places that the Gentiles will be fellow heirs of Christ with Israel, but this was not fully understood until Paul's writings (Eph 3:3-6). All OT prophesies concerning the Gentiles in Christ are spoken in riddles.
Here is an Orthodox Jewish interpretation of verses 4-6:
If, on the other hand, verse 5 is a reconfirmation of the two verses surrounding it, the sense of the section, as interpreted by many commentators, is that the citizens of other nations (as opposed to just the Jews in exile) are adopted into the realm of Jerusalem. (In this case, the word “there,” even in verse 4, indicates "in Jerusalem," parallel to “in it" in verse 5.) - Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal

This short psalm is divided into 3 parts by the 2 Selah's:
Verses 1-3 - God's great love for Zion
Verses 4-6 - People from many nations born in Zion
Verse 7 -  God's great enjoyment of Zion

Verses 1-3 & 5 had already been put to music, but it was not a regular tune. I continued that same irregular tune for the whole Psalm. Since I couldn't find a midi file for it, here is my very poor voice singing it.
v1 - God's foundation is the foundation of His building, the temple, which is in Zion. This typifies Christ, the foundation of the church (Isa 28:16; Rom 9:33; etc.).

The foundation is the beginning (Ezr 7:9; etc.) of something much bigger to come.

The citizens of Zion are born from above, the holy mountains, to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3-7). This is the beginning and foundation of God's building.
v2 - As the foundation is the solid beginning, the gates are the final step to make a city function properly (Josh 6:26; etc.).

Jacob is the Jewish people (Jer 30:7). God loves their dwellings in the land of Israel, but He loves the gates of Zion more than all of them put together, because that is where they all gather together as one.

The gates provide a restricted way for people to enter the city. The only way to enter is to be born from above (Jn 3:5).

Only the righteous can enter through these gates (Isa 26:2; Ps 24:3-6). The Messiah, the King of Glory, entered the gates (Ps 24:7-10), and He Himself is the way for us to enter through Him (Ps 118:19-23).  
v3 - Most translate this verse as "Glorious things are spoken of you ....". This does not work because "glorious things" is feminine plural, but "are spoken" is masculine singular. It is not the "glorious things" that are being spoken, but "glorious" describes the speaking. This verse is very similar in structure to Song of Songs 8:8, in which the subject "our sister" is feminine singular but the same verb "spoken" is masculine singular and passive as in Ps 87:3. In Ss 8:8, it is not the sister that is being spoken, but she is being spoken for, that is being asked for in marriage. The preposition, lit. "in you" in Ps 87:3 and "in her" in SoS 8:8, is the same in both verses also. This verb, dabar, with this preposition is used for marriage proposal in 1 Sam 25:39.

This verse speaks to us corporately as God's people that we have this glorious corporate hope. This is not a hope owned by Christians of any particular view, but is for God's people as a whole.
v4 - The speaker in this verse must be God because of the phrase "those who know Me."

God brings Rahab (Ps 89:10) and Babylon (Isa 13:19-20; Jer 50:39-40) to remembrance to pay them back for what they have done to His people, that is, those who know Me (Rev 16.9). God's judgment on the world will be for the benefit of those who know Him.

Rahab is the dragon, but here most think it refers to Egypt based on Isa 30:7. This is very weak because this is the only instance of Egypt being Rahab, and there she is called "Rahab that sits", not just "Rahab".  I think Rahab refers to Satan the dragon, the Antichrist empowered by the dragon and the world ruled by the dragon (Isa 51:19; etc), particularly, Rome.  The culmination of Babylon is Rome (Rev 17:5,9).

"This one was born there" means that individuals from these nations will be born-again by the Spirit into Zion (Gal 4:26-27; Heb 12:22). Being born there equals entering the gates of Zion in v2. Since these gentiles are born there in Zion, they are equal to the Jewish Christians who are also born there.

"This one was born there" refers to being born in Zion, not  Philistia, Tyre, etc. because the same exact phrase is used in v6, where it must refer to Zion.

"Behold" in Hebrew is not a verb as it is in English, but an interjection, demanding hearers to pay attention. Thus this verse is not telling Philistia and Tyre to behold something, but is telling the hearer to behold these nations.

"with Ethiopia" - Philistia (Palestinians) and Tyre (in Lebanon) were close to eachother. Ethiopia is far from them. Yet they are "with" Ethiopia. I think this means that people of these nations are together singing in Zion (v7).
v5 - "Zion" equals "those who know Me" in v4.

The phrase "Many kinds of men" is literally, "a man and a man". The exact phrase is used in only 1 other place, Esther 1:8, where it means every man in fellowship with another.  A similar expression without the "and", literally "man man" is used often (Exo 36:4; etc), where the meaning is "whosoever" or "every man individually". I think the addition of the "and" in Esther 1:8 and Ps 87:5 implies the fellowship and enjoyment together between each man and his fellow.
There are 2 other similar expressions, literally,  "a man in a man" (Isa 3:5) and "man to man" (1Sam 2:25; Ezek 18:8). These do not mean "every man", but "man in man" means "man against man" and "man to man" means what it does in English.

From each nation there are individuals who are born-again in Zion. In Zion, each and every man there has been born-again there personally and individually and is together with all those begotten of God. Those from the nations and those from Israel who are born-from-above (Jn 3:3-7) are both counted as being born-again in Zion.

"And the Highest Himself shall establish her" - "her" is Zion which is the building together of all those who have been born in Zion, the city of God. It is the Most High God Himself who begot all these individually in Zion, and He Himself will build them all together corporately into His Holy City (Eph 2:19-21).

Some translate the last phrase as "and He Himself shall establish her most high." This does not work because then "He" would refer back to "a man and a man" in the previous sentence and not to God.
v6 - I think this means that it is a very important thing to God to be born-again into Zion.
When a person is born again into the City of God, God counts it as a credit toward that person's race and nation.
v7 - The Hebrew word chalal means most commonly "slain one", as it does in the next 2 Psalms (88:5; 89:10). In the following 2 Psalms chalal is even preceded by the preposition "like" as it is here in 87:7. Ps 89:10 also mentions Rahab as being like the slain.

All translations that I have seen translate chalal here as either "pipers" or "dancers". There is only 1 other place where this word is translated "pipes" (Jer 48:36), but I believe it should be translated "slain ones" there as it is in every other place when used as a noun. (The 2nd "pipes" in Jer 48:36 is a different Hebrew word, chaliyl, which does mean "pipe".)  There is no instance in the Bible where this word means "dancers".
Also, it does not make sense to say, "The singers are like pipers" or "like dancers". Singers usually are like pipers and dancers, so there is nothing remarkable about it. Most translate "like" into "as well as", which is wrong. In this verse the English phrase "as well as" just means "and", which is not the meaning of the Hebrew preposition for "like". Furthermore if you translate "like" into "as well as" then there needs to be a verb there, and there is none.

The singers are the ones born in Zion in the previous verses. The Highest Himself establishes them (v5) to be singers who have died to themselves. After His resurrection Christ appears in Revelation as having been slain (Rev 5:6). The singers may have been martyred literally (Rev 6:9), but not necessarily, because they are "like" having been slain. They die to themselves and to their former nationality (Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:10-11) and live by Christ's life with which they were born-again in Zion. In Ps 118 Christ, the Cornerstone joining the Jews and Gentiles, circumcised the nations (Ps 118:10-12), signifying to slay their natural man.  This is the teaching of entire New Testament (Rom 6:4-13; etc).

I think God is the speaker here saying that all His springs are in Zion. God's springs are those flowing out the Spirit of Life. The springs are the singers who entered the gates of Zion by being born-again (John 7:37; etc) in the previous verses of this Psalm and who have died to themselves in this, the final verse of the Psalm.

The 144,000 firstfruits to God sing on Mt. Zion a song no one else can sing (Rev 14:1-5). They have overcome to live a live of dying to themselves and to the world including the religious world and thus are the firstfruits, the first mature ones.

-copyright Steve Miller 10/23/2010
updated 5/7/2013
updated 3/13/2021