The word “city” is rooted in the same source as “citizen,” “civic,” and “civilization.”
In ancient villages the work was much the same from generation to generation; progress was not high on the agenda. Skills were passed down by elders to younger folk. Except for the occasional trip to a nearby city, the long work days bound people together in community, reinforced by the Sabbath and the various holidays.
In ancient cities, and today, civilization is on the move. Progress is the agenda—improvement is the traffic in the busy streets. More of this, more of that, more time to do more things, more money, more, more, more.
All the while the civilized city dweller dreams of the country, the quaint village, the beach town and the beach itself, the mountain lodge with vast windows to look upon vast vistas of created things so far from the city.
The Psalmist explores the cities in his world and compares them to the City of God—Zion.
Zion began as a mountain—the Hill of the Lord—and became King David’s temporary tabernacle housing the Ark of the Covenant, and then Solomon’s Temple where the Shekinah of God rested in a little room, secure behind a heavy veil. Then it was a city—the City of David—where holy history, present power and promised prosperity trafficked together in the narrow streets.
The Psalmist speaks of the advantages of citizenship in Zion. “This one was born in Zion.” This fact granted immediate status, one greater than birthplaces with different names, to the People of God.
There were walls, and city gates, and law enforcement, and politicians whose job it was to keep the peace in and the enemies out. But the true security of Zion was the veracity of their covenant-keeping God. He was their Lawgiver, their gate, their walls against profane insurgents.
The city is also a biblical metaphor for the church.
The source word for church means, “the called out ones.” Because each Christ-follower has an inner light set ablaze by the Abiding Spirit of God, we become a shining City on a Hill that cannot be ignored when collect together to worship.
But what has this to do with Zion?
If you read every passage in the Bible that refers to Zion, as I have done, you will likely agree with my conclusion: What does “Zion” mean? It is the dwelling and ruling place of God.
- So Heaven is Zion, uncompromised, untainted, unassailed and we spiritually ascend to Mt. Zion as we worship in Spirit and in Truth.
- The church on earth is a part of Zion when Jesus takes residence in her and when she gives the reins of power over to Him.
Blessed is the one who is born again in Zion!
- This is a civilization based on Truth.
- Our citizenship is registered in heaven.
- Our civic duty is to worship and serve the Lord.
- There are no ghettos or darkened streets or alleyways.
- The Peace of Christ rules in every boardroom.
- The Plan of God is seen in every yearly projection.
- The Power of God flows through every connection and line.
I know this is a millennial vision of a time yet to come. But can’t we have a little of it in the church today?
Psalm 87 NIV
He has set his foundation on the holy mountain; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me — Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.'” Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, the Most High himself will establish her.” The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”
Psalm 9:11 NIV
Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.
Psalm 46:4 NIV
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
Psalm 48:1-3;12-14 NIV
Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. … is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress. …Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Psalm 50:2 NIV
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…
Matthew 5:14-16 NIV
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Lord Jesus, as we pray each day for Your Kingdom to come and Your will to be done on earth, help us to remember the City of God is here—Your Glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle! We are her citizens, responsible keepers of the City. Just as surely as Zion is in heaven, it is also here on earth. Let me about the business of Your City today, the commerce of grace, the industry of hope and the keeping of the Peace of Christ. Amen and Amen.
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Words: John Newton; Music: Joseph Haydn
1. Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God.
God, whose word cannot be broken, formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
2. See, the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age.
3. Round each habitation hovering, see the cloud and fire appear
For a glory and a covering, showing that the Lord is near.
Thus deriving from their banner light by night and shade by day,
Safe they feed upon the manna which God gives them when they pray.
4. Savior, since of Zion’s city I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in your name.
Fading are the world’s best pleasures, all its boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved