This psalm is attributed to the “sons of Korah,” probably the descendants of the Levite who perished in the wilderness for rebelliously assaulting the divinely granted authority of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 16:1-11, 35; 26:9-11) The composition is specifically called a “song.”
God’s representative place of dwelling was located on one of the eminences of Zion or Jerusalem. Therefore, “his foundation” (the one for his representative residence) proved to be “in the holy mountains.” Being the location of the representative dwelling place of the holy God, the mountains are designated as “holy.”
YHWH had chosen Zion. For this reason, the psalmist could say that YHWH loved the “gates of Zion” more than all the other places where the descendants of Jacob or Israel resided. The “gates” provided access to the city and so appear to denote the city as a whole.
“Glorious things” were said about Jerusalem. As the “city of God,” it was highly praised. Among ancient capital cities, Jerusalem’s elevation ranked as one of the highest. Its great splendor, however, is to attributed to its serving as the sole center of true worship and being YHWH’s exclusive representative dwelling place.
Rahab likely denotes Egypt. (Compare Isaiah 30:7; 51:9, 10.) It appears that the psalmist is representing YHWH as referring to Rahab (Egypt) and Babylon as knowing him. This could mean that, by his activity in connection with his people, Rahab and Babylon had come to know him as God. (Compare Exodus 9:16.)
With reference to Philistia, Tyre, and Cush or Ethiopia, translators have chosen various interpretive renderings in connection with the words, “This one was born there.” “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.’” (NIV) By adding Zion, this rendering represents Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush as acknowledging the privileged status of being born there. Another meaning is conveyed by the following renderings: “From Babylon and Egypt I count those who acknowledge the LORD. Philistia, Ethiopia, Tyre, of them it can be said: ‘This one was born there.’ (NAB) “I mention Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge Me; Philistia, and Tyre, and Cush—each was born there.” (Tanakh) When the reference is understood as applying to other places, the next verse can be understood as introducing a contrast.
“And [or, But] of Zion it will be said, ‘[This] man and [that] man were born in her.’” Other places did not have the distinction of being YHWH’s representative place of dwelling. Therefore, if a contrast is intended, the psalmist may be indicating that it would be a far greater honor to be born in Zion or to belong to Zion (to have a special relationship to Zion by reason of being a worshiper of YHWH) than to belong to other places regarded as significant. Of all places, Zion alone was the city the Most High would firmly establish or, according to the Septuagint, the city he had founded. (For other interpretive renderings, see the Notes section.)
The psalmist portrays YHWH as making a register of the peoples and including the words, “This one was born there [in Zion].” Being born in Zion or belonging to the city would identify those thus registered as servants of YHWH.
It appears that singers and dancers say, “All my springs [are] in you.” This could be understood as an acknowledgment that their roots were in Zion. “All who sing or dance will say, ‘I too am from Zion.’” (CEV) “So all sing in their festive dance: ‘Within you is my true home.’” (NAB) Another possibility is that the singers and dancers are being depicted as recognizing Zion (the city of God) as the source of all blessings. They will dance and sing, “All good things come from Jerusalem.” (NCV) “At all the festivals, the people will sing, ‘The source of my life is in Jerusalem!’” (NLT) “Then those who sing and those who play music will say, ‘All my wells of joy are in you.’” (NLB)
Verses 3 and 6 conclude with the expression “selah,” the significance of which is uncertain. The Septuagint rendering is diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”
In the Septuagint (verse 4), the rendering for Philistia is the plural of allóphylos, which term is applied to someone of another tribe or a foreigner.
For verses 4 and 5, a number of translations represent the foreign peoples as coming to be worshipers of God and for this reason being counted as inhabitants or citizens of Zion (as if belonging to the city by birth). “I will include Egypt and Babylonia when I list the nations that obey me; the people of Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia I will number among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Of Zion it will be said that all nations belong there and that the Almighty will make her strong.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Egypt, Babylonia, Philistia, Phoenicia, and Ethiopia are some of those nations that know you, and their people all say, ‘I was born in Zion.’ God Most High will strengthen the city of Zion. Then everyone will say, ‘We were born here too.’” (CEV) “I will record Egypt and Babylon among those who know me—also Philistia and Tyre, and even distant Ethiopia. They have all become citizens of Jerusalem! And it will be said of Jerusalem, ‘Everyone has become a citizen here.’ And the Most High will personally bless this city.” (NLT)
In verse 5, the Septuagint refers opens with the words “‘Mother Zion,’ a man will say,” seemingly acknowledging Zion as his mother by reason of his being born there.
The Septuagint rendering of verse 6 could be understood to mean that God would make a registry of the people “and of these princes who were born in her [Zion].”
In the Septuagint, the concluding verse reads, “As those rejoicing [are] all the [ones] dwelling in you.”