Psalm 48 unites with psalms 46 and 47 to form three great psalms of praise to God for His Kingship and His love for the city of Jerusalem. Many scholars call these three psalms, Psalms of Zion. They are credited to the sons of Korah. Psalm 48 calls the people to offer reverent praise to the Lord. It views Jerusalem (Zion) as the city of the Great King where the godly find protection. God rules from Zion in faithfulness, righteousness, and justice, and He inspires His subjects with confidence and Joy. They commit themselves to seeing the glory of Zion for themselves so they can tell the next generation about it. This is a psalm celebrating Jehovah’s victory in delivering Jerusalem from the Assyrians. The emphasis is on Jerusalem and Mount Zion.
The psalm begins with the people of Jerusalem speaking of their pride in the city. They are thankful for the city. They also speak of God, calling Him great. Often in the psalms the word great is used to refer to God. The city of Jerusalem is also called the city of our God. This city was near and dear to the people who lived there, and it was called holy because God made His dwelling there. We have read in both 2 Samuel 5 and 2 Chronicles 11 that David took Mount Zion from the Jebusites and made Jerusalem the capital city of his kingdom. Jerusalem sits some 2,500 feet above sea level. It was surrounded on three sides by deep valleys that made defending it much easier than most. But her real safety was in the Lord who dwelt there. It was also situated close to the juncture of north-south and east-west trade routes. This was important for Jerusalem’s economy and for communication with the rest of the world. In due time David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. This made Zion the holy mountain. Jerusalem became the city of our God and the city of the great king. The greatness belonged to the Lord, not the city.
The psalmist calls Jerusalem the joy of the whole earth. In Psalm 117:1 we will read that the purpose of God’s work in Israel was to draw all the nations to Himself. The psalmist asked the question, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north. This most likely comes from Canaanite poetry that believed great gods resided in some remote northern location. But for Israel, Jerusalem was a beautiful city, a safe fortress and set high on a hill. Here are some historical thoughts on the issue of where God dwells. The gods of Greek mythology had their palace on Mount Olympus. (9,573 feet tall.) The Canaanite gods dwelt atop Mount Zaphon, (5,807 feet tall.) Mount Zaphon is in northern Syria on the Orontes River, and was seen as the home of the god Baal. In both cases, the mystery and grandeur of a high mountain in the far north seemed appropriate to ancient peoples as the abodes of their gods. The Israelites also had mountains. There was Mount Sinai but that was not the home of God. It was the place where God descended in order to meet Moses and give Israel His Law. It was not a place of pilgrimage either. Much more attention was paid to Mount Zion. This is somewhat surprising since it is neither remote nor particularly impressive. It is much shorter than Olympus or Zaphon. The views are impressive, but Mount Zion does not dominate Judah like Olympus does Greece. And, unlike other mountains, Mount Zion had a fairly large population. Mount Zion was not at all remote either.
The term Zion in the Old Testament is used as a sort of code word for the coming of the kingdom of God. Zion was a symbol of God’s dominion over the whole earth, as well as a promise of a great future. This would be when the gentiles would come and submit to Israel’s God. Worship at the temple was a foretaste of that future when David’s kingdom would extend over all humanity forever. The very presence of Zion in a human city, Jerusalem, was proof that God’s covenant was with people and that unlike the gods of the nations, He would indeed dwell among us. The New Testament speaks of Mount Zion as heavenly Jerusalem, the spiritual home of those from all nations who have been reborn through faith in Jesus Christ. One day in the future Jerusalem will be at the center of Christ’s glorious kingdom. Spiritually speaking the city has brought joy to all the earth because outside its walls Jesus died for the sins of the world and from Jerusalem first sounded out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 48 describes the approach and hasty retreat of the errant kings referred to in psalm 2. The connection between the two comes from the unusual Hebrew word for fear, a term meaning trembling or quaking terror. God’s people had been speaking about God but now in verse 4 they begin speaking to Him about what He had done to the Assyrians. Sennacherib and his huge army and the vassal kings of his empire had surrounded Jerusalem and hoped to capture it, but godly King Hezekiah, with the help of the prophet Isaiah turned to the Lord for help and He came to their rescue. See Isaiah 36-37. Here the Lord fought for Israel just as He had against the Egyptians. God sent His angel to the Assyrian camp and 185,000 Assyrians were killed. The overconfident Assyrians found themselves defeated and disgraced and had to return home. The ships of Tarshish is a reference to ships that were man made and built for long voyages. This represents human accomplishment, not something of the Lord.
What follows next is a joyful celebration of the Lord’s presence in the midst of His people. We see the faithfulness, righteousness, and justice of God’s rule. The psalmist wrote, ‘we have thought’. This Hebrew word is also unusual. It refers to making comparisons and looking for similarities, thinking and considering with discrimination. In other words, the people were looking at the Lord and comparing Him to other gods and discovered there is none like Him. Perhaps the speakers here were a group of pilgrims going to Jerusalem to help celebrate the great victory. They had heard about what the Lord had done and now they would see it with their own eyes. Psalm 126 may well fit into this event too. Upon arrival it is clear the pilgrims went right to the temple to worship the Lord, meditate on His faithfulness, and praise Him with great joy. It is as though the fame of the Lord spread from Jerusalem to the towns of Judah Sennacherib had plundered, to the ends of the earth, just as we read in Acts 1:8.
We finish as the worship was completed. It sounds like one of the sons of Korah became a tour guide, leading the pilgrims around the city of Jerusalem. Praising the city of Jerusalem was like praising the Lord whose dwelling was there. To be a guide here was also like being a shepherd. This tour guide showed them the towers and the outer walls which are sometimes called ramparts. But this guide was also very careful to remind them that the cities protection was in fact the Lord and not the bricks and mortar. The Assyrian officials had counted the towers and figured out how to capture the city but like everyone else who came up against the Lord’s people, they did not take into account what it meant to have the Lord on your side. These were things the pilgrims could not forget, what the Lord had done. And it was the responsibility of the current generation to pass along their knowledge of the Lord and what it meant to have a relationship with Him. Like Deuteronomy 6, all of us are called to share the Lord and His Word with the next generations.
The greatest danger a nation faces is not the invading enemy from without. It is the enemy within. It is a people gradually turning away from their faith. All of us are called to pass on to the next generation who the Lord is, what He has done, and what all of us are called to do in response to His faithfulness and goodness.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W