Psalm 48 — Zion: the City of God

48 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.

2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.

3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge.

4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.

5 They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away.

6 Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.

7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.

8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever. Selah.

9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple.

10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.

11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.

13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.

14 For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.

If God had a chosen people on the earth, and if they had a city also chosen by Him, in which they could worship Him, then we could imagine the inhabitants of the world would want to destroy it. This is the history and the future of the world.

At the fall of man, Adam lost dominion and the world fell into the hands of Satan. The Scriptures refer to Him as the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). He is the king of the kingdom of sin, the domain of spiritual darkness (Col 1:13). His operations include a host of demons and the enslaved, rebel human race.

God’s elect people, born of the Spirit to become the children of God, have trouble in the world because they are aliens with a new kingdom agenda. Called out of the world, believers have a commission to herald the takeover of the earth by King Jesus Christ. This is not pleasing to Satan or the people of the world, who are at enmity with God.

When God called Abram to move from Ur and to receive the Promised Land (Canaan), it took one thousand years for his descendants to establish the capitol city. King David was directed to Jebus, city of the Jebusites, to establish the name of YHWH and to build a temple. His son, Solomon, accomplished that task, but Israel had trouble keeping the temple built (destroyed in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70) and the city in their possession.

When Jesus Christ came at His first advent, he brought the kingdom of God to Israel, but He was rejected. Subsequently, God the Father and the Son of God sent the Spirit of God, to call in the elect from every nation, tribe, and tongue to join Him as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. These people are called the “church,” the called-out body of believing people of the true Israel, Jesus Christ.

This assembly transcends generations and geographies to make Christ Jesus known to the nations. Thus, we have become ambassadors for Christ in the world (2 Cor 5:20). When the final number of God’s people are called into the church, the end of history will begin with the removal of the restrainer of evil (2 Thess 2:7).

The future of earthly Jerusalem, symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem, is intrigue. The orthodox Jewish people want a temple at Jerusalem. The Bible says they will get one, but the anti-Christ will usurp it. He will position himself as Messiah, and this will mean great trouble for Jerusalem and the Jewish people. Following the Great Tribulation, Jesus the Messiah will return from the throne of God in heaven to defeat the nations gathered against Jerusalem on the last day. He will establish His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells. Jerusalem, the city of God on Mount Zion, will be elevated physically and politically.

Psalm 48 takes us back to 701 B.C. when Jerusalem was besieged by the army of the Assyrians (Is 36–37). The historical setting fits the pattern of assaulting armies being terrified into trepidation because they discover God is present in the city they are attacking. The people of God rejoiced at the supernatural defeat of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.

Psalm 48 also transports us into the future, when the nations will be summoned to Jerusalem for the final battle of history (Zech 12:2, 9). The defeat of kings and nations will come at the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Zech 14; Rev. 19:11–19) at His second advent. History will repeat itself on that day, but the event will also be the climax of history.

Psalm 48 is a hymn of praise to YHWH, who has demonstrated His presence in the midst of Jerusalem and the people of God. The name, fame, and claim of Jerusalem are enhanced dramatically as a result of the enemies’ defeat. This psalm contributes to the category known as “Songs of Zion” (Ps 76, 84, 87, 122, and 132). It is also the third in a row to celebrate YHWH’s victory over the Assyrians (Ps 46–48). The structure of Psalm 48 begins with: I. (vv. 1–3) Introduction to praise YHWH; II. (vv. 4–8) The siege of Zion; III. (vv. 9–11) The glory of YHWH; IV. (vv. 12–14) An invitation to tour Zion.

A Song: a Psalm of the sons of Korah (Title) are all familiar terms to the Korah Psalms in this collection (Psalms 42–49).

Praise came from Jerusalem to YHWH (v. 1). Great is the Lord is hymnic. Something wonderful has happened and it is now time to praise the Lord. The theme is very common to the Psalms as one can understand lament leads to petition to deliverance to praise. YHWH is the Lord greatly to be praised.

Praise is the natural and right response of the redeemed people of God, who were delivered from their enemies. Praise is always the test of the heart. God’s people want to praise Him, but those who hesitate to acknowledge Him are not with Him. In the city of our God reminds us that YHWH chose Jerusalem as the place for Israel to worship Him (Ps 78:68; 132:13; Dt 12). His holy mountain is the holy dwelling place of the Most High (46:4). It is Mount Zion in the northeast corner of Jerusalem. This is Mount Moriah, where Abraham prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. It is also the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite, purchased by King David as the site for the temple of YHWH. Mountains were closer to the heavens where God was believed to reside. It is called “holy” because it is set apart from the everyday aspects of city life.

Praise for Zion came because it is the city of God, who is King (v. 2). Beautiful in elevation is a further description of the ideal topography for the temple mount. In the days of tribulation, earthquakes will change the topography so that Jerusalem will rise above the hills around it (Isa 2:2). The joy of the whole earth is prophetic. The nations would not agree with this statement, historically nor today. The voice of joy is heard from those who shout to God (47:1). Joy is one product of God’s intimate presence (Gal 5:22). During the eternal reign of King Jesus on the earth (Isa 2:1–4; Zech 14:9–11, 16–21; Rev. 20:1–6), universal peace will generate joy.

Is Mount Zion in the far north reminds us of Canaanite worship of Baal. Baal-Zaphon is in Egypt, a settled city of the Canaanite people, who were the Phoenician sea people (sea travelers). About twenty five miles north of Ugarit in the land of Assyria was Mount Zaphon, which was the high place of Baal worship. The contest was between Zaphon, which is the word for north, and Zion, the city of the great King. Jerusalem was settled on Mount Zion, and it was the city of David in the royal sense. It was the capitol city of the kings of Israel. It is also the city of a great King over all the earth, who is the YHWH Most High (47:2, 7).

YHWH was identified as the fortress within the fortress city (v. 3). God in her palaces was the boast of the city. YHWH was the royal resident of Jerusalem. He is the Divine Warrior, who has made Himself known as a stronghold. This is a link to the chorus in 46:7, 11. A stronghold was a strategic military post of defense. It is synonymous with shelter, refuge, and shield.

The New Testament believer, as the temple of the Holy Spirit, is part of the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Here is the real Jerusalem which Paul calls, “our mother” (Gal 4:26). The writer of Hebrews follows Paul with this imagery, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven…(Heb 12:22–23). This concludes the introduction to praise, which begs for a reason for our praise that is now given.

Kings gathered to besiege Jerusalem (v. 4). “For, lo…” is a conjunction of continuation and it signals a reason for what has gone before. This is one of the most common themes of history: besieging Jerusalem. At the geographic and political center of the earth, symbolizing the introduction of the kingdom of God on earth, the nations have and will continue to despise Israel’s presence in the city of God. The kings have assembled themselves for war against Israel and Jerusalem (2 Sam 10; Isa 36–37; Zech 14).

They passed by together is a way of saying they circled it to survey the best strategy for attacking. The nations are disorganized and in disunity unless they are attacking Israel together. In the days of Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria counted the towers of Jerusalem in this same type of pre-war preparation. Satan surveys the church and like a roaring lion seeks to devour her, but for everyone inspired by him to attack the betrothed of Christ…there is a surprise.

The kings were spooked by something in the city (v. 5). They saw it as a city set on a hill that could not be missed. Then they were amazed because underdog Israel had a secret weapon. The Egyptians learned this at the Red Sea. The city of Jericho learned this at the beginning of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. The Assyrians learned this at Jerusalem. The armies of the nations gathered for war at Jerusalem in the future will learn it, and they were terrified.

In each of these scenarios, the God of Abraham and Jacob makes His presence known to Israel’s enemies. Terrified, they fled in alarm. You can run and you can hide, but there is no place in heaven or on earth that you can escape from His presence. Are you with Him or against Him? Eternal terror awaits those who bring terror to God’s people on the earth. Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.

The trembling kings were likened to a woman in labor (v. 6). Panic seized them there is a horrifying reality that you have met a far greater power. You are face to face with the Lord of Hosts (46:7, 11; 48:8), the commander-in-chief of the armies of heaven and earth. Anguish, as of a woman in childbirth was a common simile in the Ancient Near East and familiar to readers of the Bible (Jer 6:34; 22:23; 49:24; 50:43; Hos 13:13; Is 13:8; Micah 4:9; etc.). To be out of control in the midst of circumstances, exuding excruciating pain and fear of the outcome, is the vivid picture we must hold onto. The whole earth will be in this state during the Great Tribulation to come (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21).

Their demise was likened to ships in a storm dashed upon the rocks (v. 7). With the east wind is an allusion to the violence caused by the wind. This wind had a reputation for destroying ships (Ezek 27:26), especially with the shipping merchants of Tyre. Thou dost break the ships of Tarshish made for the most terrifying stories of helplessness. Tarsseus was a trading port city in Spain. It had a reputation to be envied. Jonah made it his port of destination (Jon 1:3), in running from God. Ship building was a crucial industry for port cities that could prosper greatly from international trade of the other goods they produced. The ships of Tarshish were no match for the thrashing wind and waves.

Jerusalem is a prime witness to the fulfillment of Scripture regarding itself (v. 8). As we have heard of the works of the Lord from our fathers, so we have seen for ourselves. For most of the children of God, the reputation of the Lord is passed on to us through the stories of the Bible and through the testimonies of living saints. Once we have heard these accounts, it is likely we will have our own encounters to report to others. In the city of the Lord of Hosts reminds us that the work of Christ is to destroy the works of the devil, which He did most aptly at the cross of Calvary at Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a city built for defense. There is no better defense than to have the Almighty Commander in residence. In the city of our God, who is YHWH the Most High God and King over all the earth. The capitol city of His kingdom has the guarantee that God will establish her forever. The heavenly Jerusalem is an eternal city. Selah offers a musical pause, and it marks the close of the antagonist’s section. We now consider the glory of YHWH.

Israel reflected on their worship of YHWH (v. 9). We have thought on Thy lovingkindness, O God is the meditation of those with the mind of Christ. YHWH’s covenant love for Israel is a dominant theme in the Psalms and through much of the Hebrew Scriptures. God’s love is a dominant theme in the church, today. Unfortunately, it is used as an almost exclusive marketing theme by the church toward the world.

The church needs to relearn that God’s love is found in the midst of Thy temple. His love is demonstrated toward the church in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The world will recognize the church by our love for one another. His love is so alluring, it demands our love returned to Him, which is the first commandment. His love is so all-encompassing, it produces love for our neighbor, which is the second commandment. It is a fruit of His Holy Spirit in the New Testament believer (Gal 5:22).

Israel recognized YHWH was worthy of their worship (v. 10). As is Thy name, O God is a simile for so is Thy praise. These are two sides of the same coin. Where the name above all other names is proclaimed, the right response is praise. The global advance of His heralded name is producing praise with the end goal being to the ends of the earth. Praise will eventually come from every tribe, and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9).

Our mission is to call in true worshippers of YHWH and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. We baptize them into the body of Christ, and then we teach them why and how to worship the King of our heavenly city. Thy right hand is symbolic of power and strength. Jesus at the right hand of God the Father, seated in power. Christ is the power of God (1 Cor 1:24). This is not reckless, evil power, for it is full of righteousness. It is the power that works for good and does truth.

Israel rejoiced at YHWH’s judgment against the armies of the nations (v. 11). Let Mount Zion be glad is the joy of God’s people in the midst of God’s victorious presence. Let the daughters of Judah rejoice is a Hebrew idiom referring to the cities and villages. This is a historical fact, but the whole earth will someday rejoice at Christ’s final victory over Satan, His legions, and the children of the devil on the earth. Because of Thy judgments is the reason for rejoicing. Satan was defeated at the cross, but he was wounded and fights on.

The assault on the gates of Hell has begun, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the church militant. The judgment of God against sin has caused believers in every generation to rejoice. The judgment day of the Lord on the earth will produce untold joys by those who remain and bow their knee to the conquering King Jesus Christ. Zechariah put it this way, “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths (Zech 14:16).”

Israel was invited to tour Jerusalem (v. 12). Walk about Zion was not a safe proposition when the city was besieged, but now the people are free to move about and go around her to consider their salvation. Just as the Assyrians did, the people of God are encouraged to count her towers. Let us survey the state of the church on the pages of Scripture, and let us be reminded that God is our shield and defender. The light of this city, in the world of darkness, may flicker, but it will never fade or be extinguished.

Israel’s tour of Jerusalem was meant to be a tool for evangelism (v. 13). Consider her ramparts was to marvel at the lack of damage. The war was waged, but YHWH protected and preserved His beloved city. Go through her palaces because they were made all the more the luxurious by the plunder of the surrounding nations. The regal decor was made all the more brilliant through the refiner’s fire of oppression and persecution, turned to victorious plunder (ie. Abram rescuing Lot; Israel leaving Egypt, etc.).

The precious treasure of the riches of Christ Jesus are in earthen vessels, today. The priceless Gospel message is the glory of Jacob. It is so that you may tell it to the next generation, which is a call to preach Christ crucified. Palaces are rich dwelling places of kings; and in the case of Christ, a most holy dwelling place, where He is seated upon the throne of God (Rev 4, 5, 6, 7). Paul said, “Woe to me if I don’t tell them.”

YHWH is exalted and considered Israel’s guide through life and death (v. 14). For such is God exalted and victorious over His enemies and our enemies, too. Our God, forever and ever sets YHWH apart from every other so-called god. He is the eternal God of heaven, from age to age the same.

With Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever, we know He will guide us until death by His Spirit who permanently dwells within our hearts. “Through death” may be a better translation because some manuscripts read “forever.” Being led by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:18), we walk in faith in King Jesus Christ, around the city of God on the earth. We praise Him for all to hear and see, and we will someday be the joy of the whole earth, when He subdues all nations under His reign (Ps 47, 110). And the city of God says, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

David Norczyk

Hillsboro, Oregon

July 6, 2021

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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher