Psalm 48 – The City of the Great King
The title of this psalm is A Song. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. Matthew Poole on A Song: “This Hebrew word schir may be here taken not simply for a song, but for a joyful song, as it is in Genesis 31:27; Exodus 15:1; Psalm 33:3.”
A. The city of the Great King.
1. (1-3) The Great King and His city.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.
a. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised: The psalmist began simply describing the greatness of God and His worthiness to be praised. He connected this praise with a place: Jerusalem, described as the city of our God, in His holy mountain.
i. Great is the LORD: He is great indeed.
· He is greater: For God is greater than man (Job 33:12).
· He is greatest of all: For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods (Psalm 95:3).
· He is greatness itself: His greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3).
ii. “How great Jehovah is essentially none can conceive; but we can all see that he is great in the deliverance of his people, great in their esteem who are delivered, and great in the hearts of those enemies whom he scatters by their own fears. Instead of the mad cry of Ephesus, ‘Great is Diana,’ we hear the reasonable, demonstrable, self-evident testimony, ‘Great is Jehovah.’” (Spurgeon)
b. In His holy mountain: The idea of Jerusalem as a holy mountain is a thought-provoking contrast to another holy mountain – Mount Sinai. Sinai was so holy that a fence kept God’s people from it, lest they die (Exodus 19:12-13). The New Testament develops this comparison and contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion (Jerusalem) in Galatians 4:24-26 and Hebrews 12:18-24.
i. This reminds us that though the psalmist certainly had the literal, historic city of Jerusalem in mind, he was also carried away by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to also see the idealized city of Jerusalem, the city of God, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12 and 21:2). The two aspects do not cancel each other out; they compliment each other.
c. Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north: Commentators are divided on the meaning of this phrase. Many or most think it describes Jerusalem’s situation mainly on the northern slope of Mount Zion, though this is contested. It’s possible that by sides of the north the psalmist intended us to connect literal Jerusalem with God’s heavenly city.
i. Isaiah 14:13 uses the phrase the farthest sides of the north to refer to heaven, the place where God is enthroned. “By an effective turn of phrase it portrays the literal Zion in terms of the heavenly one – the community whose king is God – by identifying it with the far north.” (Kidner)
d. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion: Jerusalem is idealized as elevated and the cause of joy for all peoples. Certainly, the redemption there won rescues people from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 5:9).
e. The city of the great King: Ultimately, this is what makes Jerusalem wonderful. There are cities with better natural resources and more natural beauty. Yet there is only one city of the great King, the King of kings. He is present (God is in her palaces) and her defense (her refuge).
i. “The godly had a special feeling about Jerusalem that is beautifully and sensitively expressed in this psalm. They looked on the city, mountain, and temple as symbols of God’s presence with his people.” (VanGemeren)
2. (4-7) The troubled kings of the earth.
For behold, the kings assembled,
They passed by together.
They saw it, and so they marveled;
They were troubled, they hastened away.
Fear took hold of them there,
And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs,
As when You break the ships of Tarshish
With an east wind.
a. Behold, the kings assembled: With God the refuge of Jerusalem (Psalm 48:3), the kings of the earth came to it – yet they could not attack. Instead they marveled and they were troubled.
i. They passed by together may be too weak. The niv [New International Version] translates, they advanced together. “The united effort of the nations gave them confidence, best expressed by A.A. Anderson: ‘they stormed furiously.’” (VanGemeren)
ii. “In Hebrew the words are similar to the well-known report of Julius Caesar about his victories in Gaul: Veni, vidi, vici (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’). Only here the kings did not conquer; they fled from the city in terror. The verbs literally say: ‘They saw [Jerusalem is implied]; they were dumbfounded; they were overwhelmed; they fled in panic.’ The fast pace of the language captures the confusion and fearful flight.” (Boice)
iii. “As has been often noticed, they recall Caesar’s Veni, vidi, vici; but these kings came, saw, were conquered. No cause for the rout is named. No weapons were drawn in the city.” (Maclaren)
b. Fear took hold of them there: When they saw and understood the great King guarding His holy city, they were afraid to either attack the city or offend the King. They hurt like a woman in labor and they were scattered like ships in a storm.
i. “Even thus shall the haters of the church vanish from the field, Papists, Ritualists, Arians, Sceptics, they shall each have their day, and shall pass on to the limbo of forgetfulness.” (Spurgeon)
3. (8) The established city of the LORD.
As we have heard,
So we have seen
In the city of the LORD of hosts,
In the city of our God:
God will establish it forever. Selah
a. As we have heard, so we have seen: This is a simple yet beautiful statement of God fulfilling His promises and working in the present day, not only in the past. We should be aware of the great things He has done in the past ages (we have heard) and pray with faith for great works to be done in our own time (so we have seen).
i. “Perhaps you were told of such special acts of God by your parents. As you learn to trust him, you should begin to experience such personal blessings yourself, and you should be able to say, ‘As I have heard, so I have seen.’” (Boice)
b. In the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: The repetition is for emphasis. This city belongs to God. It is His city.God will establish it forever.
B. Responding to the Great King.
1. (9-11) Meditating on His mercies.
We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness,
In the midst of Your temple.
According to Your name, O God,
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness.
Let Mount Zion rejoice,
Let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Because of Your judgments.
a. We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness: The thought turns from a focus on the strength and majesty of God to a consideration of His covenant love (hesed, lovingkindness).
i. In his sermon A Worthy Theme for Thought, Charles Spurgeon thought of three different people in the church and how they should each think and speak more of the lovingkindness of the LORD.
· “Now, my dear sister, you have talked about that rheumatism of yours to at least fifty people who have been to see you; suppose you tell your next visitor about the lovingkindness of the Lord to you.”
· “Yes, my dear brother, we all know that trade is bad, for you have told us so, every day, for I do not know how many years. And you have always been losing money, though you had no capital when you started; yet, somehow or other, you have managed to have something left even now. Well, we know that old story; could you not change your note just a little, and talk about the lovingkindness of the Lord?”
· “Yes, my friend, I know that many professing Christian people are not all that they profess to be; I have heard you say soever so many times. You say also, ‘There is no love in the church.’ Well, so far as we can see, you are not overstocked with it. You say, ‘There is no zeal among the members,’ but have you any to give away to those who need it? Now, henceforward, instead of always harping on the faults and failing of God’s people – which, certainly, are numerous enough, but have not become any fewer since you talked so much about them – would it not be better to think and talk of the lovingkindness of the Lord?”
b. In the midst of Your temple: Being at the temple led the psalmist to consider the lovingkindness of God. In many ways the temple itself testified to the covenant love of God to His people.
· God’s covenant love was shown in providing a place to meet with Him.
· God’s covenant love was shown in providing even the nations a place to meet with Him.
· God’s covenant love was shown in providing an atoning sacrifice of a substitute.
· God’s covenant love was shown in providing a sacrifice to give thanks.
· God’s covenant love was shown in providing a place to receive prayer as sweet-smelling incense unto Him.
· God’s covenant love was shown in providing a place for Him to be enthroned among His people.
c. According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth: God’s name is filled with majesty and greatness; so is His praise. His praiseworthy character is shown in His righteousness and judgments.
i. Let the daughters of Judah be glad: “The daughters of Judah are its cities and villages: cf., e.g., Judges 1:27, Hebrew.” (Kidner)
2. (12-14) The city represents God’s faithfulness.
Walk about Zion,
And go all around her.
Count her towers;
Mark well her bulwarks;
Consider her palaces;
That you may tell it to the generation following.
For this is God,
Our God forever and ever;
He will be our guide
Even to death.
a. Count her towers; mark well her bulwarks: The psalmist asks us to take a tour of Jerusalem, noting its defenses, strengths, and palaces reflecting royal dignity.
b. For this is God, our God forever and ever: In these last two verses the city itself fades from view and we see God alone. All these marks of Jerusalem’s glory and strength come from God, and this should be told to the generation following. The same God that builds and beautifies Jerusalem is our God forever and ever and will be our guide even to death.
i. We can say “forever and ever” about God in a way that we cannot say it about anything else. “The landlord cannot say of his fields, these are mine, forever and ever. The king cannot say of his crown, this is mine forever and ever. These possessions shall soon change masters; these possessors shall soon mingle with the dust, and even the graves they shall occupy may not long be theirs.” (Burder, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. Even unto death: “And after, too; for this is not to be taken [as] exclusive. He will never leave us, nor forsake us.” (Trapp)
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