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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 48

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 48

WE have here also a song of praise to the Lord after the deliverance of the people of God from great danger. Before the Psalmist refers to the particular proof of the divine favour, he points to the general relation to Israel, out of which the favour sprung. He celebrates in Psalms 48:1-3, the dignity and elevation of Jerusalem as the city of God. Then he turns himself in Psalms 48:4-8 to the transaction, in which this dignity and elevation had presently discovered itself. Hostile kings had assembled against Jerusalem, but scarcely had they looked at the city, when they hastened away from it in anxious flight. This fact, in which the history of the olden time again revived, connects the present state of God’s people with the past. The second part of the Psalm, separated from the first by a Selah, begins, in Psalms 48:9-11, with joyful thanks for this deliverance. Then in Psalms 48:12-14 is addressed the call to proclaim the matter to posterity. For this purpose the city must be exactly surveyed in all its parts, so that it may be understood how the enemies were so utterly powerless against it, how not a hair of it, in a manner, was turned.

Expositors take as the historical occasion of the Psalm, either the victory of Jehoshaphat, (so in particular Movers on the Chron. p. 111, ss.) or the deliverance from the Assyrians under Hezekiah. To the latter hypothesis, it is to be objected, 1. That the discourse here is of many independent kings, who had leagued themselves in a common undertaking against Jerusalem. It is nothing to allege, on the other hand, the saying of the king of Assyria, in Isaiah 10:8, “Are not all my princes kings?” For that here the discourse is not of such, as possibly once were called kings, appears from נועדו Psalms 48:4, as also from the fact, that here it is always kings that are spoken of, never a king of kings. We never find it thus in the numerous passages which refer to the Assyrians. 2. That here the discourse is of troubled flight, not of utter destruction. On the other hand, every thing is in perfect accordance with the victory of Jehoshaphat. Then in reality, many kings were gathered together against Jerusalem. They came into the immediate neighbourhood of the city, into the wilderness of Tekoa, which is certainly not further than a journey of three hours from Jerusalem, which commands an extensive prospect, and in particular of the environs of Jerusalem,—comp. Robinson, P. II. p. 407; (upon the march of the Moabites and Ammonites, comp. ib. p. 426.) Their anxious and troubled flight is described quite similarly in the Chronicles. With: “We think, O Lord, on thy loving-kindness in the midst of thy temple,” in Psalms 48:9 here, which bespeaks the Psalm to have been sung as a song of praise in the temple, as the preceding one on the field of slaughter, comp. 2 Chronicles 20:27, “All Judah and Jerusalem returned, and Jehoshaphat in the fore front of them, back to Jerusalem with joy; and they came to Jerusalem with harps, and cytharas, and trumpets to the house of the Lord.” A special reference to Jehoshaphat’s time is also found in Psalms 48:7. The omnipotence with which the Lord destroys the enemies, is there placed beside that, with which he breaks the ships of Tarshish. The occasion that gave rise to this comparison is recorded in 1 Kings 22:49, 2 Chronicles 20:36-37. Jehoshaphat had united with Ahaziah in getting ships of merchandize, but the ships were wrecked, נשברו . The internal connection between the two events was the greater, as in that annihilation of the ships of Tarshish, there was discerned, according to 2 Chronicles, a judgment of God.

In the superscription: A Psalm-song of the children of Korah, (comp. 2 Chronicles 20:19,) the שיר , as always, when it stands absolutely in the superscription of the Psalms, has the sense of a song of praise: see Vol. III. Ap. p. 2.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. Great is the Lord, and exceedingly glorious, in the city of our God, upon his holy mountain. Ver. 2. Beautiful by its elevation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion, in the extreme north, the city of the great king. Ver. 3. God is in her palaces known as a refuge. On Psalms 48:1, Calvin remarks: “Assuredly there is no corner so concealed but that God’s wisdom, righteousness, and goodness, and his other attributes, penetrate into it. But because he desires that they should be especially visible to his church, so the Psalmist does not in vain hold this mirror before our eyes, in which God more vividly presents his image.” Upon מהלל , prop. praised, then glorious, comp. on Psalms 18:3. The words: his holy mountain, stand in appos. to: in the city of our God. The holy mountain was the centre of the city of God, and, viewed spiritually, this stood wholly upon Zion. In the following verse, the city, for the same reason, is appos. to the mountain.

The key for the exposition of Psalms 48:2, is found in the remark, that the Psalmist describes not the external but the internal glory of Jerusalem, views it not with fleshly eyes, but with the eye of faith, speaks not as a geographer, but as a divine. That the απ . λεγ . נוף signifies height, elevation, is generally admitted now, (The stat. constr. alone is quite decisive against Luther’s: Mount Zion is like a beautiful little twig, after the Chal., where נוּ?ף is taken for a twig, decides already the scat. constr.) Beautiful of the height, is q. d. beautiful in respect to height, or through its height. In the external height, the Psalmist discerns the image of the spiritual, and only in so far is it of any importance to him, comp. Psalms 68:16, where the outwardly high earthly mountains envy the spiritually high Zion on account of its elevation, Isaiah 2:2, Ezekiel 40:2, Revelation 21:10, Matthew 5:14. Jerusalem is also called the joy of the whole earth in Lamentations 2:15, probably with reference to this Psalm. Jerusalem is so dear, especially when considered with the eye of the Spirit, that it may justly be reckoned the object of joy to the whole earth, comp. Ezekiel 16:14.—ירכתי צפון , prop. the extreme of the north, is to be taken as appos. to הר ציון . The only legitimate exposition is that which proceeds from a comp. of Isaiah 14:13-14. There the mountain of the gods is described as situated in the furthest north, which, according to a representation far spread in the East, must rise out of the earth up to heaven, forming a sort of intermediate link between heaven and earth: comp. in: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” and this: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High,” which will by no means permit us to regard the mountain of the gods as belonging merely to the earth, but rather proceeds on the supposition, that it rises from earth up to the highest heavens. What the heathen dreamed of such a mountain, that Mount Zion was in reality. Its foundation was on earth, its top in heaven. That we cannot here think of a geographical delineation, is clear from Ezekiel 38:6, Ezekiel 38:15, Ezekiel 39:2, where the furthest north presents the contrast to the mountains of Israel. It is only figuratively that Zion is called the extreme north, precisely as in Ezekiel 5:5, “This is Jerusalem, in the midst of the earth have I set her, and round about her are the lands,”—according to the connection we can only think of a spiritual centre of the earth. That the heathenish representation of the mountain of the gods, in the extreme north, could not yet have been known in Israel under Jehoshaphat, is maintained without any solid reason. The exposition of Luther: On the side toward midnight lies the city of the great king, is, along with a number like it, disposed of by the remark, that ירכתים always denotes the inmost and furthest of a thing, and specially ירכתי צפון is everywhere: the extremity of the north. Against the exposition of De Wette and Gesenius: (the joy) of the whole earth, [Note: There seems to be some mistake in the original here, and I presume it should be, not: (the joy) of the whole earth, but: (the joy) of the extreme north. At the same time, this is not the rendering adopted by De Wette in that edition of his work on the Psalms (the iii.) which is in my possession.

Trans.] we oppose the fact, that such a resumption of the stat. constr. is without example, not occurring even in Job 26:10, which Ew. § 509, quotes for it. The special naming of the extreme north after the whole earth would be unsuitable.

The words appended in apposition: the city of the great king, points to that on account of which all the glorious predicates rest, which had been ascribed to Mount Zion in the preceding context. God is named the great king in opposition to the kings in Psalms 48:4. In ver. 3, נודע is to be taken in its common signification, known, comp. Psalms 76:1. God is known in the palaces of Jerusalem as a fortress, because he has proved himself in them to be as a fortress, comp. Psalms 48:13.

Verses 4-8

Ver. 4. For, lo, the kings were assembled, they vanished altogether. Ver. 5. They saw, so they were astonished, were frightened, fled away. Ver. 6. Trembling took hold on them there, anguish as a woman with child. Ver. 7. By the east wind thou breakest the ships of Tarshish. Ver. 8. As we heard, so we saw in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God: God establishes it for ever. Selah. The commentary on נועדו , prop. to be appointed, then to come together, especially on the ground of an agreement, is given in Psalms 83:4-6. עבר most would expound by approaching, but the impressive brevity is in favour of the sig. of vanishing away.

Upon the כן without the precedingכאשר in Psalms 48:5, see Ew. § 628. The object of the seeing is without doubt the holy city. For, its dignity and elevation must certainly be pointed out. The veni, vidi, vici of Caesar is to be compared, and scarcely any expositor overlooks it. Upon חפז , to hasten for fear, in Niph. to be hastened, hastily and anxiously to flee, comp. on Psalms 31:22. In Psalms 48:7, from the liveliness of the affection the address is directed to God, as afterwards in Psalms 48:9-11 throughout. The breaking of the ships of Tarshish is introduced here only as an individualizing description of the almighty working of God, q. d. thine omnipotence, this the present event shows us, nothing can withstand, not even what is most lofty and glorious,—the ships of Tarshish are used as an individualizing example of this also in Isaiah 2:16. Against Koester, who, with a miserable historising interpretation, would refer the verse to the destruction of a fleet, which had supported the operations of the hostile sovereign, the fut. alone is decisive, the pret. being always used of the historical events in the preceding and subsequent context:—the same remark applies to Hitzig, according to whom the ships of Tarshish must be regarded as a proper description of the warlike force of the enemy. That great ships of burden generally are denoted by “ships of Tarshish,”, has been maintained without foundation.

In Psalms 48:7, the seeing i.e. the personal experience, is opposed to the hearing, i.e. to the knowledge of God’s grace and power from the tradition of past times. Comp. Job 42:5, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee,” and the complaint regarding the contrast between the hearing and the seeing in Psalms 44. In the church of God the seeing is at all times bound up with the hearing which, every century, receives fresh materials. That we must not expound: at, but only: in the city, appears from Psalms 48:1 and Psalms 48:3. The last member—not: he shall establish it, but, he establishes it—points to that which was borne witness to both by the past and by the present. The expression: unto eternity, for ever, is only apparently contradicted by experience. The Jerusalem that has been laid in ruins, is not that which the Psalmist means. It is only its lifeless corpse. Matthew 5:18 furnishes the canon, according to which all such declarations are to be judged.

Verses 9-11

Ver. 9. We think of thy grace, O God, thy grace in the midst of thy temple. Ver. 10. As thy name, God, so is thy praise even to the ends of the earth, thy right hand is full of righteousness. Ver. 11. Mount Zion rejoices, the daughters of Judah exult on account of thy judgments. From Psalms 48:9 it is evident that the Psalm was sung as a song of praise in the temple. In Psalms 48:10 it is usually expounded: Wherever thy name is but known upon the whole earth, there also thy praise is known, thou art not like the idol-gods, which are mere names without deeds. But since, in Scripture phraseology, the name of God never stands for the mere name, but rather for the name only as the product of the deeds, comp. on Psalms 23:3, so we must understand by the praise of God, the praise which he has now won for himself, q. d. as in former times thou hast by thy deeds obtained for thyself, and spread abroad far and wide, a glorious name, so hast thou now again filled the whole earth with thy praise. Exactly corresponding are the words: “As we heard, so we saw,” in Psalms 48:8. Comp. 2 Chronicles 20; 2 Chronicles 29, “And the terror of God was on all the kingdoms of the countries, when they heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel.” The righteousness of which, as experience has just shown, the right hand of God is full, is the matter-of-fact justification, which he imparts to his own, comp. Psalms 35:28. The daughters of Judah in Psalms 48:11, are, according to the connection, the other cities of Judah, a phraseology which had become so common, that it occurs even in the plainest prose, comp. Joshua 15:45.

Verses 12-14

Ver. 12. Walk about Zion, and go round about her, number her towers. Ver. 13. A ttend to her bulwarks, consider her palaces, that you may tell it to the generation following. Ver. 14. For this God is our God for ever and ever, he guides us in dying. On the design of the call in Psalms 48:12 and Psalms 48:13, comp. the introd. Such stability and glory after such means, as had been levelled at their destruction! How must this survey tend to the glorifying of the God of Israel, and to the strengthening of faith! סבב and הקיף occur in connection as in Psalms 48:12, so also in Joshua 6:3, Joshua 6:11. חֵ?יל , the outermost circumference of the city, forms the contrast to the palaces in the interior. In the ה , which is beyond doubt the suff., the Mappik is awanting. The ἀ?π λεγ . פסג Chal. to divide, divides, according to the connection: in the consideration, attention. Against the parall. several: range through. In Psalms 48:14 the call, given in Psalms 48:12 and Psalms 48:13, is referred back to its ground. The deeds of such a God as the God of Israel, one must attentively consider and carefully hand down to posterity, which has in them pledges of similar deliverances. This God, who has now done so great things for us. The על is not to be taken in the somewhat unascertained signification above, but in the sig. at, comp. Gesen. Thes. p. 1027: at dying, i. q. when it comes to dying. Parallel are Psalms 68:20, “God is to us a God of deliverances, and the Lord frees us from death,” Habakkuk 1:12, My God and my Holy one, leave us not to die,” Psalms 49:15, Psalms 85:7. The discourse here is not of a blessed immortality, but only of deliverance from the dangers of death, circumstances threatening the people of God with destruction. For changes in the text there is also no occasion. Luther’s trans.: he guides us as the youth, rests upon the reading already indicated by the Chal. עַ?לְ?מוּ?ת , with the arbitrarily supplied ב .

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 48". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-48.html.
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