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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 48

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-14

Psalms 48:0

A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah

          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.


Contents and Composition.—The introduction, in which the great God and His glorious city are praised (Psalms 48:1-2), is followed (Psalms 48:3-8) by a description of the deliverances of the city from threatened danger, effected by Jehovah, who disperses its terrified enemies. Psalms 48:9-10 contain the expressions of gratitude for this interposition, while in Psalms 48:11-14 the people are exhorted to guard all parts of the city, so that its safety may be manifest to all, and thus the glory of God be revealed to coming generations, to confirm their faith in His guidance. There are many points of resemblance between these verses and Is. 22:29–33, but they do not warrant our supposing the Psalm to have been written by that Prophet. Still less can we imagine that the author belonged to the party in opposition (i.e. to the delivered city), and that the occasion of it was the siege of Jerusalem by the allied forces of Israel and Syria, which was frustrated by Tiglath Pileser, (Credner, G. Baur). We are uncertain whether the occasion of it was the siege by Sennacherib, in the time of Hezekiah, (Calvin, De Wette, Hitzig, Ewald, Hupf.), or the victory gained by Jehosaphat over the allied kings named in 2 Chronicles 20:0, (Rosen., Hengst., Del.). The older Christian expositors apply the Psalm to the eternal glory of the spiritual Zion, while the Rabbins take it to be descriptive of Jerusalem in the Messianic times, after the victory over Gog and Magog.

Psalms 48:2-3. Beautiful for situation (in elevation.) The terms “perfection of beauty,” “the joy of the whole earth,” are taken as a single cumulative one in Lamentations 2:15, perhaps with reference to this passage, and Psalms 50:2; Isaiah 60:15; Ezekiel 16:14; Ezekiel 24:25. The word נוֹף was misunderstood by the ancients, and is wrongly rendered by Luther, (after the Chald. and Jerome), “Zweiglein”=little branch. That it has the sense of “elevation” is established by a comparison with the Arabic. That a geographical elevation is not meant is obvious from Psalms 68:17, where the high hills of Bashan are said to envy the hill of Zion on account of its superior loftiness. (Comp. also Isaiah 2:2; Ezekiel 40:2; Revelation 21:10). So too “the sides of the north,” translated by Hitzig “the corner of the north,” and by Hengstenberg and Hupfeld “the extreme north,” must be understood not in a topographic but a religious sense; as in Isaiah 14:13, where the mountain of God lies on the sides of the north. This mythologic idea in the last named passage comes from the lips of the Chaldean king, and cannot be at once transferred to the Biblical writers. Nor does Ezekiel 5:5 accord with it, for here Jerusalem is placed in the midst of the nations and countries round about her. So in Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2 the extreme north is the residence of Gog and Magog. Now Mount Zion is not here compared to the supposed mountain homes of the gods of the Asiatic nations in the far north, nor is it presented as realizing that of which the heathen dreamed, (Hengst., Ewald, Hitzig and others). Both the phrase and the context suggest a definite locality. It cannot, however, be the “north side of the city,” (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Calvin, etc.), since Mount Zion is its most southerly hill; nor can the meaning be “on the north side lies the city,” (Luther, Rosen., etc.), for this does not agree with the order of the words. These are in opposition, not with “joy,” as if Zion were the joy of the remote north, i.e. the most distant nations (Gesen., De Wette), but with “Zion.” The temple hill is thus designated as being the northeastern corner, or northern angle (Delitzsch, Schegg,) of Mount Zion, and so giving a reason for the name of the city itself. This explanation is plainer than that of “in the extreme north the city of the Great King,” (Hupfeld). Since Zion is thus contrasted with another mountain in the south, on which God appeared, viz., Sinai, to strike out the words that are obscure, as Olshausen proposes, is not admissible.

[Stanley:Beautiful in elevation. To the traveller approaching Jerusalem from the west or east, it must have always presented the appearance, beyond any other capital of the then known world—we may add, beyond any important city that has ever existed on the earth—of a mountain city; breathing, as compared with the sultry plains of the Jordan or of the coast, a mountain air; enthroned, as compared with Jericho, or Damascus, Gaza or Tyre, on a mountain fastness.—Perowne:The sides of the north. The question is to what particular part of it the words refer. (1) Now Jerusalem itself did not lie on the north, but on the south side of the elevated table land. But the Temple did lie north, i.e., northeast of the city; and as the Temple was, in a peculiar sense, the dwelling-place of God, the Psalmist may have designated this when he spoke of the “sides of the north,” the expression being sufficiently accurate for the purpose of poetry. Hence we have the Holy City regarded from three different points of view, viz.: “the Mount Zion,” (the city of David), “the sides of the north,” (Mount Moriah and the Temple), “the city of the Great King,” (Jerusalem proper). Compare Matthew 5:35. (2) If, however, Zion be the peak now leveled on the north of the Temple mount, as Furguson and Thrupp suppose, “the Mount Zion (on) the sides of the north” may be the true rendering here. And this, too, might peculiarly be called “beautiful for situation,” as it was the highest point of the whole plateau, and that which would most readily strike the eye. (3) Another reason may be suggested why the north should be especially mentioned, because an enemy approaching like the Assyrians, would obtain their first view of the city on that side.—J. F.]

Psalms 48:4-8. They passed by together.—The enemies, designated by the article as the well-known kings who had assembled according to agreement at a certain place (comp. Joshua 11:5; Psalms 83:4) passed by all at once, over the boundary, Judges 11:29; 2 Kings 8:21; Isaiah 8:9, (Ancient Versions, Rabbins, Köster, Ewald, Hitzig, Del.). It is grammatically admissible to take עבר in the sense of disappear, (Calvin, Rosen., De Wette, Hengst., Hupf.), but this rendering presents, instead of a fitting picture, immediately the result of an unsuccessful enterprise, the details of which are then given. If the reference be to the attack in the time of Jehosaphat, we must suppose that the allies were encamped about three miles from Jerusalem, in the desert of Tekoah, whence they had a view of the holy city, and where God caused a great terror to fall upon them (1 Samuel 14:15). The annihilation in Psalms 48:8 is not alarm (Rosen.), nor flight (De Wette), but the figure expressing it must have been suggested by the remembrance of the foundering of the commercial fleet sent out by Jehosaphat in union with Ahaz, (1 Kings 22:49; 2 Chronicles 20:36). But it is by no means necessary to adopt this view, for ships are elsewhere used as symbols of worldly powers. The ships of Tarshish, as the largest and strongest of their class, are figures of mighty powers, Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 33:23. The east wind (Job 27:21) illustrates the power of God in overthrowing His enemies (Jeremiah 18:17), because it so frequently scattered the strongest ships, (Isaiah 27:8; Ezekiel 27:26; Amos 4:9; Jonah 4:5). Hence there seems to be no special reason for supposing that there is an allusion to the destruction of an actual hostile fleet (Köster, Hitzig), but only that there is here a well-known illustration of the omnipotence of God. As the sentence is not joined to the preceding one by a particle of comparison, we need not take the verb as a third person feminine=“like as by an east wind which destroys,” (Kimchi, Rosen., De Wette). It is better to regard it as a second person masculine, making God the subject of it, (the Ancient Versions, Calvin, Geier, and most others). In this case it would be proper to place here the beginning of a strophe, which, comprising all that has been thus far said, would make, in contents and structure, a good transition to the section in which God is directly addressed.

[Perowne:As we have heard, Psalms 48:8.—This marvellous deliverance is but a fresh proof, in our own experience, of that wonder-working Love, which in the days of old had so often manifested itself in Israel. The things which our fathers have told us, we have now witnessed with our own eyes, (compare Psalms 44:1). And therefore, also, the present is regarded as a pledge of the future.—J. F.]

Psalms 48:9-14. We have thought.—The idea here is that of contemplation, reflecting, and comparing, rather than that of hopeful expectation, (Sept., Syr., Sym., Jerome). The Rabbins are divided on this point. The Temple is named as being the place in which God had revealed His grace (Calvin, Hupfeld), or rather, as the place in which the Church commemorated that grace, by songs of praise (Hengst. Ewald), or by the solemn services which preceded the marching forth to battle, mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:0. The “daughters of Judah” are not virgins who take part in the festive dance (De Wette, Ols.), but other outlying cities and villages, (Psalms 69:36; Joshua 15:45; Isaiah 40:9). The exhortation carefully to consider and look about the city, which has remained inviolate, is not addressed ironically to the enemies (Geier, Sachs., Hitz.), but seriously to the inhabitants. The reading לֻחִילַהּ (on the bulwarks), found in many old editions, ancient versions, and in 18 Codd. of De Rossi, also occurs in Zechariah 9:4. If Mappik be omitted, we must insert a softened suffix, (Ewald, Gram. § 247). There is no proof that פִסֵג has the sense of “to elevate,” (Luther, following Jewish tradition); nor is it quite certain that its meaning is “to regard a thing part by part, to consider attentively,” (De Wette, Hengst., Ewald, Hitz.). The sense “to walk through,” derived from that of “to intersect,” (viz.: a vineyard in which there is no way), is based on a passage in the Talmud. The demonstrative pronoun is occasionally though rarely placed before the noun, (Ewald, Gram. § 293). It is not necessary, therefore, to translate Psalms 48:14 “that here is God” (Hupf.); nor “for this is God,” (De Wette, Ols., Bött., Ewald, Hitz.). In this case “this” must be taken in the sense of “such,” since the allusion was not to God, but to the city (Camp.). The concluding phrase, עַל־מֵוּת, might be rendered “the point of death” (Ges., Hengst.); or “until death” (Hupfeld, Kimchi, and most others). But the latter expression would be unusual, and is liable to misconception, whilst the former would be more appropriate. For the reference is not to persons, but a community, and the allusion is not to dying, but the deliverance of the city, and the joy caused by it to the whole earth, as well as the renewed trust in the Divine guidance. We should look for something to indicate the duration of that guidance, which forever secured the stability of the people. The rendering, therefore, should not be “beyond death,” (Syriac, Mendelssohn, Stier), which would give the idea of personal immortality—αθανασία (Aquila), but away past death, i.e. destruction (Campb.). It cannot be denied, however, that the idea which Hengstenberg finds here, viz.: that God delivers from the danger of death (Habakkuk 1:12; Psalms 49:16; Psalms 68:21; Psalms 85:7), and saves His people from destruction, would be unusual and obscure. The same may be said of the rendering “in the eternities,” (Sept., Chald., Symm., Aben Ezra, J. H. Mich., Ewald). This sense would suit, but it supposes the reading to be עַֹלמוֹת, (found in ו Cod. Kenn.), which occurs only in later and non-biblical Hebrew. It is, however, not impossible that this form of the word may stand in place of עִוֹלָמִים. But Luther’s version, derived from the Chald., “like the youth,” or “like the virgins,” or “in youthfulness,” is objectionable, partly because it is foreign to the context, and partly because it would require the particle כ or ב to be supplied. The reading עלֻמזת, found in many ancient Codd. and early editions, must be very old, because most of the earliest versions, in the main, express the same idea. Under these circumstances we may suppose that these words, like those in Psalms 9:0. are a mark (Hitzig) to indicate the kind of music to be used, here as in Habakkuk 3:19 placed exceptionally at the end instead of the beginning of the hymn (Del.); or as indicating the sort of verse (Böttcher). The rythm implies that nothing (Hitzig), rather than that something (Del.) has been omitted.


1. God protects not only His people, but the city in which they dwell. He guards the very house in which they call upon Him. But He means that they should recognise this, should trust His watchfulness and power, should be grateful for His help and goodness to them, and by proclaiming what He has done, induce others, especially their descendants, to exercise a like faith. For God is the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever. This God is our God.

2. The glory of the hill of Zion where God revealed Himself, and the beauty of Jerusalem, as God’s city, symbolized the glory of the Church. God’s promise of protection to Jerusalem, the display of His power and goodness in regard to her and the whole land, and the solemn commemorative festivals of which she was the theatre, may all be regarded as types. In the physical elevation, the Psalmist sees an image of the spiritual, and so far only has it any significance to him. Only when Jerusalem is contemplated with the spiritual eye, does she appear so lovely that she ought to be a joy to the whole earth, Ezekiel 16:14. What the heathen dreamed about a mountain of gods, is only true of the hill of Zion. Its roots are on the earth, but its summit is in heaven (Hengst.).

3. From the beginning, God’s works have made known His name and His praise over all the earth, but Zion is the place where His glory has been specially manifested. This is the central point of His historical revelations. And from this spot the triumphal proclamation of His name shall go forth throughout the world; so that not only in the Promised Land but to the ends of the earth, the latest generation shall praise that God who hears prayer, who exercises justice to the joy of His people, who is their guide, helper, and protector.


Where God’s name is known, His help will be experienced and His praise proclaimed.—What does God do for His people, and what gratitude does He receive?—Zion’s beauty is a symbol and a type.—The contemplation of God’s doings should lead us and others to proclaim His glory, and should strengthen our faith.—What we have heard of God we may ourselves experience, for He remains ever the same.—Protected by God, we can resist all attacks; guided by Him, we can never perish.—How, and by what means does God eternally preserve His city?—Is the joy produced by God’s help as great as the fear of His chastisement?—The gradual development of the praises of God from generation to generation.—The protection and eternal maintenance of the city of God though His power, and watchfulness, and grace.

Calvin: There is no nook so hidden that the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God are not displayed in it.—But as He means to make His perfections specially visible to His Church, the Psalmist holds up before our eyes the mirror in which His image is seen.

Starke: We should magnify and praise the Great God by a proper confession of His grace, and reverence for His holy name.—The greatest ornament to any place, and the source of its purest joy, is to have a church and to maintain divine service.—How many earthly palaces are to-day the holy places of the Most High?—How many lords recognize Him as their Supreme Lord?—When the promises of God’s word are fulfilled in our experience, then our faith in that word is gloriously confirmed.—The Christian’s best thoughts are those arising from the view of God’s goodness, for then his heart becomes a holy temple of the Lord.—Why should not believers rejoice over God’s judgments?—Are they not all designed to glorify God, to comfort His people, to weaken and destroy His enemies?—Osiander: Though faith is founded on God’s word, and not on our experience, yet this faith is strengthened when our experience actually agrees with the promises of that word.—Franke: The predictions of the Old Testament concerning Zion and Jerusalem are fulfilled in you who believe in Him who is established the true King on Mount Zion.—Renschel: God is the shield of His Church.—Frisch: In the Church of God we are safe, not only because He is her protector, but because her members possess the most excellent gifts.—Burk: As Thy name is so is Thy praise.—Vaihinger: The great deliverance should be made known to posterity, as a testimony to the everlasting covenant.—Tholuck: When God’s grace mightily interposes in our temporal affairs, our faith will become all the stronger in a blessed eternity.—Guenther; God leads us not into, but through and beyond death.—Diedrich: We are His people only because we accept Him as our protector; whoever looks for another protector, has already separated himself from His people.—Our true courage consists in allowing ourselves truly to be helped by God, and in genuine trust in Him, who alone can do that by which His kingdom on earth is organized and preserved.—Taube: The city of God under the guardianship of her protector! a joy of the whole earth! a terror for her enemies! an everlasting remembrance to His people! Come and see! this is the way—through experience to knowledge.

[Henry: The clearer discoveries are made to us of God and His greatness, the more it is expected we should abound in His praises.—God can dispirit the stoutest of His Church’s enemies, and soon put them in pain who live at ease.—God’s latter appearances for His people, against His and their enemies, are consonant to His former appearances, and should put us in mind of them.—In the great things that God has done, and is doing, for His Church, it is good to take notice of the fulfilling of the Scriptures, and this would help us the better to understand both the providence itself, and the Scripture that is fulfilled in it.—All the streams of mercy that flow down to us must be run up to the fountain of God’s loving-kindness.—1. If God be our God, He is ours forever, not only through all the ages of time, but to eternity; for it is the everlasting blessedness of glorified saints that God Himself will be with them, and will be their God.—2. If He be our God, He will be our Guide, our faithful, constant Guide, to show us our way, and to lead us in it; He will be so even unto death, which will be the period of our way, and will bring us to our rest. He will be our Guide above death, so some. He will so guide us as to be above the reach of death, so that it shall not be able to do us any real hurt. He will be our Guide beyond death, so others. He will conduct us safe to a happiness on the other side of death, to a life in which there shall be no more death. If we take the Lord for our God, He will conduct and convey us safe to death, through death, and beyond death; down to death, and up again to glory.—J. F.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 48". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-48.html. 1857-84.
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