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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 48

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary



‘A Song; a Psalm of the sons of Korah.’

For the sons of Korah see introduction to Part 2. Many of the temple singers were sons of Korah.

This psalm continues the theme of the Great King. Its aim is to exalt Him and describe the wonder of the place where He dwells. Israel were well aware that God was so great that even the Heaven of Heavens could not contain Him. In the words of the wise Solomon, ‘Behold Heaven, and the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8:27).

But they also knew that God had been pleased to establish on earth a place where He could be approached, a kind of doorway to Heaven. And that place was the Temple on Mount Zion, on which was centred the worship of the one true God. That was why they gloried in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, because they represented God’s interest revealed on earth towards His people, and they pointed to, and drew men to, God. Today that Temple has been replaced by a greater Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (compare John 4:24). Thus all that is said here about the Temple and Jerusalem should now be focused on our Lord Jesus Christ Who has replaced the Temple as the centre of people’s worship. It is now to Him that we should point, and to Whom we should give praise and glory.

Verses 1-3

The Greatness of God And The Beauty Of The Place Which Represents His Dwelling Among Men (Psalms 48:1-3 ).

Psalms 48:13

‘Great is YHWH, 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 has made himself known in her palaces for a refuge.’

We should note here that while Mount Zion is being admired, it is not Mount Zion but the Great God Himself Who is being exalted. Mount Zion is only seen as beautiful in that it points towards the living God. It is the great God YHWH Who is to be greatly praised.

The description of Mount Zion should also be noted. It is described in a way that transcends itself. ‘The sides of the north’ indicated the sacred mountains far off from men (see Isaiah 14:13; Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2). Here in this psalm God is, as it were, seen to have planted those sacred mountains in Jerusalem as His earthly abode. So as in Isaiah 2:2-4 it represents both the earthly and the heavenly Mount Zion. As men gazed on the earthly they were also to think of the heavenly. Today the earthly has long been done away, and we are to concentrate our thoughts on the heavenly (Hebrews 12:22; compare Galatians 4:20 ff).

And yet there is still a Temple on earth in which God can be found. It is that Temple which consist of all true believers in Jesus Christ. In them dwells the Holy Spirit of God, and through them the glory of God is to be manifested to the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; Ephesians 2:18-22). That is why we can rightly apply ideas about Mount Zion to His people.

So just as the people of old could gather on Mount Zion and sing His praises, and see it as beautiful because of its exaltation, and as the joy of the whole earth because of what it represented as ‘the city of the Great King’ where God made himself known, so today can we glorify God for His true church in which He dwells, made up of all who truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and call on His Name (regardless of denomination) and worship Him in His Temple. His church is beautiful in elevation (compare Galatians 4:26; Ephesians 5:25-27), even though it may dwell here in vessels of clay, for we are the living stones of the Temple of God, built up on the chief Cornerstone, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-7), and we are called on to show forth the excellencies of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His most glorious light (1 Peter 2:9).

Thus can we sing:

Glorious things of you are spoken,

Zion city of our God.

He Whose word cannot be broken,

Formed you for His own abode.

On the Rock of Ages founded,

What can shake your sure repose,

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

You can smile at all your foes.

‘God has made himself known in her palaces for a refuge.’ And because God has made Himself known in the palaces of Jerusalem as being a refuge of His people (at that stage Jerusalem had a godly king), Jerusalem can rest secure knowing that she cannot be touched by her enemies. And the same confidence can be enjoyed by God’s people today as He makes Himself known to us in His church.

Verses 4-7

The Nations Quail Before The Power of God In His Holy Hill (Psalms 48:4-7 ).

The glory of the dwellingplace of the Great God is such that the nations quail before Him. Though they may assemble themselves against His people and approach them with hostile purpose, once they recognise what they are fighting against they quail before it and fade away. This had proved true of Sennacherib and his forces. It would always prove true for whoever came against Jerusalem, because God was with them.

Psalms 48:4-7

‘For, lo, the kings assembled themselves,

They passed over together.

They saw it, then were they amazed,

They were dismayed, they hastened away.

Trembling took hold of them there,

Pain, as of a woman in travail.

With the east wind you break,

The ships of Tarshish.’

The kings of the nations had gathered themselves together against God’s people. They had passed over together and approached the city of God. But then, when they actually saw it they stopped in amazement. They were dismayed at what they saw and hastened away. Indeed so great was its impact that they trembled and were filled with the equivalent of labour pains. And God’s powerful and feared east wind blew among them, and the proud Tyreans and their associates fell before it. The ships of Tarshish sailed regularly from Tyre, and indeed from other ports, around the world, and here they indicate what is strong and invulnerable. The mighty ships of Tarshish. Or at least they are until the East wind blows. Perhaps it also represents the powerful Tyrean contingent in Sennacherib’s army. But we are not to limit it to Tyre. Tyre’s glory and Sennacherib’s glory could not stand in the face of God’s holy mountain, the place that God had chosen as His earthly abode. God’s East Wind would see to that.

In the same way we can be sure today that all who begin to plot against the people of God will find themselves ashamed and dismayed. They may appear to be a great threat, but in the end their threat will collapse.

Verse 8

God’s People Rejoice In The Security Of The City Of God Now Evidenced Not Just By Hearsay But Also By What They Had Themselves Seen (Psalms 48:8 ).

Psalms 48:8

‘As we have heard, so have we seen,

In the city of YHWH of hosts,

In the city of our God,

God will establish it for ever. [Selah

The deliverance having taken place, and the enemy having faded away, God’s people triumphantly declare that they have now seen with their own eyes the delivering power of God revealed on behalf of His people. They had from their past heard many stories of His delivering power, but now they had seen it for themselves. It was thus clear to them that the city of YHWH of hosts, the city of their God, would be established by Him for ever.

And while they were faithful to Him that was, of course, true. But what they later forgot was that their security depended on faithfulness to the covenant. The truth was that God’s promises were only secure to an obedient people. That is why Jerusalem would end up a ruin, not once but a number of times (under Nebuchadnezzar, under Antiochus Epiphanes and under the Romans). However, in all that it was not that God had forgotten His true people. While unbelieving Israel suffered and perished, His true people, the remnant who expanded into the church, were preserved through all the tribulations that would come, as part of the whole people of God who will rise again at the last day (Isaiah 26:19). Their names were recorded in Heaven. Thus God’s cause was secure. It is the outward trimmings that suffer, as they would later also for the churches in Asia Minor to whom John sent his letters (Revelation 1-3), when their lamp became but a dim glow through the rise of Islam. But the inner heart of His true people will burn on for ever.

‘Selah.’ This once again indicates a musical break and a pause for thought.

Verses 9-11

Having Meditated On What Has Happened, God’s People Now Declare Their Confidence in God (Psalms 48:9-11 ).

Psalms 48:9-11

‘We have thought on your covenant love, O God,

In the midst of your temple.

As is your name, O God,

So is your praise to the ends of the earth,

Your right hand is full of righteousness,

Let mount Zion be glad,

Let the daughters of Judah rejoice,

Because of your judgments.

What they have seen has turned their thoughts towards God’s lovingkindness (His covenant love), as they come to worship in His Temple, and they acknowledge gladly that what His Name (His nature and activity) means to them, has also become known to other nations so that they also praise Him. Many nations had in fact cause to be grateful for the humiliating of Assyria, and would give praise to Israel’s God for His deliverance.

For they recognise that God has acted in righteous deliverance by the might of His right hand, and will therefore, they are sure, continue to do so. Thus Mount Zion herself could rejoice, and so could all the neighbouring towns (her ‘daughters’ - compare Numbers 21:25; Joshua 17:11; Joshua 17:16) who had suffered so terribly under the Assyrian invasion. All could now rest secure in the judgments and decisions of their mighty God.

What they later forgot was that His righteous deliverance was only for the righteous. Thus once they had virtually forsaken Him (in the time of Jeremiah Jerusalem was almost totally unfaithful to YHWH - Jeremiah 5:1 ff.), His protection no longer applied. The promise of His protection applies to all who are faithful to God, but only if they are looking to Him and trusting in Him. When they are they can ever be sure that His right hand will finally vindicate them, and that His judgments will be carried out on their behalf.

Verses 12-14

The Triumphant Inspection (Psalms 48:12-14 ).

This may well originally have indicated a celebratory inspection of the walls carried out in triumphal procession in order to give thanksgiving to God, and it may even have been one that continued to be celebrated annually.

Psalms 48:12

‘Walk about Zion,

And go round about her,

Number her towers,

Mark well her bulwarks,

Consider her palaces,

That you may tell it to the generation following.

For this God is our God for ever and ever,

He will be our guide even to death.

We must not misunderstand the Psalmist here. He is not boasting about the strength of Jerusalem He is rather praising God for the fact that it is all still there. He is basically saying, ‘look, because of what God has done you are now free to walk around the outside of the city. And as you do so you will note that nothing is missing. Her towers are still intact, her bulwarks (defensive walls) are in place, her palaces are still unmarked. And this in spite of the threats of the King of Assyria.’ This then was final evidence of how fully God has delivered them, and they will therefore be able to tell ensuing generations, how God preserved it for them, and delivered them without any real harm coming to Jerusalem. And this, he reminds them, is due solely to their God, the God Who is theirs for ever and ever, and will be the guide of each one of them until death.

Note the contrast between their counting the towers, and the fact that the Assyrians had previously counted the towers with very different intent (Isaiah 33:18). The Assyrians had intended to destroy them. Thus God has by His deliverance altered the whole situation.

‘He will be our guide even to death.’ Some suggest that this fits oddly in the context because it is too personally applied in a national Psalm, but it is not really so. It can rather be seen as a practical final comment applying the situation of the whole to each individual. Having sung generally of the greatness of God, they are being brought to recognise that for each one of them that greatness is applicable throughout their lives.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 48". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/psalms-48.html. 2013.
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