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Superscription. “A Song and Psalm.” “It is not easy,” says Barnes, “to account for this double appellation, or to distinguish between the meaning of these words, though probably the real distinction is that the word Psalm refers to that to which it is applied, considered merely as a poem or composition; Song is applied with reference to its being sung in public worship.” “It embraced what was usually understood by the word Psalm, and it was intended also specifically to be sung.”
“For the sons of Korah.” See Introduction to Psalms 42:0. The author of the psalm is unknown. Professor Alexander, Hengstenberg, and others suppose that this psalm has reference to the same event as the previous one, a supposition which seems to us very probable. They suggest that that was sung on the field of battle (2 Chronicles 20:26), and this on the triumphant return to Jerusalem and to the temple (2 Chronicles 20:28). Homiletically we regard the psalm as presenting, A Striking Illustration of the Glory of the Church (Psalms 48:1-7); and an Instructive Illustration of the Glory of the Church (Psalms 48:8-14). Or we may express the subjects thus, The Glory of the Church as manifested by God’s doings on her behalf; and, The Improvement to be made by the Church of God’s doings on her behalf.
A STRIKING ILLUSTRATION OF THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH
The remarkable victory wrought on behalf of Jehoshaphat and his people leads the poet to celebrate the praises of God and of the holy city which He had protected. That holy city represents the Church of God. The poet sets forth the glory of the Church in three main aspects—
I. As the city of God. “The city of our God; … the city of the great King.” Two characteristics are brought forward to distinguish it as “the city of God.”
1. God manifests His greatness and glory there. “Great is the Lord, and exceedingly glorious in the city of our God.” His greatness He had displayed in overthrowing the mighty and combined enemies of His people; and His glory was manifested in the temple with its solemn and stately services, its multitudes of devout worshippers, its revelation of Himself in the law and in the sacrifices, and especially in the mysterious and ever-radiant Shekinah. “The Lord hath chosen Zion, He hath desired it for His habitation,” &c. So, in this Christian dispensation, it is in the Church that the glory of God is most clearly and brightly manifested. I see much of His glory in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” &c. But I see more in the conversion of sinners, in the spiritual education of Christian believers, in the holy lives and self-sacrificing labours of the followers of Christ, &c. Christ is the highest and fullest revelation of God; and He specially dwells in the Church. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name,” &c.
2. It is hallowed by His presence. “The mountain of His holiness.” P. B. V.: “Upon His holy hill.” Hengstenberg: “Upon the holy mountain.” Mount Zion was regarded as holy because the temple of God was built upon it. It was hallowed by its sacred uses and associations. The Church of Christ is described by St. Paul as “an holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21). Again, he writes, “The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” The glory of the Church is in the realisation of the presence of God in the hearts, and its manifestation in the lives of its members. The only glorious Church is the God-inspired, Christ-like Church.
II. As exalted before men. “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion,” &c. (Psalms 48:2). “What is there,” says Dr. Thomson, “or was there about Zion to justify the high eulogium of the Psalmist? The situation is, indeed, eminently adapted to be the platform of a magnificent citadel. Rising high above the deep valley of Gihon and Hinnom on the west and south, and the scarcely less deep one of the Cheesemongers on the east, it could only be assailed from the north-west; and then, ‘on the sides of the north,’ it was magnificently beautiful, and fortified by walls, towers, and bulwarks, the wonder and terror of the nations.” And Dean Stanley says: “As in Judah no rival city ever rose till the time of the Herods, the whole splendour of the southern monarchy was concentrated in Jerusalem, and contributed to that magnificence which has before been described as probably excelling any sight of the kind within the Holy Land.” “The joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion.” “From the time of Constantine to the present day, this name has been applied to the western hill, on which the city of Jerusalem now stands, and in fact always stood. Notwithstanding this, it seems equally certain that, up to the time of the destruction of the city by Titus, the name was applied exclusively to the eastern hill, or that on which the temple stood.”—Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, art. Jerus. But we must not fix our attention solely or even chiefly on the material situation. As Hengsten berg says: “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.” By “the whole earth,” the Psalmist probably meant the whole land of Palestine. By its celebrations of the worship of God, by the great assemblies of the people at the great religious feasts, and by the recent victory over the foes of Judah, Jerusalem was conspicuously exalted before men. The Church of Christ, when animated by the Spirit of her Lord, and arrayed in the beauties of holiness, is distinguished and honoured before men. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” When the Church reveals God to the world, the whole earth has reason to rejoice because of her.
III. As victorious over enemies. “For, lo, the kings were assembled,” &c. (Psalms 48:4-7). Notice—
1. The gathering of the foes. The kings which gathered themselves together against Jehoshaphat were those of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, and perhaps others who are not specified. They “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.” What foes are gathered against the Church of Christ to-day? Superstition, in Roman Catholicism, Sacramentarianism, Ritualism, &c. Scepticism, which is to a great extent the product of superstition. Worldliness, the insatiable craving for increase of material wealth, the slavish obedience to custom and fashion as though they were of supreme authority, &c. Sensuous self-indulgence. These and other foes are gathered together against the Christian Church of our day.
2. The dispersion of the foes. “They passed by together. They saw, so they marveled,” &c. Consider
(1) The manner in which the dispersion was effected. It was marked by (a) Suddenness. “They passed by together.” Hengstenberg: “They vanished altogether.” They “hasted away.” Their overthrow was so sudden that they, as it were, vanished from sight. (b) Alarm. “Fear took bold upon them there.” Hengstenberg: “They saw, so they were astonished, were frightened, fled away; Trembling took hold on them there.” They came within sight of the city; but, before they could strike a blow, terror seized upon them, they were filled with consternation. (c) Distress. “Pain as of a woman in travail.” This comparison is used here, as elsewhere in Scripture, to denote the severest kind of pain. Julius Cæsar announced to the senate his victory over Pharnaces in the following brief despatch.—“Veni, vidi, vici.” But the general of the forces that had gathered together against Jerusalem might well have summed up the history of their expedition thus.—“Veni, vidi, victus sum.”
(2) The agent by whom the dispersion was effected. “God is known in her palaces for a refuge.… Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.” God had scattered the forces that had gathered together against Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat and his army struck not a single blow in the warfare (2 Chronicles 20:22-24). The breaking of the ships of Tarshish is mentioned here as an illustration of the almighty power of God. “The occasion,” says Hengstenberg, “that gave rise to this comparison is recorded in 1 Kings 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:36-37. Jehoshaphat had united with Ahaziah in getting ships of merchandise, but the ships were wrecked. 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 Chron., a judgment of God.” So as regards the enemies of His Church God Himself will scatter them. The more God is realised “in her palaces for a refuge,” the more completely and gloriously victorious will the Church be over all her enemies. Superstition and scepticism shall be conquered by the truth of God. Worldliness and self-indulgence shall be vanquished by the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Herein, then, is the true glory of the Church. Not in her splendid edifices, or social prestige, or immense endowments, or gorgeous ritual, or eloquent ministry. But in the manifest presence of God in her midst,—manifest in holy living, and self-denying working, in the sublime victories of faith and love over her foes, and in unfaltering loyalty to her king and God.
AN INSTRUCTIVE ILLUSTRATION OF THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH
In these verses the Psalmist points out the use and improvement which the Church should make of the doings of God on her behalf. Those doings not only displayed the glory of the Church, but were rich in instruction for the Church. The Psalmist exhibits them,—
I. As a confirmation of faith. “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.” The event which they had witnessed had vindicated their former trust in God, and encouraged them to trust Him for the future. But as for Jerusalem, her towers have long since fallen to the ground, her bulwarks have been overthrown, her palaces have crumbled to dust, her holy and beautiful temple has been utterly demolished. But these things are only an apparent contradiction of the assurance, “God will establish it for ever.” “The Jerusalem that has been laid in ruins is not that which the Psalmist means; it is only its lifeless corpse.” The Church of Christ is founded upon the rock, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Every additional illustration that we have of the faithfulness of God, whether to us individually or to the Church, should encourage us to continued and increased confidence in Him.
II. As an incentive to meditation on the grace of God. “We have thought of Thy loving kindness, O God, in the midst of Thy temple.” We have here—
1. An excellent theme for meditation. “Thy loving-kindness.” It had been very fully manifested in the victory which He had achieved for Judah. But to us God has given still brighter displays thereof. God’s loving-kindness is the source of all our blessings.
2. A suitable place for meditation. “In the midst of Thy temple.” “It is evident that the psalm was sung as a song of thanks in the temple.” “When we enjoy the benefit of public ordinances undisturbed, when we meet in His temple and there is none to make us afraid, we should take occasion thence to think of His loving-kindness.”—M. Henry. I is both our interest and our duty to meditate upon God’s gracious dealings with us. Gratitude urges us to ponder every fresh proof of His goodness to us. And as it is necessary to digest our food for it to nourish and strengthen our bodies, so God’s mercies must be spiritually digested by means of meditation, if they are to prove helpful to the spiritual life. By meditation we realise their greatness and their significance; we feel our obligation to God, and are encouraged to trust Him by reason of them.
III. As a stimulus to praise God.
1. In the Church. “Let Mount Zion rejoice,” &c. (Psalms 48:11). This is a call to all the cities of Judah to joyous praise. The manifestation of the favour of God should always rejoice the hearts of His people.
2. Beyond the Church. “According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth. “The idea of the Psalmist seems to be that whereever the doings they were celebrating were known, men would be so impressed with the “name” or character of God that they would praise Him. The best commentary on the words of the Psalmist is the result on the nations of the victory achieved on behalf of Jehoshaphat. “The fear of God was on all the kingdoms of the countries when they had heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel. So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest round about” (2 Chronicles 20:29-30). It is noteworthy that in the praise of God, both in the Church and beyond the Church, the righteousness of His doings is recognised. The chosen people were “glad because of His judgments.” And in His praise among the nations it is observed that His “right hand is full of righteousness.” Just and true are all His ways. All His doings are in complete accord with eternal and immutable righteousness.
IV. As a reason for considering the security and beauty of the Church. “Walk about Zion, and go round about her,” &c. (Psalms 48:12-13).
1. The survey to which the Psalmist exhorts the people. The “towers” were for observation and defence; the “bulwarks” were the outermost circumference of the city, and in this place they are in contrast to the palaces in the interior. The exhortation of the Psalmist is to a thorough survey of the city, that the people may see how entirely free from injury it was, and how capable of resisting the attacks of foes.
2. The design of the survey. “That ye may tell it to the generation following.” “One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts.” By this means the generation following may be encouraged to put their trust in the Lord. In this way one generation may render valuable service to another. So the testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of God grows more voluminous and convincing with every generation. Let us survey the Church of Christ, and mark its beauty and security. “What precious ordinances are its palaces, what precious promises are its bulwarks” and towers! Its foundations are immovably and eternally secure. It is guarded by the incessant vigilance and almighty power of God, and need not fear the gates of hell. Let us tell to the generation following our impressions and experiences of the Church of Christ, that they may be led heartily to seek citizenship therein.
V. As an encouragement to triumph in God. “This God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death.” Here are two reasons for triumph in God.
1. His relations to us personally. “Our God, … our guide.” He guides us (a) by the counsels of His word; (b) by the influences of His Spirit; (c) by His providential interpositions; (d) by special help in special trials; (e) by shedding light upon our path when in perplexity and doubt; and (f) by support and direction when we tread that dark and, to us, unknown way which conducts to the grave.”—Barnes.
2 His relations to us permanently. “For ever and ever; … unto death.” His love to us and care for us are constant and unchangeable. He will guide and protect us even to the last.
1. Let the citizens of Zion rejoice in their privileges.
2. Let her enemies submit themselves to her King.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 48". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent