HERE we have another psalm of thanksgiving for a deliverance, but not apparently for the same deliverance as gave occasion for either of the two preceding psalms. Israel had now been delivered from a confederacy of kings (Psalms 48:4), who had come within sight of the city, but had then been seized with panic, and retreated, without making an attack (Psalms 48:5). After this, pain had come upon them, and they had been "broken," like "ships of Tarshish with an east wind" (Psalms 48:6, Psalms 48:7). The deliverance had been celebrated by a thanksgiving service held in the temple (Psalms 48:9). These details accord remarkably with the account given in 2 Chronicles 20:1-28 of an expedition against Jerusalem, made by the Moabites, Ammonites, and children of Seir, in the reign of Jehoshaphat, who advanced as far as Tekoa, whence Jerusalem is visible (Delitzsch), but there quarrelled among themselves, and began a retreat, in the course of which they came to blows, and destroyed one another. The imagery of "ships of Tarshish broken by the east wind" is naturally used at this period, when Jehoshaphat's fleet of "ships of Tarshish" (2 Kings 22:1-20 :48) was, by a Divine judgment, "broken at Ezion-geber."
The psalm consists of two strophes, nearly of equal length, divided at the end of 2 Chronicles 20:8 by the pause-mark, "Selah."
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; rather, great is the Lord, and greatly is he praised. The psalmist speaks of what is, not of what ought to be. Jehoshaphat had solemnly praised God for the deliverance from the Moabites and Ammonites, both in the valley of Berachah, when he came upon the bodies of the slain (2 Chronicles 20:26), and in the temple after his return to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 20:28). In the city of our God (comp. Psalms 46:4; Psalms 101:8). In the mountain of his holiness. The "holy hill of Zion" (Psalms 2:6), on which the temple and a great part of the city stood.
Beautiful for situation; literally, for elevation; i.e. in respect of its lofty position. "Jerusalem, above all other great capitals," says Professor Cheyne, "is a mountain city." "It is a glorious burst," says Canon Tristram, "as the traveller rounds the shoulder of Mount Olivet, and the Haram wall starts up before him from the deep gorge of the Kedron, with its domes and crescents sparkling in the sunlight—a royal city". The joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion (comp. Romans 2:15). The psalmist writes as a devout Israelite. To him there is nothing in the world so lovely, nothing so gladdening, as Mount Zion and the holy city seated on it. He does not mean to say that all the earth felt as he did; though he may have thought that, if men were wise, they would so feel. On the sides of the north. Professor Cheyne regards this clause as a gloss which has crept into the text. Others give a mystical interpretation founded on Isaiah 14:15. But the simplest explanation seems to be the best. Zion, the city of David, lay to the north of the temple, and abutted on the city's northern wall. The city of the great King (comp. Isaiah 14:1, "the city of our God").
God is known in her palaces for a Refuge; or, in her castles. The palaces of the king and his chief nobles are, no doubt, intended.
For lo, the kings were assembled; they passed by together. Some see in these "kings" Sennacherib's princes, who, according to him (Isaiah 10:8), were "altogether kings." But actual monarchs, each leading his own army, seem rather to be intended.
They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away. The sight of the city, with its walls and towers (Psalms 48:12, Psalms 48:13), was enough for them—they recognized that the place was too strong to be attacked with any prospect of success; "marvelled," or "were amazed" (Cheyne), at its strength, and, being troubled in mind, hasted away. The unconnected verbs remind the commentators of Caesar's famous despatch, "Vent, vidi, vici."
Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail. This description is wholly inapplicable to the destruction of Sennacherib's host, unperceived until it was accomplished (2 Kings 19:35), but is sufficiently in agreement with the narrative of 2 Chronicles 20:1-23.
Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. The literal exposition is wholly out of place, since history does not speak of any co-operation of a fleet with a land army in any attack upon Pales. fine. The expression must be used metaphorically of a great and violent destruction wrought by the arm of God upon Israel's foes. Still, the imagery would scarcely have been used, unless there had been something in the circumstances of the time to suggest it, as there certainly was in Jehoshaphat's time, whose fleet of "ships of Tamhish" was "broken" at Ezion-geber (2 Kings 22:1-20 :48). The poet may have witnessed the catastrophe.
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God; i.e. as we have heard of former deliverances of Jerusalem from the attacks of enemies; e.g. from Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:2-12), from Zorah (2 Chronicles 14:9-13), so now we have seen with our own eyes a deliverance of the same favoured city, such as might be expected from the fact that she is "the city of the Lord of hosts, the city of our God." Having seen with our own eyes Jerusalem thus delivered, we come to the conclusion that God will establish it for ever.
We have thought of thy loving-kindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple. Jehoshaphat, on his return to Jerusalem from the scene of his adversaries' slaughter, held a thanksgiving service in the temple, "with psalteries, and harps, and trumpets," because the Lord had made the people to rejoice over their enemies (2 Chronicles 20:27, 2 Chronicles 20:28).
According to thy Name, O God, so is thy praise. The "Name of God," i.e. the character that he has established for himself by former mighty deeds, and the praise which he has now won by the recent deliverance, are coextensive. Both of them reach unto the ends of the earth; i.e. over all the regions known to the writer. Thy right hand is full of righteousness. Thou hast dealt out a righteous judgment by thy right hand and thy stretched-out arm, thereby showing how full thy right hand is of justice and judgment.
Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad; i.e. let there be a chorus of joyful thanks over the length and breadth of the land, not only in Jerusalem, but in every city of Judah (Joshua 15:45) equally. Because of thy judgments. Because thou hast vindicated thy people, and executed judgment on their enemies.
Walk about Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers thereof. Admire, i.e; O Israelites, your glorious city, which God has preserved for you intact. Walk around it, view it on every side; observe its strength and beauty. Nay, count its towers, and see how many they are, that ye may form a true estimate of its defences, which render it well-nigh impregnable. Such a survey would "tend to the glorifying of the God of Israel, and to the strengthening of their faith" (Hengstenberg).
Mark ye well her bulwarks (or, her ramparts), consider her palaces. Note the height and fine masonry of her outer wall, which no people could destroy except the Romans (Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:13-17; Nehemiah 4:6). And note also the grand houses of her princes and nobles (Amos 6:11), which show themselves even above the ramparts. That ye may tell it to the generation following. That ye may let them know "how splendid Jerusalem appeared on the morrow of its great danger" (Cheyne).
For this God (i.e. the God who has now delivered us) is our God for ever and ever; i.e. he will always remain faithful to us, as we will to him. He will be our Guide even unto death. Dr. Kay translates "even over death," and understands that God's loving protection is promised to the faithful even in the land beyond the grave. But he stands alone in this interpretation. Host moderns question whether the words על־מוּת are any part of the psalm, and, comparing them with the על־מוּת לבּן of the title to Psalms 9:1-20; suggest that they are a mere musical notation. But the psalm would end abruptly without the words, and the meaning, "he will be our Guide unto death," is quite satisfactory (so Hengstenberg and the Revised Version).
"We have thought of thy loving-kindness." Thought is quick. A lightning-flash of thought, a momentary recollection of God, may give guidance to take the right step, courage to speak the right word, strength to withstand sudden temptation, comfort when we are ready to give up all as lost. But this swift inspiration, sudden illumination, is not the kind of thought of which this text speaks. It is calm meditation, devout; leisurely contemplation. Memory spreads her stores. Faith, hope, love, drink full draughts from the living well of truth. Prayer and praise have time to clothe themselves in fit words. While we muse, the fire burns. One of the greatest blessings of the sabbath is the opportunity for such prolonged, undisturbed thought. One of the richest fruits of the public service of God's house, and of the ministry of God's Word, is reaped when we are led to think of God's loving-kindness.
I. The Revisers have wisely retained THIS BEAUTIFUL WORD "LOVING-KINDNESS," although the same Hebrew word is frequently translated "mercy" (sometimes also "goodness," or "kindness"). We could ill afford to lose it, for no other English word so happily expresses one of the most wonderful and delightful aspects of Divine mercy, goodness, or kindness; viz. its special application to individuals. The Bible alone sheds this ray of Divine glory on the path of human life. We do not find it in heathen religions, for men do not naturally think thus of God. Science cannot reveal it; for science deals with what is universal or general, not with individuals. We learn it by faith and experience. The histories of Scripture are full of it; e.g. Hagar in the desert; Eliezer at the well; Jacob at Bethel, at Haran, at Penuel; Elijah in the famine; Ezra at Ahava (Ezra 8:21, Ezra 8:22). The miracles of Scripture are largely concerned in this lesson. Miracles are but lessons writ large, that none may be able to mistake their meaning. The promises of the Bible abundantly announce the same truth; and the thanksgivings (in the Psalms and elsewhere) of those whose faith has tested those promises, bear witness to their fulfilment. So does the experience of God's children in all ages.
II. THIS SPECIAL VIEW OF GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS TO INDIVIDUALS MUST NOT NARROW OR OBSCURE OUR VIEW OF HIS MERCY AND LOVING-KINDNESS ON THE BROAD SCALE—to his Church and to mankind. "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (Psalms 33:5, same Hebrew word; Luke 6:35, Luke 6:36; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). The "glad tidings of great joy," the gospel, is in the heart of it the message that God loves us. The transcendent proof, the gift of his Son, while it casts all lesser gifts into the shade, is the assurance of them all (Romans 8:32).
III. CONTEMPLATION OF GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS IN ALL THESE ASPECTS—devout, thankful meditation on it, is at once a delight and a duty. A duty, because gratitude demands it (Psalms 103:2), because God wills it and is honoured thereby (Psalms 111:2 4), because thus the roots of our love and piety are nourished, and our doubts answered. But a duty that can be practised only by those to whom it is a delight. For really to apprehend God's loving-kindness without having our heart opened to its gladness and brightness, as the flower to the sunshine, is impossible. Love only apprehends love (1 John 4:8). What richer, sweeter, more glorious object of contemplation is possible?
IV. THE CONTEMPLATION OF GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS, NEVER OUT OF SEASON, IS ESPECIALLY SEASONABLE IN THE SANCTUARY. "In the temple." Here Asaph got quit of his doubts, and felt his faith and joy revive (Psalms 78:17, Psalms 78:28). Christian places of meeting and worship are not called "temples" in the New Testament. But Christian people are (2 Corinthians 6:16). The material temple present to the psalmist's thought, with all its glorious ritual and local sanctity, has vanished like a vision. Not because the Gospel has put us further from God, but because it has brought us nearer. The cross has hallowed the whole earth as the outer court of the temple, of which heaven is the sanctuary; and we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. How rich are the poorest who know that this portion is theirs, the loving-kindness of the Lord! How poor the richest without this! Let our meditation of him be sweet! Let us be glad in the Lord!
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
God's own Church the object of his special care.
In this psalm, which is both song and psalm, and is one of those "for the sons of Korah," there is a general theme, illustrated by a reference to some historic event. The general theme is the loving-kindness and care of God over his Church. The specific historic illustration it is not possible to fix with certainty, although the preponderance of opinion, and also the largest amount of probability, seems to incline towards the wondrous repulse of Edom, Ammon, Moab, and ethers, in answer to Jehoshaphat's prayer, without Israel having to fight in the battle (see 2 Chronicles 20:1-37.). We see from the narrative of the Chronicles that the children of the Korahites sang a song of praise on the occasion of that signal interposition of God, although it is not likely that the song then sang was the forty-eighth psalm; for the reference in Psalms 48:7 is against that; and at first it is not easy to see how "ships of Tarshish" should come to be mentioned in this song, if prepared with reference to the event of which we have made mention. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:25, Ezekiel 27:26) makes mention of ships of Tarshish which belonged to Tyro, being "broken" by the east wind; and it is possible that the psalm may have an allusion thereto. But, singularly enough, the chapter that records Jehoshaphat's prayer and deliverance records also his defection and its punishment; and we are told that his ships were broken so that they were not able to go to Tarshish (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). If this be the reference in the song before us, its significance would be very striking; in that case, it would mean that Jehovah, Israel's God, who put the heathen to flight for Israel's sake, put even Israel to shame when her people or her kings left the straight path of reliance on and obedience to God alone; and that this was among the "judgments" of him whose right hand is full of righteousness; showing us that God's care for his Church is just as marked when he rebukes her for her sins as when he delivers her from her foes; and that both for his faithful chastisement as for his mighty interposition, his loving-kindness is rehearsed in his temple with gratitude and song. £ And there is a holy pride in rehearsing the privileges of Zion as far outweighing those of the nations around—a pride, however, which refers all the honour and glory of Zion to God, and to God alone. £ Interesting, however, as these historic allusions are to the student, the higher spiritual bearing of the psalm is far more interesting, and far more important, as it sets before us this theme—the privilege and honour of the Church of God. £ We need not here argue the point that the Christian Church is the successor to the honours and privileges of the Jewish Church. A comparison of Exodus 19:6 with 1 Peter 2:9 will show this. The Christian Church, in its largest sense, is made up of all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. The organization of distinct and definite communities as Churches is a necessity for the time now present, but no such organizations include all believers; many believers, moreover, are in no such organization at all; only "the Lord knoweth them that are his;" and over all such his care is exercised: in their totality as including all regenerated souls, they make up the Church of God. Of this Church as a unity we have now to speak.
I. GOD'S DWELLING-PLACE IS IN HIS CHURCH, (1 Peter 2:1, 1 Peter 2:2.) It is quite possible that, after what we have just said about the Church in its entirety and vastness, and about the impossibility of its being scanned by any human eye, that it may be said, "But if the Church is thus undefinable by us as to its limits, we cannot conceive of it as a dwelling-place." This we can easily understand. But the demur has, in reality, no force. For it is quite clear from the New Testament that as there is "the Church" in the highest spiritual sense, so there are local and organized Churches in the geographical sense. Of this the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia are immediate and sufficient proof. And wherever a Church is faithful to its Lord, since whatever is true of the whole Church is true of any part of it, the believers in Jesus who belong to any local and faithful Church may apply to themselves that which Paul declared of the Ephesian converts when he wrote, "Ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Thus no Christian need hesitate to apply the words to the fellowship of believers to which he belongs; he may say," God is known in our palaces for a Refuge. This Church is a city of the great King. And the real presence of a living Saviour among us is our honour, our joy, our life (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20).
II. GOD HIMSELF IS THE REFUGE OF THE CHURCH. (1 Peter 2:3.) It is the privilege of the individual believer, in all times of trial, sorrow, and care, to betake himself to his God and Saviour as to an unfailing Friend. But this privilege rises to sublimity when a whole company of believers, encompassed with peril and threatened by foes from without, can all rush to their Saviour in faith and prayer, as to a Refuge from the gathering storm!
III. GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS IS THE THEME OF THE CHURCH. (1 Peter 2:9.) How much fuller and sweeter is this theme for meditation now than of old! Then it was gained through prophets; now from him before whose presence lawgiver and prophet retire, as stars are concealed in the brightness of the sun! How incomparably does Romans 8:1-39. surpass aught in the Old Testament! And what was there in the olden time so tender as Luke 15:1-32.? Verily such a theme lifts the soul heavenward, tunes the lips to song, and speeds the feet to run the race set before us.
IV. GOD'S DELIVERANCES MARK THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH. (Luke 15:4-8.) The effect of this vivid description is pictorial. We can almost see the kings eyeing Jerusalem with envy, plotting her capture, seized with panic and hurrying away as for very life. The psalmist says that he had heard of such deliverances in times past, and now had seen them. And any student of Church history who has been withal for fifty years a close observer of Church life, can say the same. That God is the perpetual Deliverer of his Church is the story of the past and the testimony of the present. Nor may we forget the double kind of deliverance:
If the view given above of Luke 15:7 is correct, the verse suggests that the Church owes quite as much to God's chastening love in correcting her for her sins, as to his rescuing power in spoiling her foes. That he will do this is part of the covenant (Psalms 89:28-33).
V. THE HONOUR OF GOD'S NAME IS HIS OWN PLEDGE TO THE CHURCH. (Luke 15:10,Luke 15:11.) In the attribute of God's righteousness is the Church's repose and glory. Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, faithfulness, justice, righteousness, can be the supports of sinful men. This is the supreme wonder of redeeming grace. Think of it! Sinful people rejoicing that God's right hand is full of righteousness!
VI. GOD'S GRACIOUS RELATIONS ARE THE GUARANTEE OF THE PERPETUITY OF THE CHURCH. (Luke 15:12-14.) We omit the italic "it" in Luke 15:13 (Authorized Version), and translate the first word in Luke 15:14 "that." The psalmist incites to a study of Zion's towers, bulwarks, palaces, privileges, that it may be declared to the generation following, that "this God is our God for ever and ever." And when we study the redemption in Christ which has founded the Church, the spiritual power which is building up the Church, the watchful providence which has for eighteen centuries guarded the Church, the story which we have to hand down to the coming generation is the same, but told with vaster emphasis, surer faith, and more rapturous joy. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide above death, £ and beyond it!" "Happy is the people that is in such a case! yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord!"—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
The Church and her Head.
This psalm may teach us something of—
I. THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH. The outward is the symbol of the inward. The glory of the Church is not material, but moral. Mind is of all things the greatest. One soul is infinitely more precious than the richest domains. Think of some great man—Newton, Bacon, or Shakespeare. If all the wealth in that one mind could be yours, would you not choose it rather than the grandest of earthly inheritances? And how rich is the Church in mind! "The glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs," are here; and here also are thousands and tens of thousands whose names have been unknown on earth, but are written in heaven. The Church, like Jerusalem, is set on high, but. her beauty is not in "situation," but in character; her "elevation" is not in outward advantages, but in nearness to God. She has the "righteousness which exalteth."
1. The glory of the Church is not limited, but universal. Jerusalem was for a single people, but the Church is for all nations and kindreds and tongues. The light that dwells in her is to shine forth to all lands. The moral power that centres in her is to radiate its gracious influences to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem had her daughters—in the towns and villages of Judah; but the Church's daughters are to be found in every land under the sun.
2. The glory of the Church is not transitory, but eternal. It is not like the passing shows of earthly kings; nor is it short-lived and disappointing, like the glory of Jerusalem. It derives its being from God, and will endure while God endureth. Love and goodness can never die. Much of the glory of the Church is as yet hidden. There were mysteries in the days of Paul, and there are mysteries still. But the light will shine more and more to the perfect day. The past—"what we have heard," the present—"what we have seen," alike bear witness, and combine to raise our hopes of the coming glory.
II. THE GREATNESS OF THE CHURCH'S HEAD. "Great." (Psalms 48:1.) The measure of the glory of the Church is the greatness of the Church's Head. The certainty of the glory of the Church in all its transcendent developments, is to be found in the greatness of the Church's Head (Ephesians 1:17-23).
1. In the might of his power. His enemies shall lick the dust (Psalms 48:4-8). Sooner or later, either with the joy of love or the torments of fear, the confession must be made—that "he is Lord" (Philippians 2:10, Philippians 2:11).
2. In the sweetness of his loving-kindness. (Psalms 48:9.) There is a fitness of place ("temple") and a fitness of method (" wait"). As we keep our ears open, truth will come to us. As we bend our minds in eager thought upon Divine things, more and more of the Lord's goodness will be revealed to us. It is the "loving-kindness" of God that has blessed the past, and it will, in like manner, but in larger measure, bless the future. God's loving-kindness culminated in the cross. There could be nothing higher. And the cross is the best help to our faith, and the surest guarantee of our hopes (Romans 5:8-10).
3. In the righteousness of his judgments. (Psalms 48:10-13.) The heathen fabled that Jove's hands were full of thunderbolts; but our God's "right hand is full of righteousness." Let us praise God for freedom. There were terrors, but they have passed. We have the glad sense of escape. We are free. It is God who has done it. Let us give thanks for Divine protection. Jerusalem had her towers and bulwarks. Round about her stood the everlasting hills. She seemed impregnable. But in the evil day of unbelief she fell. But the defences of God's people are better far, and can never be overthrown. Our "bulwarks" are not rampart and tower, but God's love and faithfulness. There will be assaults in the future as in the past, but the foundation standeth sure. There will be many a sore fight and struggle, but the powers against us can never prevail over the omnipotence of God. Let us rejoice in the everlasting love of God (Psalms 48:13, Psalms 48:14). We should think of others as well as ourselves. We have a duty to our children and those who come after us. Musing on what God has done for us, our hearts will burn within us, and we shall be able to "tell" the generation following "the wonderful works of God." It is with exulting faith that we claim "this God" as "our God," and commend his love and his truth to others. What he has been to us he can be to them, and more. For ourselves we "know whom we have believed." He will keep us all our days. Our Guide into death, he will be our Portion and our Joy for ever.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The eternal city of God.
A patriotic hymn, to be sung in the temple service in celebration of a signal deliverance of Jerusalem from an invading army. Commentators are not agreed as to what army. Let it be taken as suggesting some things which may be said of the true eternal city of God, what it is, and what it will become through everlasting ages, exhibiting the greatest glory of man and the highest glory of God.
I. SOCIETY FOUNDED AND BUILT UP IN HOLINESS. (Psalms 48:1.) Nothing unclean can permanently dwell in it. The heavenly Jerusalem.
II. FILLED THROUGHOUT WITH DIVINE JOY. (Psalms 48:2.) "God shall wipe away all tears." No permanent sorrow.
III. ETERNALLY SAFE FROM DANGER OF OVERTHROW. (Psalms 48:3.) Often threatened during her earthly history by the combined forces of evil which have been arrayed against her.
IV. GOD HAS EXPENDED THE GRANDEST POWERS OF HIS NATURE IN BUILDING IT UP.
1. Moral omnipotence. (Psalms 48:4-8.) The history of past times and personal experience testify to this. He breaks the forces of evil as he broke the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
2. It has been and is the theatre for the display of the infinite love. (Psalms 48:9.) "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."
3. Also for the fullest display of the Divine righteousness. (Psalms 48:10, Psalms 48:11.) "Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne."
4. He is the everlasting Guide and Light of the city. (Psalms 48:14.) Because he is its King and Father and Lawgiver. Here is a theme for grateful thanksgiving and joy and worship.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 48". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany