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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 48

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah.

Psalms 48:0 belongs to the same occasion, and is written in the same triumphal strain, as Psalms 47:0, with this peculiarity, that it celebrates the strong fortifications of Zion as the circumstance which caused terror to the enemy. It would seem that a reconnaissance had secretly surveyed this fortress, (Psalms 48:4-6,) and pronounced it impregnable, about which a dispute and division arose among the invaders, which, with the surprise and confusion caused by the “ambushments,” (2 Chronicles 20:22,) threw the bandit nations into mutual suspicion and alarm, and finally turned their weapons upon each other. The whole history, to which the psalm is a companion piece, is highly characteristic of the Arabian nations.

The divisions are three. Psalms 48:1-3, the introduction; Psalms 48:4-8, the destruction of the enemy; Psalms 48:9-14, a thanksgiving.

Verses 1-3

1-3. These verses declare the glory of God in Zion, and the glory of Zion in the whole earth, first, for her strength and beauty, but chiefly as the abode and city of God. Thus the glory of God and of his Church is shown to be inseparable.

Joy of the whole earth The strength of Jerusalem was the admiration of the nations, but probably “joy of the whole earth” should read, “joy of the” whole land, namely, of Palestine. To the Hebrew only it could be a “joy.”

The sides of the north The hill Zion was cut on the north, northeast, and east by the deep Tyropeon valley. If we take ירכתי , ( yarkethe,) dual, for the “ two sides of the north,” that is, north and northeast of Zion, the description answers literally to the central strength and glory of Jerusalem in her earlier history, especially as beyond the Tyropeon, on the east and north, lay the rocky prominences of Ophel and Moriah, with their inaccessible fortifications, crowned with the palace of Solomon and the temple. It is wonderful that at this present time the excavations of Jerusalem are developing the amazing strength of the ancient walls and substructures in this same locality. But this strength of Zion is only a type of the imperishable defences and stability of the true Church. Matthew 16:18; Isaiah 26:1.

God is known in her palaces This was her crowning glory. It was “the city of the great King.”

Verses 4-8

4-8. In this division is noted the destruction of the people’s enemies.

The kings were assembled Pointing to a confederate army and a war council of the chiefs. This does not suit the Assyrian army, in which one ruling spirit, Sennacherib, held absolute sway. 2 Chronicles 32:0. See notes on Psalms 46:0. The definite article, “the kings,” indicates a specific number, perhaps known to the writer. So also the verb נועדו , ( noa’doo,) were met, denotes an appointed meeting. It was a council to settle the plan of attacking Jerusalem, and here, evidently, the division and quarrel among themselves began, which on the morrow culminated in their overthrow.

They marvelled… troubled… hasted away The several steps leading to their ruin. They met in formal council, but broke up in confusion and fled in terror.

Fear took hold upon them They now saw they had committed themselves to an impossible enterprise, and being divided in counsel, and having no common bond but that of hatred to the Hebrew and love of plunder, mutual hate and jealousy soon predominated over all considerations of prudence and valour, and fear and disappointment soon rose to universal panic and frenzy. Meanwhile a supernatural dread of the God of Israel had seized upon them. To this must be added the alarm of the ambushments already noticed. 2 Chronicles 20:22.

Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish This figure occurs nowhere prior to Jehoshaphat, but aptly coincides with his reign; (1 Kings 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:35-37;) and corroborates the date we have assigned to the psalm.

“Ships of Tarshish” are ships built for the voyage to Tarshish, and hence proverbial for great and strong ships, and figuratively of “worldly powers” with formidable war preparations. See Isaiah 2:16; Isaiah 23:1. But where Tarshish was is not certain.

Verses 9-13

9-13. Here begins the special strain of thanksgiving and praise.

We have thought… in the midst of thy temple The king and people had repaired to the temple to ask counsel of God. See 2 Chronicles 20:3-13, to which this alludes. Thus the spiritual Church in all ages, in her deep affliction, renews her faith from the same source.

According… name According to the fame of thy works. The “name” of God is that by which he is known; not a title merely, but the sum of his manifestations. These offer a broad and endless ground of fear, trust, and praise, unto the ends of the earth.

Mount Zion… daughters of Judah The devout poet calls upon the chief cities of the kingdom to unite with the capital in this public rejoicing.

Verses 12-13

12, 13. Walk about Zion The call is not in the spirit of boasting or self confidence, but of gratitude, that they may witness for themselves the unharmed condition of the city, despite the proud threats and malicious plans of the enemy.

Tell the towers… mark… her bulwarks Count the towers, set your heart to the strongholds. The fortifications of Jerusalem were a marvel to the heathen, as the remains of them are to modern archaeologists. Ruins as old as the days of Solomon and of the first Herod are still traceable. They are seen in the foundations on the south and southwest of the temple, and in the “citadel” on the northwest corner of Zion, just south of the modern Jaffa gate. In this latter place the first forty feet of elevation of the principal tower is allowed to date as far back as Herod the Great, and was, probably, built upon foundations as old as David or Solomon. Rabbi Schwarz, ( Pales., p. 273,) supposes this may be the “house of the heroes,” or the “corner of the armory house,” Nehemiah 3:16-17. Tradition has given it the name of “tower, or fort, of David,” but without authority. See note on Psalms 45:8. Various are the traces of massive, ancient fortifications in Ophel, Moriah, Zion, and the western and northern city walls, which modern discoveries have brought to light. Extensive excavations will do vastly more. But it is not to these physical strongholds, the terror of Zion’s enemies, to which the prophet would confine attention. These, to his eye, bore a higher significance as types and symbols of the surer defences of the living Church of God, in which sense the language of Psalms 48:12-13, finds its true fulfilment. See the notes on Psalms 48:14

Verse 14

14. For this God is our God Glorious confession! to which the astonished people are led by their inspection and circuit of the city walls.

For ever and ever Two of the strongest Hebrew words for endless duration.

Even unto death This certainly cannot be the idea of the original, for besides that it is a great falling off from the previous sentence, it is against the connexion. The point of the argument is to show the Church or Zion indestructible. We must either drop the Makkeph, and change the vowel points so as to read עלמות , ( to eternity,) instead of על מות , ( unto death,) (and so the Septuagint, εις τους αιωνας , for evermore, Vulgate, in soecula, which agree with the context and scope;) or, accepting the Masoretic or common text, take the preposition על , ( ‘al,) not in the sense of unto, as in the common Version, but of after, through, over, against, and read, “he will be our guide after, through, over, or against death.” Either of these renderings would be entirely according to the usage of the proposition, and would sustain the sense and harmonize with the connexion, which assumes that God will never resign the leadership of his people. Death is not a goal to be reached, as unto would imply, but an enemy or terror now vanquished, surmounted, or removed, so as to offer no impediment. The outlook is not upon an earthly future, but an immortality. The stability and endless prosperity belong not to the material Zion, but to the mystic, the Church in her spiritual and evangelical inheritance. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Psalms 68:20; Matthew 16:18.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 48". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-48.html. 1874-1909.
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