Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
Beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels;
he has shown himself to be her fortress.
– Psalm 48
Psalm 48 is another Jerusalem Psalm. We’ve met them before (Psalms 42, 46). The Psalmist is enraptured by the ‘city of the great King’ (48:2) and is moved, like many a poet and lyricist, to go some distance beyond what others might see.
The Psalmist describes Jerusalem as beautiful in its loftiness (v. 2), but it’s actually not very high. The Psalmist describes Jerusalem as the joy of the whole earth (v. 2) but that was probably a minority opinion not shared by other nations.
In reality the Psalm is a big, bold, brassy declaration of faith. Mention of Mount Zaphon in verse 2 is not accidental, this limestone mountain on the Syrian-Turkish border was and is twice as high as Mount Zion and more importantly was where the Canaanites worshipped Baal. And yet the Psalmist says that the true God has made little old Jerusalem his dwelling place. John Goldingay comments, ‘It’s typical of God to go for an insignificant little mountain in an insignificant location (Israel was to be an insignificant little people; David, an insignificant little boy; and Nazareth, an insignificant little village).’
Verses 4–7 speak of challenges to God’s power. The theme of opposition to God has cropped up several times already in the Psalms, most noticeably in Psalm 2 where the ‘kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord’ (Psalm 2:7). In both cases the outcome is the same. Here the invading forces melt away like the snow – they came, they saw, they fled. If we live faithfully we too can expect to face opposition (John 15:20) and that is a reality for many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world today. At times of opposition recalling those experiences of God’s deliverance in the past may encourage us that he can and will rescue us in the present.
The response to God’s salvation is to mediate on his unfailing love (v. 9). We who live on the other side of Christ are called to bring to mind the salvation that God has wrought for us, we do this most obviously when we gather together, particularly when we share bread and wine. In many church traditions what we call ‘communion’ is referred to as the Eucharist, a term that derives from a Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving’ and which neatly sums up our response for all that God has done for us in Christ.
In the final verses of the Psalm we are invited to walk about and admire Jerusalem’s towers and ramparts. The point of the guided tour is not just to appreciate the finer details of Jerusalem’s architecture but to let physical objects remind us of God’s deliverance, in the same way bread and wine are tangible reminders of the Christ who died and rose for us. They are reminders of God’s unfailing love, so we are to pass that good news onto the next generation (v. 13) and have confidence that this good God will be our guide for ever and ever (v. 14).