What we have today in psalm 48 is a song of praise to the Lord. And the psalmist praises the Lord because the Lord has made the city of Jerusalem secure. And since the city of Jerusalem symbolises the people of God, then we can read the psalm as a song of praise to the Lord who makes the church secure. He will never leave his people and he will never forsake them, but he is with us always.
Verses 1 to 3
The psalm can be divided into four parts and the first part is verses 1 to 3 which begin with this acclamation of praise:
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.
Another English translation puts it this way:
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.
Because the Lord is great, he deserves to be praised greatly. We’re not to praise him in a half-hearted manner, but with all of our heart and with enthusiasm and with zeal. And the psalmist says the Lord is to be praised like this ‘in the city of our God’, which is located on his holy mountain. When he refers to God’s holy mountain, he means Mount Zion. And when he refers to ‘the city of our God’, he means Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the city of our God, because the Lord chose to dwell there. Though the heavens cannot contain him, and though the Lord is omnipresent so that he present everywhere all at once, nevertheless Jerusalem was his earthly dwelling-place. And here in the psalm, the psalmist calls on the people in the city of God to praise him greatly.
And then the psalmist goes on to describe Jerusalem on Mount Zion, saying in verse 2 that Zion is beautiful in its loftiness and it’s the joy of the whole earth. Now, there are other mountains which are higher than Mount Zion; but it seems to the psalmist that there is no mountain greater than Zion. There’s no mountain greater than Zion, because the Lord has chosen Zion as his dwelling-place; and — as one of the commentators puts it — it’s where heaven and earth meet. And so, it was a special place and it was a place like no other place on the earth. And the psalmist goes on to refer to Mount Zaphon. The Hebrew word zaphon means north; and so some English translations translate this line as: ‘Mount Zion, in the far north’. However, Zaphon was also the name of a mountain which was consider sacred by those who worshipped Baal. It was as significant for them as Mount Olympus was for the Ancient Greeks. In that case, the psalmist is saying that Mount Zion is the true Zaphon: it’s the truly sacred or holy mountain, because it’s where the one, true and living God dwells. Or — as the psalmist puts it at the end of verse 2 — it’s the city of the Great King. The Great King is not Saul or David or Solomon, or any other human king; the Great King is the Lord who rules and reigns over the heavens and the earth.
So, the city is great, and it’s the greatest place in all the world, because it’s the city of the great king. And it’s great because God is in her citadels and he has shown himself to be her fortress. The Lord is with his people to protect them from their enemies and to keep them safe. The word for fortress refers to a high tower. People in a high tower are high up above their enemies, safely out of reach. And so, by using this image, the psalmist is conveying to us how the Lord keeps his people out of the reach of their enemies.
Verses 4 to 7
And the reference to a fortress in verse 3 leads us to the second part of the psalm which is verses 4 to 7, where the psalmist describes how the kings of the earth join forces and advanced together against Jerusalem. But when they saw her — that is, when they saw Jerusalem — they were astounded and they fled in terror. Now, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the walls of the city or its appearance. Nothing about the city and the way it looked would have filled the kings with fear. And so, the psalmist must be describing an occasion when the Lord worked in the hearts of their enemies and filled them with fear in a supernatural way. For instance, in 2 Kings 19, we read of a time when the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians who had come to attack Jerusalem in the days of King Hezekiah. And afterwards, the Assyrians broke camp and went away. The Lord caused them to retreat. And here in the psalm, the psalmist describes how trembling seized the enemy nations and they became like a woman who is undergoing labour pains, so that they were overcome with pain. And they became like the ships of Tarshish which were shattered by an east wind.
At the beginning of the psalm, the psalmist said the Lord is great and is greatly to be praised. And he demonstrated how great he is by terrifying their enemies and by keeping the people of Jerusalem safe.
Verses 8 to 11
The third part of the psalm is verses 8 to 11. Whereas the enemy nations were filled with dread, the people of God are filled with joy and gladness. And so, according to verse 8, the people have seen for themselves how God makes Jerusalem secure. And within the Lord’s temple, they meditate and think about his unfailing love. This is God’s covenant love, his steadfast love towards his people. And because of God’s steadfast love towards his people, he has kept them safe. And in verse 10 he mentions the Lord’s righteousness, which means he always does what is right according to the terms of the covenant with his people. And the right thing for him to do, when his people trust in him, is to protect his people and to keep safe all who trust in him.
And the psalmist says that God’s praise — like his name or his reputation — reaches to the ends of the earth. So, throughout the world, people will hear about God and his greatness. Those defeated armies will go home and they will tell of God’s wonderful works.
And look at verse 11: Mount Zion rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad. He means, of course, that the people living on Mount Zion and the people living in the villages will rejoice and be glad. And they will rejoice and be glad because of God’s judgments, because God has judged the wicked nations who came to attack Jerusalem. He sent them away and he kept his people safe.
Verses 12 to 14
And in the final part of the psalm — verses 12 to 14 — we’re to imagine the people, walking around the city to view its towers and ramparts and citadels. Why are they to view these things? Well, one of the commentators suggests that they’re going around the city to check for damage. They wicked nations have attacked them, but take a look at the city: it’s undamaged. The towers are intact as are the ramparts and citadels. There’s no damage, because the Lord has protected them. And so, one generation is to tell the next generation about God’s faithfulness and mighty power. He is our God for ever. Therefore we can trust in him to guide us and to keep us.
The use of the name ‘Lord’ in capital letters in verse 1, which is God’s special covenant name, and the references to God’s unfailing or covenant love in verse 9, and to his righteousness in verse 10 remind us that the people in the city of Jerusalem were God’s covenant people. They were the people he had chosen for himself. And they could trust him to keep them safe against their enemies, because the Lord had bound himself with a promise to be their God and to treat them as his treasured possession. And since they were his treasured possession, then he would protect them and keep them safe, so long as they remained faithful to him and did not break the covenant by going after other gods.
And we too are God’s covenant people, who have been reconciled to him through faith in his Son, who is our Mediator and who has made peace for us with God by giving up his life on the cross as the ransom to pay for our sins and by shedding his blood to cleanse us from our guilt and shame. And through faith in Christ the Mediator, we have peace with God and can count on him to be with us and to keep us always. He is with us by his Spirit, who has been poured out on his people so that God dwells among us now by his Spirit.
And, of course, just as God protected his people in the past, so he will protect his people today. In the day of evil, when the Devil comes at us with his wicked schemes and when he stirs up an unbelieving world to oppose us, we can count on the Lord to be our fortress to strengthen our faith so that we will not fall or be destroyed. He strengthens our faith as we mediate on his steadfast love and his righteousness and as we remember that our God will always do what is right and, in his steadfast love and faithfulness, he will come to our aid. Therefore, we will not be afraid, and we will not give in, but will continue to trust in him to keep his church and to prevent the gates of hell from prevailing over us.
And, of course, Mount Zion in Israel and the city of Jerusalem which we read about in this psalm point forward to God’s holy mountain in the new heavens and earth and to the new Jerusalem, the holy city, which is the church of Christ in glory. The book of Revelation foretells the last battle, when Satan will deceive and gather the unbelieving nations for one last battle against the Lord and his church. But when the last battle happens, Satan will be destroyed; and the unbelieving nations will be judged; and the Lord will dwell with his people forever and forever in glory. And in glory, there will be no one to trouble us or to hurt us anymore. And all of God’s people will rejoice and be glad, because the Lord will have destroyed his enemies and saved his people forever.
And as we turn to God in prayer, we’re asking the Lord to do what this psalm says he will do: we’re asking him to protect his people around the world from the wicked schemes of the Devil and from an unbelieving world which opposes the church. And we should ask the Lord to keep us humble and obedient, so that instead of becoming proud and relying on ourselves, we will rely on him to guide us and to keep us always. And, finally, in our prayers, we should praise the Lord, because he is most worthy of our praise, both now and forevermore.