Psalm 48 Commentary: Let’s turn our attention to Psalm 48.
Psalm 48 is a praise psalm. And the praise of the psalmist is directed toward two entities.
First, the psalmist praises a particular city – Mount Zion – Jerusalem.
But ultimately the psalmist has his praises set on the Lord.
But these two entities – the Lord and Jerusalem – are closely connected in this psalm. And we’re going to discover that the connection comes from the fact that the Lord protects this city – Jerusalem – and the people in it – his people.
And interestingly enough – I think we once more see some subtle foretelling of the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ in this psalm – as we have seen in the last few we’ve studied.
So, let’s study Psalm 48.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Superscription
We’ll start with the superscription.
KJV Psalm 48:1 <A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah.>
And there’s not a whole lot to say about that portion of the psalm, so we’ll proceed.
Psalm 48 Commentary: The Lord’s Praiseworthiness
Now, to begin the main section of this psalm, the psalmist declares the great praiseworthiness of the Lord – and he ties the Lord’s praiseworthiness to a specific location – Jerusalem. Verse 1.
Great is the LORD,
and [greatly/certainly worthy] to be praised
And where in particular is the Lord worthy to be praised?…
in the city of our God,
[in the mountain of his holiness/his holy mountain/his holy hill].
So, the Lord is to be praised in this special location. Out of all the locations on the earth, the Lord had chosen to set his name in Israel. And in particular, he’s chosen the capital city of that land – Jerusalem – as a place which holds special significance for him.
Jerusalem is the place where the Temple was constructed – has been constructed several times at this point. It’s the place where the Lord himself – Jesus Christ – served and was crucified for our sin.
It’s the place where Jesus will return – on the Mount of Olives right across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount.
It’s where Jesus Christ will reign on the throne of his father David for one thousand years.
Jerusalem is a special place in God’s program and plan for the world. It has been. It is now. And it will be in the future.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Mount Zion’s Praiseworthiness
And in light of these wonderful facts about Jerusalem, the psalmist transitions from praising the Lord in Jerusalem to praising Jerusalem itself. Verse 2.
2 [Beautiful for situation/Beautiful in elevation/It is lofty and pleasing to look at],
[the joy of/a source of joy to] the whole earth,
is mount Zion, [on the sides of the north/in the far north/resembles the peaks of Zaphon]
the city of the great King.
So, the psalmist praises the appearance of Jerusalem. In particular, he focuses on its height – its elevation.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Elevation
And it is an elevated area. That’s why throughout the Bible, when it speaks of people going to Jerusalem it speaks of the direction traveled as being “up.” People go “up” to Jerusalem. And when they leave Jerusalem, they go “down.”
Jerusalem is lofty. Its situation is beautiful in that sense.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Joy of the Whole Earth
But what do you make of that next statement we read in verse 2? Jerusalem is the joy of the whole earth? … Is it?
Well, I would be hard-pressed to see how Jerusalem could be the joy of the whole earth in the time of this psalm’s writing – back in the Old Testament timeframe. At best, Jerusalem would be a joy to Israel.
And today even, Jerusalem really can’t be said to be the joy of the whole earth. Yes, Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere the place. But what about the Buddhists? What about the Hindus? What about the so-called atheists and agnostics? What about all the world leaders who find Jerusalem to be a powder keg to try to control? For all these groups and more, right now Jerusalem is not a source of joy.
So, perhaps at no time could Jerusalem literally be referred to as the joy of the whole earth…
But it will be some day. There’s a day coming when the Lord himself will return to earth – destroy his enemies – and set up his reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years. At that time, all the nations of the earth will go up to Jerusalem and hear God’s word straight from God-with-us (“Immanuel”) himself!
At that point – in the Millennial reign of Christ – Jerusalem – the city of the Great King, Jesus Christ – will be the joy of the whole earth.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Sides of the North
Now, one last thing needs to be covered in this verse. The psalmist says – according to the KJV – that Mount Zion is on the sides of the north. And we wonder – what does that mean?
Because I can tell you that Jerusalem – as you look at it from the perspective of the geography of Israel – ancient or modern – it’s really not in the north. It’s more central than anything else. And actually, it even tends to be a bit south of the center of the land.
So, how is Jerusalem in the “sides of the north?”
Psalm 48 Commentary: Sides
Well, let me point out that the Hebrew word translated as “sides” is used in 2 Kings 19 to speak of the most distant portion of a mountain. So, let’s translate “sides” in Psalm 48 as “most distant part of…”
Then, it’s the most distant part of what?
Well, the KJV says that it’s the most distant part of “the north.”
Psalm 48 Commentary: North
Well, that word literally means “north.” No surprise there.
But the surprise is that there was a mountain at the time of the writing of this psalm. And this mountain was in modern day Turkey, bordering on Syria. And it was called Mount Zaphon. And zaphon in Hebrew is often translated as “north.” Today this mountain is known by another name – Jebel Aqra or Mount Casius.
Anyway, the significance of this mountain for ancient people in the region of Canaan was that people believed that the Canaanite deity Ba’al and his sister ‘Anat lived on the peak of that mountain. It was a sort of smaller version of Mount Olympus – where the make-believe deities were supposed to have lived. That’s Mount Zaphon – the center of worship for the so-called “Lord” – Ba’al.
But Psalm 48 comes along and declares that that place doesn’t hold a candle to Mount Zion. Mount Zion is where the true LORD has chosen to reside. Mount Zion is truly the city of the great King – greater than Ba’al and ‘Anat. Greater than anything. …
I’d say that makes him worthy of praise, indeed!
Psalm 48 Commentary: The Connection Between the Lord and Mount Zion
And so, we’ve heard that both the Lord and Mount Zion are praiseworthy. But what is the connection between the two?
That’s what the psalmist begins to unfold in verse 3. Here’s the shared connection between the Lord and Mount Zion…
3 God [is known/has made himself known as/reveals himself as] in her [palaces/fortresses]
for a [refuge/stronghold/its defender].
So, what’s the connection between the Lord and Mount Zion? It’s this – that the Lord protects Mount Zion. He’s the refuge or stronghold of this special place on earth.
He was in the Old Testament – when this psalm was penned. And he will be when he comes to it in the person of Jesus Christ.
And of course, it should go without saying – but we need to remind ourselves that God is not concerned about grass and trees and stones. He’s not concerned solely for the geographic area of Jerusalem.
Rather, he’s concerned about Jerusalem for the sake of its inhabitants – in the Old Testament, the Jews. In the future – his people, both Jew and Gentile who are one in Christ.
God is not enamored with land for the sake of mere land. He’s concerned about Jerusalem for the sake of his people.
Psalm 48 Commentary: The Battle
And for this Old Testament psalmist, the Lord demonstrated his concern for his people in a very tangible way. The psalmist apparently had a recent military victory in his mind – which he describes for us in verses 4 through 7.
And as we read this description of past victory – we can also imagine the ultimate victory that the King of the Jews – Jesus Christ – will yet have before he sets up his Millennial reign from this hallowed city.
So, let’s allow the psalmist to set the battle in our minds.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Kings Set to Attack
It begins in verse 4 with the threatening menace of foreign kings who are ready to attack and destroy God’s holy city.
4 For, lo, the kings were assembled,
they [passed by/advance] together.
So, in our mind’s eye – here they come! They’re assembling! They’re advancing!
The kings are coming. And Jerusalem and God’s people need defense.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Defense!
And that’s just what they get starting in verse 5.
5 [They saw it/As soon as they see],
[and so they marveled/then they were amazed/they are shocked];
they [were/are] [troubled/terrified],
[and hasted away/they fled in alarm/they quickly retreat].
So, these assembled and advancing kings see something. What? – we don’t know, yet. So, there’s some suspense as we ask ourselves – what did these terrifying kings see that terrified them so much?
And the psalmist doesn’t answer that yet. Instead, he heaps up the suspense and the fear and terror that these kings are experiencing and expressing in verse 6.
6 [Fear/Panic] [took hold upon/seized] them there, [look at them shake uncontrollably…]
[and pain/anguish], as of a woman in [travail/childbirth].
So, these mighty kings are now reduced to the emotional state of a woman in the midst of delivering a baby – which is to say that they are not at all as frightening as they first appeared to be.
And it’s reported as if it’s a play-by-play. It should make us feel that we’re right there experiencing it as it’s being described.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Reason for Anguish
Now, we’re still left wondering what caused these kings to become so emotionally distressed that they would flee from their original plan to attack Jerusalem.
And I personally think that the answer to that question is found in verse 7.
7 Thou [breakest/shatter] [the ships of Tarshish/large ships]
with an east wind.
Psalm 48 Commentary: East Wind
So, let’s talk about this east wind first.
Picture Israel. To the west you have the Mediterranean Sea. To the right you have miles and miles of sandy dry desert.
So, the wind usually comes from the west – from the sea. And because of that, it delivers cool and moist air and sometimes even rain. Every once in a while, snow.
But when the wind blows from the east, it’s dry and hot. It scorches and kills. In fact, Pharaoh’s dream that Joseph interpreted included an east wind that killed his ears of corn.
So, the psalmist is praising God for the fact that this kind of scorching killing menacing wind has come or will come and that it results in the destruction of these ships.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Ships of Tarshish
They’re ships of Tarshish. Or ships that would be large enough to travel from Israel across the sea to ancient Tarshish or probably modern-day Spain.
And the psalmist praises God because he says that these ships have been destroyed by an east wind.
So, let’s think about this.
First of all, we recognize that these ships belong to these kings that are so terrified. And I’m asserting that these kings are terrified because they saw this happen – they saw this east wind come down from the hills of Judea – on which Jerusalem lies – and they saw it smash their boats to bits.
Second, though, I need to confess that I know nothing of a situation like this happening in the Old Testament. If this scenario played out in history – we apparently don’t have it recorded for us.
But third, there is going to be a situation preceding the Millennium in which there will be ships in the vicinity of Israel. And the owner of these ships will be destroyed. And we could probably assume that his ships meet their end too – possibly by an east wind.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Daniel 11
And so, the portion of Scripture I’m referring to is in the 11th chapter of the book of Daniel.
And we’re going to skim through a fairly lengthy section of this chapter and chapter 12 to get an idea of what the author of Psalm 48 might be looking forward to.
KJV Daniel 11:36 ¶ And the king [who’s going to be referred to as the king of the north later…] shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation [of God…] be accomplished: for that [that/what] is determined shall be done.
By the way, of whom is this speaking? This is the Antichrist as we know him from the New Testament.
37 Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.
38 But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things.
39 Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain.
40 ¶ And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him [this king of the North or the Antichrist…] : and the king of the north [Antichrist…] shall come against him [king of the south…] like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships [same word as we find in Psalm 48 – and we can imagine that these will be large ships or ships of Tarshish – ships that would be able to travel to Tarshish from Israel…] ; and he [probably Antichrist…] shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
41 He [Antichrist, again…] shall enter also into the glorious land [which would include Mount Zion like we’ve been hearing about in Psalm 48…], and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his [Antichrist’s…] hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.
42 He [A.C.…] shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape.
43 But he [A.C….] shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his [A.C.’s…] steps.
44 But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him [A. C.…]: therefore he [A. C.…] shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.
45 And he [A. C.…] shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain [Mount Zion…]; yet he [A. C.…] shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
KJV Daniel 12:1 ¶ And at that time shall Michael [who’s an angel…] stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy [Daniel’s…] people: and there shall be a time of trouble [the Great Tribulation…], such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
4 But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
And we’ll stop there.
But this is a part of Scripture that comes as close as any to describing a time when large ships will be in the vicinity of Mount Zion. A time when Mount Zion is threatened by an army and a terrifying leader – a king even. A time when at least the leader who commanded these large ships will be destroyed. A time that immediately precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ to rule in Mount Zion.
So – to return to Psalm 48 – if the large ships are destroyed and that causes the adversarial kings to tremble – then either this is speaking of a time past that has not been recorded for us in the Old Testament. Or it’s speaking of this time to come in Daniel 11. Or – I suppose – both.
But either way, God protects his people. He has in the past. He will in the future. And in the case of this battle that’s been described – his protection is praiseworthy and glorious!
Psalm 48 Commentary: To See and to Hear
And now, it’s one thing to hear that. To hear of God’s glorious protection of his people. But it’s another thing altogether to actually see that in action. And that’s what the psalmist records the people saying in verse 8.
8 As we have heard [about God’s mighty deeds…],
so have we seen [those deeds…]
in the city of the LORD [of hosts/of heaven’s armies],
in the city of our God:
God [will establish/makes secure] it [for ever/permanently].
And so, it’s easy to see the ancient Israelites uttering these words after a great military victory in Old Testament times.
And yet, it’s just as easy to see this as a prophecy of what God’s people at the end of the Great Tribulation will be shouting for joy as they welcome their king and ours – Jesus Christ.
And in fact, the wording here makes it more likely in my mind that this is a foretelling of what’s to come. These people are going to say that God establishes Jerusalem “for ever.” He hasn’t done that yet. But he is going to. But there’s going to need to be an Antichrist coming on the scene and being destroyed and Christ coming once more in order for this all to be a reality.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Thinking of God in the Temple
Then – based on what the psalmist has overviewed of God’s protecting his people – he reflects on the fact that in the Temple, people are thinking of this deliverance. Verse 9.
9 We [have thought of/have thought on/reflect on] thy [lovingkindness/loyal love], O God,
[in the midst of/within] thy temple.
And listen – without God’s protection, the Temple doesn’t exist. In fact, God ended up ultimately taking the Temple away from his people for their disobedience – twice!
And there’s going to be another Temple. And it too will be destroyed after the Millennium. But then God himself will be our Temple. And we’ll certainly be thinking of his loyal love – his lovingkindness – his chesed.
And even now – though this building we’re in isn’t a Temple – we are! We are temples as individuals. We’re temples all together as a body of believers. And as we sit as Temples in the midst of a Temple – the Church – I trust that we’re considering God’s love “that will not let you go.” It’s why you’re here tonight. It’s why you’re not on the broad path that leads to destruction. It’s because God has protected you as one of his people.
Think of that tonight even as we go to prayer. That God’s love will not let you go. Ever. Even as he’s literally blowing apart the ships of Tarshish – he’s not going to let anything separate you from his love which is in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Unto the Ends of the Earth
And so, the Lord is utterly praiseworthy. His people think so, for sure. But do you know that there will be a time when God’s praiseworthiness is known “unto the ends of the earth?” Verse 10 insists that this will be the case.
10 [According to/As is/is worthy of] thy [name/reputation], O God,
so is [thy/that you receive] praise
[unto/as far away as] the ends of the earth:
[thy right hand is full of/you execute] [righteousness/justice].
So, God is worthy of the praise he receives from his people. And his reputation of protecting his people ensures that he will receive that praise.
And that protection is little known by those outside of God’s people right now. But a time is coming when that praise and reputation will be known “unto the ends of the earth.” Everywhere!
That will be the case when Christ reigns in Mount Zion.
Psalm 48 Commentary: Mount Zion is Happy
And so, in light of the protection it receives, Mount Zion rejoices! Verse 11.
11 [Let mount Zion/Mount Zion] [rejoice/rejoices],
[let the daughters/the towns] of Judah [be glad/are happy],
because of [thy judgments/your acts of judgment].
So, in the Old Testament, as God protected the cities of Judah and especially Mount Zion – the people rejoiced. And as he protected his people, he judged those who would destroy them.
Psalm 48 Commentary: God’s People Unharmed
And you know – despite the epic battle that is in view in this psalm, Mount Zion’s man-made defenses are not really what protected it. I think that’s the thrust of verses 12-13.
12 Walk [about/around] Zion,
and go [round about/around] her: [encircle it!…]
[tell/count] the towers thereof[./!]
13 [Mark ye well/Consider] her [bulwarks/ramparts/defenses],
[consider/go through/walk through] her [palaces/fortresses];
[that/so that] ye may tell it to the [generation following/next generation].
And what are the people to tell the next generation?
They’re supposed to look at all the defenses in the city. They’re supposed to remember the battle that was about to rage against them. And they’re supposed to notice that the defenses of the city weren’t really what protected them. In a way they weren’t even needed.
Man-made defenses are not what saved Israel or what will save God’s people in the Tribulation.
No, it’s God himself. His people are supposed to take note of the fact that when he protects us, it really is ultimately him – and not any sort of man-made means of defense.
And God’s people in this psalm are being invited to look thoroughly through the city and see that whether they had the walls and defenses or not – God truly protects his people.
And when he does protect his people, we need to take note of that and pass that story on to the next generation.
Psalm 48 Commentary: God Protects and Guides
And why again do God’s people come out unscathed? It’s because of our protecting, guiding God. Verse 14.
14 For this God is our God [who is our defender…] for ever and ever:
he will be our guide even unto death.
And we have this God who protects and guides his people.
And for us – yes – as Luther says – the body they may kill. But as another song goes, the flame shall not hurt thee. And as Scripture puts it – we will not see death. Our bodies will die someday – but if we know God’s Son Jesus Christ we will not even see what it’s like to be separated from God – which is the essence of death.
So, as we pray, let’s look forward to our glorious future with this God who protects his people. And let’s praise this God for his protection in our lives even now and – as the last three words of this psalm proclaim – “even unto death.”