Psalm 48, classified as a song of Zion by the Sons of Korah, is the climax of a cluster of four psalms (Psalms 45-48) celebrating God’s reign over the earth. The Psalm begins with the psalmists declaring that because God is great, the city is holy; where God’s presence determines the special character of the city (Ps 48:1; c.f., Prov 14:34). In affirming the greatness of God, He is inadvertently compared to the Ugaritic god in ‘the far north,’ the dwelling place of the storm god Baal-Zaphon. Nevertheless, Jerusalem has become the new ‘Zaphon,’ the holy mountain, where Yahweh, the Divine King of all kings, dwells (Ps 48:2). In this age, there are few monarchs left who wield absolute sovereignty over their land and people. It is difficult for us to imagine how such a reign would directly impact us. The closest, perhaps, would be autocratic rulers, who hold sway with impunity over their subjects; often with diminished freedom of expressions and lacking in civil rights. However, this Psalm articulated the trustworthiness of the King, who holds absolute power over His people, providing His subjects with complete security, and ruling over them with unqualified righteousness for eternity.
During the reigns of King David and King Solomon, Israel appeared to be at the height of her power and the spectacular triumphalism mentioned in the Psalm likely represented those times. However, it seemed clear that the psalmists were speaking about a time prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar as the Jewish nation turned against God (Ps 48:4-8; c.f., Ezek 8-10). It is probable that they were referring to the failed earlier invasion of Judah by King Sennacherib when he laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC (Ps 48:4-8). Nevertheless, an element of the prophetic testified to God’s ultimate reign over the world as He withstood the challenges of the future; where a New Jerusalem whose maker and builder is God would prevail against all assaults on her (Ps 48:8; c.f., Gal 4:25-31; Rev 21-22).
Then in a sudden shift of pronouns, from the third person to the first, the psalmists addressed their hymn directly to God. As with power and security alluded to in the preceding passages, God’s attributes of lovingkindness, righteousness and judgments are mentioned (Ps 48:9-11). His profound and unequivocal influence will not be limited to the confines of Jerusalem, but His victories will reach beyond it ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Ps 48:10; c.f., Isa 2:1-4; Isa 11:6-10). We can trust Him as He will judge with equity and mercy, eliciting a processional around the city, where her towers, literally ‘placing their hearts on the city’s strengths,’ and her citadels were proudly appreciated. It is pertinent to note that it was not the towers nor the ramparts that made it impregnable but God’s very presence (Ps 48:11-14). Finally, in the conclusive stanzas of the psalm, we are assured of the faithfulness of God all the days of our life; where a remarkable incredulous description of terrified fleeing enemies, as they saw the walls of Jerusalem, signified an eternal truth that the Israelites’ prideful and industrious human accomplishments in defensive building amounted to nothing if God’s protective care was non-existent over them. Without the blessing and presence of Yahweh, our own works become inconsequential, as pride in our accomplishments will negate our trust in God.
Psalm 48 celebrates the safety and peace of Zion, which represented the symbolic Judaeo-Christian language of the presence of God among humanity, as a sanctuary in which God has made His dwelling place. Hence, entering such ‘a sanctuary,’ a place in which we are made aware of God’s presence can evoke in us many of the same words and ideas as the singers of Psalm spoke about. In our troubled world, there is an inevitable need for each believer to seek out a place of refuge, a place to feel secure in His presence; for there we gain strength to face our challenging circumstances. In our sojourn in Zion, we must pass on to future generations God’s work and testimony in our lives, as authentication of His unambiguous presence and involvement among His people, even to the point of death! (c.f., Phil 2:5-8).