A Song. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.
Psalm 48 is another of the psalms of the sons of Korah. Since we know these men were singers, it is hard to say if one or more of them wrote this psalm, or if it was dedicated to them to be sung by them. This psalm is also called a song. As we will see, it is a glorious song about the great kingdom of God to come.
1. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised
The psalmist starts out by proclaiming the greatness of the LORD, and acknowledging that He is worthy of great praise.
In the city of our God,
The psalmist focuses on the city of our God, Jerusalem, and the fact that He is worthy of great praise there for the things that He has done on its behalf. These are things He will have done in the time that this song is referring to: the time of the kingdom. He has not yet arisen in His power to do these things.
In His holy mountain.
While it is true that Jerusalem is in the mountains, I believe that the holy mountain of the LORD is the same thing as His great government. So we are informed that this psalm refers to Jerusalem in the kingdom of God.
2. Beautiful in elevation,
What a beautiful city Jerusalem will be in that day when Jehovah takes control of it! We believe it will be restored and rebuilt as the most beautiful of all cities. Moreover, it is beautiful in elevation. Again, Jerusalem is in the mountains, but when that day comes, it will be elevated in honor and glory above all other cities on earth. Jehovah will have put His name there, and His government will be centered there. This will result in Jerusalem being a most elevated place indeed.
The joy of the whole earth,
Jerusalem will be the joy of the whole earth. The Hebrew word ‘erets can mean either “earth” or “land.” Certainly Jerusalem will be the joy of the land of Israel, for that is the place in Israel to which all true Israelites must ever turn their hearts. Yet it will also be a joy to the whole earth, for the entire world will then acknowledge the greatness of the people whose God is Jehovah!
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
Mount Zion was the location of the City of David. Jerusalem was built on two mountains, and Zion refers to the southern one, whereon the older part of the city was built. It was the southernmost of the two mountains. In Isaiah 14:13, this phrase seems to refer to a place in heaven. In Ezekiel 38:6,16 and 39:2, the two words appear together as well, and are translated “far north.” Yet Jerusalem would hardly seem to be in the far north. This may be a poetic phrase of some sort, perhaps referring to some great height or elevation. The Companion Bible suggests that it is called this because it is beside the northern Mount Moriah, on which the temple was built, and so was on the “sides” of the north mountain where God’s house was. This would seem to be the best suggestion as to why this phrase is used, for its situation next to the temple mount would seem to be perhaps the most glorious fact about Mount Zion.
The city of the great King.
Jerusalem is here called the city of the great King. What King is referred to is not left open to question, as we find out immediately in the next verse that God is in her.
3. God is in her palaces;
God is in Jerusalem, we read. This need not be referring to Christ dwelling on earth, as He will do in the parousia, for God was said to be among His people in the Old Testament without Christ living on earth as He will do then. This seems especially true since God is said to be “in her palaces,” and we would expect Christ to only be one place at a time.
The word “palace” is used in English of a house so great that generally there would not be more than one of them in a city. Therefore, we would suggest that the idea of “palaces” here is of the great houses of the city. Every city of any size has its great houses, and Jerusalem in the kingdom will certainly have hers. One regretful thing about the great cities of Jerusalem in the past, and of many cities today, is that God is not with the rulers and great people in that city. This will not be true in the kingdom Jerusalem. God will dwell in every great house, and so the rulership in Jerusalem will be just as it should be.
He is known as her refuge.
God will be known as Jerusalem’s refuge in that day. Indeed, the people of that city will be able to rest easy, knowing that God is the One watching out for them!
4. For behold, the kings assembled,
Here we see the kings, all the great rulers of the earth, assembling together at Mount Zion. This would seem to be an event that will take place toward the beginning of the kingdom of God. The antecedent to this is given in Isaiah 2:3.
3. Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
This verse reveals many people determining to go up to Zion, the mountain of the LORD, in order to learn His ways so they can walk in His paths. These kings are assembling at Mount Zion for this very purpose.
They passed by together.
As they are coming up the road to Mount Zion, they get their first glimpse of the city of God, where the center of His great government is located.
5. They saw it, and so they marveled;
These kings marvel as they see the great city for the first time. What a glorious sight Jerusalem will then be! Once God has returned His blessing and favor upon her, she will be a glorious sight indeed.
They were troubled, they hastened away.
This verse seems to make it out as if these kings fled after getting their first look at Zion, as if they were so terrified of the city that they lost their desire to go there and learn the ways of God. Yet this is not really what the verse is saying. Rotherham suggests that this cannot be what it means, for they cannot get away. He suggests rather that they are arrested on the spot. He translates this verse, “They themselves saw—forthwith were amazed—dismayed—alarmed.” The Hebrew word chaphaz means to hurry. We would suggest that the point of it is that they hurried on their way to get to the city, not that they hurried away from it.
6. Fear took hold of them there,
These kings, no matter how powerful they may be back in their home countries, are afraid and trembling when they arrive at the city of God. They are entering the city of a Ruler greater perhaps than any they had imagined before.
And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs,
These kings also experience pain, like the pain of a woman giving birth. The exact meaning of this is unclear, but there is one thing that is for certain: something great is about to be birthed in these kings, these most powerful men on earth, when they encounter the LORD and His people in the city of Jerusalem. It may be a painful process they go through as they learn how to change to conform themselves to His rule. Yet in the end something great will be birthed indeed, both in them and in the lands over which they govern, as those lands and their governments will now be conformed to our LORD and Savior.
7. As when You break the ships of Tarshish
The psalmist seems to speak to God here when he speaks of Him breaking the ships of Tarshish. Tarshish means “breaking” according to Gesenius, so this is an interesting statement. Tarshish seems to have been a great ship-building center, and there was a certain kind of ship called a “Tarshish” ship that seems to have been the backbone of many navies of the time. Yet no matter how impressive these Tarshish ships were, God could break them!
With an east wind.
It was the mighty east wind that broke these Tarshish ships. Yet the word for “wind” here is the same word that is translated “spirit,” the Hebrew ruach. This statement seems to point back to the birth pangs of verse 6. These mighty kings are afraid, feel pain, and are broken by the Spirit of God in Zion. We would suggest that the breaking is not literal, but more like the breaking of a horse: that is, their stubborn hearts and wills are broken and are subjected to the rule of the mighty God.
8. As we have heard,
These would seem to be the words of the kings as they talk together while they depart from the city, their training there having ended. They had heard many great things of Mount Zion, and what they had heard had caused them to go up there.
So we have seen
Now they have seen Mount Zion for themselves, and have seen that the great report they had heard of it was true. This reminds us of the queen of Sheba, who, when she had come to Jerusalem and seen all the glorious of Solomon, said to the king:
“It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. 7. However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard.” I Kings 10:6b-7
So the queen of Sheba found it, and so these kings will find it in the future. The city of God will not disappoint, but will be as great as or greater than any report they have heard!
In the city of the LORD of hosts,
It is in the city of Jehovah Zebaioth, the LORD of hosts, that they have seen all these great things.
In the city of our God:
The previous statement is repeated in slightly different words for emphasis: it is in the city of their God that they have seen these great things. Notice that these kings now own Him as “our” God. This is one thing that will certainly be true of those kings who come up to learn their lessons in Jerusalem. Once their course work is over and they have completed their lessons, they will have come to own Jehovah as their God.
God will establish it forever. Selah
The kings recognize that God has established, that is, firmly fixed Mount Zion as the center of His activities for the olam. No other place will be chosen in preference to it. No other city will be promoted above it. No, Jerusalem will be the place of all places in God’s kingdom, and nothing will change that fact.
The word “Selah” is used here to mark the change from the words of these outsiders, these kings who have come to seek Jehovah at Zion, to the words of the people of that city, and their thoughts on what God has done for them.
9. We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness,
God’s people have thought about His lovingkindness. Indeed, they will have seen this going forth as He has done so much gracious work to change the earth and to conform it to Himself. Then at last the earth will be the way God always intended it to be. When the people of Zion see this, they will have great reason to think on God’s lovingkindness indeed!
In the midst of Your temple.
In the midst of God’s temple they have thought on this. When God’s temple will be built relative to the start of the kingdom is hard to say. Whether the temple will have been built and completed when the kings come to visit as we saw above is also hard to say, for we may have jumped a bit in time between the eighth and the ninth verses. Yet the temple seems to have been set up and completed at this time, and it is in that glorious house of God that His people have thought long and hard about His lovingkindness, which they have seen on every hand.
10. According to Your name, O God,
Remember that one’s name is one’s reputation, and a true name is a true reputation based on one’s true character. God’s reputation and what men think about His character is far from what it should be in our day. The picture most people have in their minds of God seems in many points to resemble Satan, the prince of the power of this atmosphere, more than it resembles the living God. Yet this will not be the case once the kingdom begins. God’s great reputation will become known upon the earth. One of the crucial steps for it becoming known will be the visit of the kings of the earth to Jerusalem, and the glorious results that will come out of it.
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
God is praised to the most remote parts of the earth due to the name men have learned of Him during this assembly at Mount Zion. The things men say of God today, even in their praises of Him, often do not truly resemble His name as it really is. In that future day, however, God’s reputation will no longer be a false one. Who and what God is will be known, and He will receive true praise based on His true character when men learn of it in that day.
Your right hand is full of righteousness.
The right hand was thought of as the skillful hand, since most people are what we call “right-handed,” or most skilled with this hand. In the very right hand of God at this time will be righteousness, and He will skillfully sow true righteousness into the earth. What a day that will be!
11. Let Mount Zion rejoice,
The inhabitants of Mount Zion, God’s people of Israel, are called upon to rejoice in the light of all that their God has done for them.
Let the daughters of Judah be glad,
The daughters could refer to the women of Judah, though this word can also be used for the common people. Many governments make the rich and powerful rejoice, for they are favored and benefitted by the administrations of this world. Yet in the Israel that God shall create, the common people will be able to rejoice, for their cause will not be ignored or discounted when God is in control.
Because of Your judgments.
The common people of Judah should be glad because of God’s judgments. A judgment is a determination regarding what is right, followed up by the power to put it right. When God is making all the judgments, then even the common people will have reason to be glad. No longer will they be downtrodden. No longer will the rich be favored in their cause. In that day, all will be done fairly and rightly.
12. Walk about Zion,
It is a bit unclear who is being spoken to here, the inhabitants of Zion or the visiting kings. Perhaps the visiting kings is most likely, since they will soon leave, and need to carry the memory of what they have seen here in their minds and hearts as they return to their own lands. In the light of this, they are commanded just to walk about Zion, taking note of all the glory they see there.
And go all around her.
They are encouraged to make this a thorough investigation, not just of a part of the city, but all around her.
Count her towers;
The “towers” are the strong places or fortresses. In a tower, many found safety and protection from the enemy. The towers of Jerusalem will be the great refuge and protection her people will enjoy there. Whether there will literally be towers scattered all over the city or not, the reality of this will be the complete safety and security enjoyed by those Israelites who will be privileged to dwell there. Nothing will threaten them then. Nothing will make them afraid.
13. Mark well her bulwarks;
A bulwark is a kind of rampart, again, signifying defense and safety. As is usual in Hebrew poetry, this line is largely a repetition of the same idea as was in the last line: consider the great protection God is affording to His people in His city.
Consider her palaces;
The palaces of the city will be the great houses located there. As we said earlier in the psalm, it is doubtful that Jerusalem will have many of what we call palaces within its boundaries, but it will have many great houses peopled by great families, many of them worthy families from Israel’s past, now raised from the dead to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom. These kings are to pass among these and take note of them as well.
That you may tell it to the generation following.
These kings need to remember this so they can pass it on to the younger generation of leaders yet arising. It would not do for them or any of the leaders who arise after them to forget the greatness of the God they have now come to serve.
14. For this is God,
The greatness of this city reflects the greatness of the God of this city. What the kings are to learn is that this is what God does when He wishes to exalt a city. By taking in the amazing and unbelievable sights there, they will come to understand in a greater way the God Who is able to perform such wonders among men.
Our God forever and ever;
God is the God of Israel for the olam and ‘ad. The olam, as we have said before, is the great flow of God that we more typically call the kingdom of God. ‘Ad is the strongest Hebrew word for perpetuity. Therefore, we could translate this “Our God for the outflow and beyond,” or “Our God for the eon and perpetually.”
He will be our guide
When that day comes, God will no longer leave Israel to wander lost in the darkness. He will be their guide, making their footsteps clear before them.
Even to death.
Even to death God will guide them, assuring them they are on the right path and helping them to die when and how it is appropriate for them to die. In the kingdom, there will be times of testing when it will be necessary for some Israelites to die as part of their loyalty to their God. When this time comes, God will be there to guide and help them, and at the other side, to lead them back out of death to a life filled with yet more favor and blessing from His hand. What a day for Israel this glorious day will be when it comes!
Today, it is God’s Word that is our guide. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is our guide, and even to death it will show us the way, if we will submit to Its teachings and seek the guidance It offers. Praise God that we, too, have that which can guide us!
To the Chief Musician.
This psalm was dedicated to one of the Chief Musicians to be used in public worship. We can be thankful it has been passed down to us to teach us something about our great God and the glorious future He has planned.