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Psalm 48

The Glory and Strength of Zion

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.

1

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised

in the city of our God.

His holy mountain, 2beautiful in elevation,

is the joy of all the earth,

Mount Zion, in the far north,

the city of the great King.

3

Within its citadels God

has shown himself a sure defense.

 

4

Then the kings assembled,

they came on together.

5

As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;

they were in panic, they took to flight;

6

trembling took hold of them there,

pains as of a woman in labor,

7

as when an east wind shatters

the ships of Tarshish.

8

As we have heard, so have we seen

in the city of the Lord of hosts,

in the city of our God,

which God establishes forever.Selah

 


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1. Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised. The prophet, before proceeding to make mention of that special example of the favor of God towards them, to which I have adverted, teaches in general that the city of Jerusalem was happy and prosperous, because God had been graciously pleased to take upon him the charge of defending and preserving it. In this way he separates and distinguishes the Church of God from all the rest of the world; and when God selects from amongst the whole human race a small number whom he embraces with his fatherly love, this is an invaluable blessing which he bestows upon them. His wonderful goodness and righteousness shine forth in the government of the whole world, so that there is no part of it void of his praise, but we are everywhere furnished with abundant matter for praising him. Here, however, the inspired poet celebrates the glory of God which is manifested in the protection of the Church. He states, that Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised in the holy city. But is he not so also in the whole world? Undoubtedly he is. As I have said, there is not a corner so hidden, into which his wisdom, righteousness, and goodness, do not penetrate; but it being his will that they should be manifested chiefly and in a particular manner in his Church, the prophet very properly sets before our eyes this mirror, in which God gives a more clear and vivid representation of his character. By calling Jerusalem the holy mountain, he teaches us in one word, by what right and means it came to be in a peculiar manner the city of God. It was so because the ark of the covenant had been placed there by divine appointment. The import of the expression is this: If Jerusalem is, as it were, a beautiful and magnificent theater on which God would have the greatness of his majesty to be beheld, it is not owing to any merits of its own, but because the ark of the covenant was established there by the commandment of God as a token or symbol of his peculiar favor.

2. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion For the confirmation of the statement made in the preceding sentence, the prophet celebrates the excellencies for which mount Zion was at that time renowned; and in them was to be seen the glory of God, of which I have just now spoken. The beauty of its situation, which he mentions in the first place, was indeed natural; but by it he gives us to understand, that from the very commencement the agreeable appearance of the city had engraven upon it marks of the favor of God, so that the sight of it alone showed that God had in a special manner adorned and enriched that place, with the view of its being, at some future period, consecrated to sacred purposes. I do not, however, think that the situation is called beautiful and pleasant, merely because it was unequalled in the country of Judea; for there were other cities, as is well known, which were in no respect inferior to Jerusalem, either as to fertility or pleasantness of situation, and other advantages. In my opinion, along with the situation of the city, the Psalmist comprehends the glory which it derived from another source — from the circumstance that the temple of God was built there. When, therefore, we hear the beauty of the city here celebrated, let us call to our remembrance that spiritual beauty which was added to the natural beauty of the place, after the prophecy was given forth that the ark would there abide for ever. With respect to the word נופ, noph, which I have translated situation, commentators are not agreed. Some understand it as meaning height or elevation, as if it had been said that Jerusalem was situated on high and elevated ground. Others render it climate 190190     Beautiful in climate, that is, mount Zion is situated in a fair and lovely climate. This is the view taken by Montanus and Ainsworth. Bate and Parkhurst read, “Beautiful in extension, i.e., in the prospect which it extends to the eye.” because the Jews metaphorically call climates branches, 191191     Some ancient copies of the Septuagint have for the original words, יפה ניף, yepheh noph, which Calvin renders beautiful for situation, εὐρύνων, which Augustine and Ambrose translate by dilatans, spreading “This,” says Hammond, “may not improbably have respect to a notion of נוף, usual in the Misneh for the boughs or top branches of a tree; which some of the Jews also would have take place here, as comparing Zion to a beautiful well-spreading tree.” on account of the extent to which they are spread out. In a matter like this, which is of no great consequence, I am not disposed to be so very critical. Only I have selected that translation which seemed to me the most probable, namely, that the country in its appearance was pre-eminently pleasant and delightful. When the Psalmist speaks of mount Zion being on the sides of the north, it is doubtful whether he lays it down as a commendation of mount Zion, that it lay or looked towards the north; or whether we should explain the sentence thus: Although mount Zion looks towards the north, that does not in any degree diminish its beauty. The former interpretation, however, seems to me to give the more natural meaning. We find the prophet Isaiah, with the view also of touching upon the excellence of this mountain, applying to it the very expression which is here employed. In the 14th chapter of his Prophecies, at the 13th verse, he represents Sennacherib as speaking thus: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north.”

The Psalmist, in the next place, calls mount Zion the joy of the whole earth And he thus describes it, not only because, as the Jews foolishly talk, that country was healthy on account of the mildness of the climate; or because it produced sweet and excellent fruits, which might gratify ard yield delight to foreign nations — for this also is a cold and unsatisfactory speculation; — but because from thence salvation was to issue forth to the whole world, even as all nations have borrowed from thence the light of life, and the testimony of heavenly grace. If the joy which men experience and cherish is without God, the issue of their joy at length will be destruction, and their laughter will be turned into gnashing of teeth. But Christ appeared with his Gospel out of Zion, to fill the world with true joy and everlasting felicity. In the time of the prophet, the knowledge of the Gospel, it is true, had not yet reached foreign nations; but he makes use of this manner of expression with the highest propriety, to teach the Jews that true blessedness was to be sought for only from the gracious covenant of God, which was deposited in that holy place. At the same time also, he has foretold that which was at length fulfilled in the last time by the coming of Christ. From this we may learn, that to cause the hearts of the godly to rejoice, the favor of God alone abundantly suffices; as, on the contrary, when it is withdrawn, all men must inevitably be thrown into a state of wretchedness and sorrow. What is added immediately after, concerning the city of the great King, is intended to show, that mount Zion was not only holy itself, but that this high prerogative had been conferred upon it to render sacred the whole city, where God had chosen his seat, that he might rule over all people.

3. God in her palaces is known for a defense Here the sacred poet again brings forward, for the purpose of setting forth the dignity of the city of Jerusalem, the protection which God afforded it; as we have seen in Psalm 46:5,

“God is in the midst of her: she shall not be moved:
God shall help her, and that right early.”

He expressly makes mention of palaces for the sake of contrast — to teach the Jews, that although the holy city was fortified by strong towers, and had within it magnificent houses, and such as resembled fortresses, yet its continued safety was owing to the power and aid of God alone. By these words, the people of God are taught, that although they dwell in strongholds and palaces, they must, nevertheless, be carefully on their guard, that this magnificence or loftiness may not shroud or conceal from their view the power of God; and that they be not like worldly men, who, resting satisfied with riches and earthly means of help, set no value whatever upon having God for their guardian and protector. Worldly wealth, from our natural perverseness, tends to dazzle our eyes, and to make us forget God, and, therefore, we ought to meditate with special attention upon this doctrine, That whatever we possess, which seems worthy of being prized, must not be permitted to obscure the knowledge of the power and grace of God; but that, on the contrary, the glory of God ought always clearly to shine forth in all the gifts with which he may be pleased to bless and adorn us; so that we may account ourselves rich and happy in him, and no where else.

4 For, behold! the kings assembled Here that special deliverance of which I have spoken is touched upon. The prophet relates how, when the kings were assembled together to destroy Jerusalem, their efforts passed away without producing any effect, even as clouds in the atmosphere vanish away; yea, he tells us, that by a simple look at the city, they were defeated and undone, and that not after an ordinary manner, but like a woman who, when the hour of child-birth has come upon her, finds herself suddenly afflicted with pain and sorrow. We cannot affirm with certainty what particular part of Jewish history the prophet here speaks of; but the statements made suit very well both the time of Ahaz, and that of Hezekiah or Asa. It was indeed a wonderful work of God, when two very powerful kings — the king of Syria and the king of Israel, accompanied with an immense army — had smitten the city with such terror, that the king and his people were brought to the brink of despair, to see this formidable host suddenly routed and disappointed of the certain expectation which they entertained of making themselves masters of the city. Hence the prophet Isaiah 7:4 ironically calls them “smoking firebrands,” because they were, so to speak, burning torches to kindle and consume by fire the whole country of Judea. Nor was the destruction of the countless host of Sennacherib in one night by an angel, without the intervention of man’s agency, a less stupendous miracle, (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36.) In like manner, when the king of Ethiopia gathered together an army of ten hundred thousand men, and came to besiege Jerusalem, the overthrow of so great a host was a memorable instance of the power of God, (2 Chronicles 14:9.) But whatever was the occasion on which this psalm was composed, the sacred writer informs us that the Jews found from manifest experience that God was the guardian and protector of the holy city, when he opposed himself to the invincible power of their enemies. He first declares that the kings assembled By these words he intimates that they had confederated and conspired together to destroy the Church. The expression, passed away together, may be explained in two ways; either as meaning that the armies when they had gathered themselves together were reduced to nothing, or that they undertook together, and with one consent, the expedition, as it were marshalled in battle array.

This second sense seems to me the most suitable to the scope of the passage; for it follows immediately after in the fifth verse, that they stood stricken with astonishment whenever they saw the city; and yet there will be no impropriety in understanding this verse as added by way of amplification. But as it affects very little the substance of the passage which of these two interpretations is adopted, I leave the reader to choose that which he considers the most appropriate. When the Psalmist says that upon beholding the city they marvelledwere frightenedfled precipitatelyand were seized with sorrow, like the pangs of a woman in travail — he heaps together as many and varied expressions as possible, in order to set forth the greatness of the miracle which God had wrought in the overthrow of such a vast and formidable host. The language should be resolved thus: As soon as they saw the city they marvelled. It is related of Caesar in ancient times, that when speaking of the ease with which he subdued Egypt, he made use of the laconic saying, “I came, I saw, I conquered;” but the prophet here states, on the contrary, that the ungodly were struck with amazement at the mere sight of the city, as if God had dazzled their eyes with the splendor of his glory. The particle כן, ken, so, is put as it were to show the thing by pointing to it with the finger. In the verse which immediately follows, the adverb שם, sham, there, is used in the same sense. The comparison of a woman in travail is intended to express the sudden change which came upon the enemies of Israel. It afforded a more bright and illustrious manifestation of the grace of God, that they were seized with a fear which they had not anticipated, lost their courage all at once, and from the height of secure and presumptuous pride, instantly fell into such a state of terror, and were so confounded, that they precipitately betook themselves to flight. 193193     “Et d’une fierte pleine d’asseurance et outrecuidance sont incontinent tombez en espouvantement et ont tellement este estourdis, qu’ils s’en sont fuis grand erre.” — Fr. From this passage we are taught that it is no uncommon thing, if in our day the Church is assailed by powerful adversaries, and has to sustain dreadful assaults; for it has been God’s usual way from the beginning thus to humble his own people, in order to give more irrefragable and striking proofs of his wonderful power. At the same time, let us remember that a nod alone on the part of God is sufficient to deliver us; and that, although our enemies may be ready to fall upon us on every side to overwhelm us, it is in his power, whenever he pleases, to strike them with amazement of spirit, and thus to make their hearts fail in a moment in the very midst of their efforts against us. Let this reflection serve as a bridle to keep our minds from being drawn away, to look in all directions for human aid.

7. By the east wind 194194     The east wind in Judea and in the Mediterranean is very tempestuous and destructive. It is also very dry and parching, as well as sudden and terrible in its action. Genesis 41:6; Exodus 14:21; Ezekiel 19:12; and 27:26; Job 27:21; Isaiah 27:8; Jeremiah 18:17; Jonah 4:8. Hence the LXX. translate the original words, “Εν πνευματι βιαίω,” “With a violent wind;” and the Chaldee reads, “A strong east wind as a fire from before the Lord.” “Such a wind,” says Bishop Mant, “is well known to the modern mariner by the name of Levanter, and is of the same kind as that spoken of in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, under the name of Euroclydon.” thou breakest in pieces the ships of Tarshish Commentators are divided in their view of this passage. 195195     It is supposed by some that there is in it an implied similitude; the particle of similitude used in the preceding verse being understood. Thus French and Skinner translate the 6th and 7th verses — “Then did trembling seize upon them — Pangs as of a woman in travail — As when with a stormy wind, Thou breakest in pieces the ships of Tarshish.” According to this translation, “the ships of Tarshish” do not refer to an invading army, nor “the breaking in pieces of them” to an actual storm which had this effect; but the sacred writer employs another figure, the more vividly to describe the terror which seized upon these confederate powers. He had in the preceding verse compared it with the pangs of a woman in travail; and here he compares it to the trembling which seized upon mariners when the fury of the east wind, which shattered in pieces the largest and strongest vessels, as the ships of Tarshish probably then were, was let loose upon them. But let us rest contented with the natural sense, which is simply this, that the enemies of the Church were overthrown and plunged into destruction, just as God by suddenly raising storms sinks the ships of Cilicia to the bottom of the sea. The Psalmist celebrates the power which God is accustomed to display in great and violent storms; and his language implies that it is not to be wondered at if God, who breaks by the violence of the winds the strongest ships, had also overthrown his enemies, who were inflated with the presumptuous confidence which they reposed in their own strength. By the sea of Tarshish the Hebrews mean the Mediterranean Sea, because of the country of Cilicia, which in ancient times was called Tarshish, as Josephus informs us, although in process of time this name came to be restricted to one city of the country. But as the chief part of the naval traffic of the Jews was with Cilicia, there is here attributed to that country by synecdoche what was common to other countries which were at a greater distance and less known.

8. As we have heard, so have we seen. There are two senses in which this passage may be understood, either of which is suitable. The first is, that the sacred writer, speaking in the name of true believers, declares that the same power which God in the days of old had displayed in delivering their fathers, he now exercised towards their posterity. They had heard from the mouth of their fathers, and had learned from sacred history, how God in his great mercy and fatherly goodness had succoured his Church; but now they affirm that they can bear testimony to this not only from their having heard it spoken about, but also from having seen it, 196196     “Mais maintenant ils disent qu’ils en sont testmoins non pas par avoir ouy dere seulement, mais par avoir veu.” — Fr. inasmuch as they had actually experienced the same mercy exercised by God towards themselves. The amount of what is stated then is, that the faithful not only had a record of the goodness and power of God in histories, but that they also felt by actual experience, yea, even saw with their eyes, what they knew before by hearsay, and the report of their fathers; and that therefore God continues unchangeably the same, confirming as he does, age after age, the examples of his grace exhibited in ancient times, by renewed and ever-recurring experiences. The other sense is somewhat more refined; and yet it is very suitable, namely, That God actually performed what he had promised to his people; as if the faithful had said, that what they had before only heard of was now exhibited before their eyes. As long as we have only the bare promises of God, his grace and salvation are as yet hidden in hope; but when these promises are actually performed, his grace and salvation are clearly manifested. If this interpretation is admitted, it contains the rich doctrine, that God does not disappoint the hope which he produces in our minds by means of his word, and that it is not His way to be more liberal in promising than faithful in performing what he has promised. When it is said, in the city, the letter ב, beth, is taken for מ, mem, or ל, lamed; that is to say, for of, or as to, or with respect to the city. The prophet does not mean to say that in Jerusalem the faithful were informed that God would succor his servants, although this was no doubt true, but that God from the beginning had been the gracious and faithful guardian of his own city, and would continue always to be so. Mention is expressly made of the city of God, because he has not promised to extend the same protecting care to all indiscriminately, but only to his chosen and peculiar people. The name Jehovah of armies is employed to express the power of God; but immediately after the faithful add, that he is their God, for the purpose of pointing to their adoption, that thus they may be emboldened to trust in him, and thus to betake themselves freely and familiarly to him. In the second Council of Nice, the good fathers who sat there wrested this passage to prove that it is not enough to teach divine truth in churches, unless there are at the same time pictures and images for confirming it. This was a piece of silliness very shameful, and unworthy of being mentioned, were it not that it is profitable for us to understand that those who purposed to infect the Church of God with such a corruption, were horribly stricken with a spirit of giddiness and stupidity.

The concluding clause of the verse distinguishes Jerusalem from all the other cities of the world, which are subject to vicissitudes, and flourish only for a time. As Jerusalem was founded by God, it continued steadfast and unmoved amidst the varied commotions and revolutions which took place in the world; and it is not to be wondered at, if he continued through successive ages to maintain the city of which he made choice, and in which it was his will that his name should be called upon for ever. It may, however, be objected, that this city was once destroyed, and the people carried into captivity. But this does not militate against the statement here made; for, before that event happened, the restoration of the city was foretold by Jeremiah 27:22; and, therefore, when it took place, God truly, and in a special manner, showed how steadfast his work was. And now, since Christ by his coming has renewed the world, whatever was spoken of that city in old time belongs to the spiritual Jerusalem, which is dispersed through all the countries of the world. Whenever, therefore, our minds are agitated and perplexed, we should call to remembrance the truth, that, whatever dangers and apprehensions may threaten us, the safety of the Church which God has established, although it may be sorely shaken, can never, however powerfully assaulted, be so weakened as to fall and be involved in ruin. The verb, which is in the future tense, will establish, may be resolved into the past tense, has established; but this will make no difference as to the sense.




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