Psalms 1 - 50by Mike Raiter
In the 1970s, a new wave of Christian music called ″Scripture in Song″ became popular; it was the result of an effort by a recording company to better incorporate Scripture into contemporary worship music. One of its earliest songs was based on Psalm 48, which I remember singing many times as a young Christian. However, at the time I didn't understand why we were singing a song in praise of Jerusalem. Why was I, a Christian, rejoicing in a city which was destroyed by the Babylonians and also the place where the Messiah was rejected and murdered?
Psalm 48 begins by placing the focus of worship where it should be: ″Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise″ (v. 1). While the psalm rejoices in Zion, the city's beauty and strength lies not in her strategic location, but in the fact that ″God is in her citadels″ (v. 3). Essentially, this is a psalm in praise of God.
Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem that stands roughly 760 metres above sea level. Surrounded by mountainous terrain, Jerusalem was a difficult city to invade, as the long sieges by the armies of nations like Assyria and Babylon show. Verses 4 to 8 sing of the impregnability of Zion. However, it wasn't really the city itself which repulsed the invaders, sending them reeling in horror, but God in her midst: ″You destroyed them . . .″ (v. 7).
Verses 9 to 11 remind the singers of where the greatness of the city lies: it is where the people see and experience God's love, righteousness, and justice.
The psalm concludes with an invitation to ″walk about Zion″ (v. 12). When Nehemiah completed the rebuilding of the city's walls, he told two choirs to walk around them, in opposite directions, and ″the sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away″ (Nehemiah 12:31-43). Perhaps they sang Psalm 48!
Today, when we read and sing Psalm 48, our thoughts should turn to another Zion. As God's people, we can look forward to a more glorious Jerusalem. In Revelation 21:2-4, the church is portrayed as the holy city coming down from heaven. There is great joy because ″God's dwelling-place is now among the people″ (v. 3). Ancient Jerusalem symbolised God's people in God's place under God's rule. But that ancient city rebelled and was destroyed. Now, we look forward to the eternal city, the time when the Lord will dwell among us in perfect and unending love, righteousness, and justice.
Psalm 48:12-13 encourages us to behold the strength of Zion, and then proclaim this to the next generation. How do we apply these verses to the church today?
Why do you think Revelation 21:2-4 describes God's people as a city? What is it about a city that makes it an appropriate picture for God and His church?