I. Understanding the Psalm
A. The Lord is present in Zion (48:1-3)
- The psalm begins typically for a psalm of praise to God by declaring the Lord as great and most worthy of praise. But the greatness of the Lord is going to be praised in regards to Zion, the city of our God, his holy mountain. To the Israelites, especially during the times of the psalms, Zion was definitively understood to be the city of Jerusalem. Thus, as we read this psalm we need to consider how Israel is depicting God’s love to Jerusalem.
- In verse 2 the psalmist declares that the holy mountain of God is beautiful in its loftiness. Zion is the joy of all the earth as Israel expected God to rule over all the nations with a throne in Jerusalem. Further, Zion is compared to the utmost heights of the north. Zion was not a large mountain by any means in comparison to the surrounding mountains of Palestine. But the psalmist speaks of Zion as if it were one of the highest peaks because it is the holy mountain of God. This is the city of the Great King.
- By stating that Zion is the city of the Great King, we understand why Israel considered the city so lofty. It is not because of its physical grandeur that Zion is lofty. Rather, it is because God is in the city that gives Zion its greatness. This is what the psalmist says in verse 3, “God is in her citadels.” The Lord’s presence is in Zion. God dwells there. God has made himself the defender of Zion. God is the walls to Zion. God is the city’s defense.
B. The Lord defeats Zion’s opponents (48:4-7)
- Verses 4-7 describe the victory the Lord has given to His people in protecting the city of God. Since God was in Zion, Zion could not be conquered by any enemies that came against it.
- The imagery of this section of the psalm seems to be a reminder of the victory of Hezekiah against the Assyrians. The Assyrians were conquering the fortified cities of Judah and were about to come up against Jerusalem. Sennecherib, the king of Assyria, gave Hezekiah the opportunity to surrender to Assyria’s military forces. Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance and that night an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of Assyria’s forces. Due to this slaughter, Sennecherib retreated to Ninevah where he was killed by the sword. Assyria no longer was a threat to Jerusalem for God had provided deliverance.
- Verse 7 also has a history in the days of the kings. The ships of Tarshish are a reminder to the days of King Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat had built a fleet of ships to go to Tarshish. But because Jehoshaphat had made an alliance with Ahaziah the king of Israel, the Lord utterly destroyed the ships (2 Chronicles 20:37; 1 Kings 22:48). Therefore, the Lord utterly destroys the enemies of Zion.
C. Eternal security of Zion (48:8)
- The defense of Zion is not only something that the people of Israel had told from generation to generation, but even the generation alive at the penning of the psalm had personally seen God defend Zion. Zion is the city of the Lord of Hosts, which literally describes God as the Lord of armies. Zion is the city of God and is the city of the Lord of Hosts.
- This verse is the thematic center of the psalm. Great confidence and encouragement was to come to the residents of Jerusalem with the knowledge of God being its defender. God establishes and secures Zion forever.
- This was not a false belief in regards to Zion remaining established and secure forever. God made such a promise to Solomon after the construction of the temple, “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there” (1 Kings 9:3). God did not look upon Zion as nothing. God would put his name there forever and God’s eyes and heart would always remain there. Thus, the people are worshipping God’s righteousness in his continued defense of Zion.
D. Celebration of the Lord’s mighty acts on behalf of Zion (48:9-11)
- In verses 9-11 we read about how the people rejoice because of the mighty works of God. Specifically, they are joyful in the fact that God has continued to defend Zion. The people recognize God’s unfailing love. When they go to worship the Lord they are mindful of God’s continued love toward them. There is no comparison to God’s love.
- God’s name and God’s praise should reach to the ends of the earth because of the mighty works of God toward Zion. God’s right hand is filled with righteousness. God has kept his promises to his people and has defended Jerusalem, as he declared he would while the people remained obedient. The people are rejoicing for the judgments of God have come against the enemies of Zion and against the nations.
E. Declarations to future generation (48:12-14)
- The psalm concludes with a walking tour of the city of God. The psalmist encourages the people to consider the towers, ramparts, and citadels. Then, tell what you have seen to the coming generations. Tell the generations how great God has made Jerusalem. Tell the future peoples how God made Zion powerful and unconquerable.
- The power of Zion is in the fact that God dwells in Zion. This is our God…a God who will defend his people and protect. This God is our God forever and ever and will be our guide until death.
A. The future of Zion
- Throughout the psalm we see the psalmist declaring the eternal nature of Zion. But Zion was not contained in the physical city of Jerusalem. Rather, Zion is the inhabitants of the people of God where God himself also dwells.
- The promises of Zion did not die when Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians and destroyed. Nor did the promises of Zion die when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Consider the prophecy of Joel in Joel 2:28-32, which is quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17-21. Peter ends the quotation with, “and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But notice the rest of Joel’s prophecy that would be fulfilled in conjunction with the coming of the Messiah:
- “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32).
- Joel’s prophecy also concludes with Messianic references to Zion: “So you shall know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Wadi Shittim. Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of the violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the LORD dwells in Zion“(Joel 3:17-21, NRSV).
- Zion still remained and it would continue to be the dwelling place of God. Zion has nothing unholy within it and no strangers are allowed to pass through it. This describes Zion as a spiritual concept rather than an earthly city. God is still defending Zion and still dwells in Zion.
B. Christ is the entrance to Zion
- So how can one enter into Zion today? Peter said, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6). Christ is the foundation of Zion and those who put their trust in Christ are living stone in Zion who will be defended and never be put to shame.
- Paul quoted the same passage from Isaiah twice in his letter to the Romans. He used the reference to show how Israel would be saved. “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27). The Deliverer (the Messiah) would come from Zion. He will have the purpose of turning godlessness away from Jacob. Jesus would become the doorway through which people can enter into a covenant with God. Jesus will not allow the ungodliness to exist. Nothing evil will enter in the city of God. By coming to Jesus we become part of the covenant made that the Messiah would come and take away sins. In this way all of Israel would be saved. Paul is not speaking about the physical people of Israel, for he already argued earlier in chapter 9 that not all of Israel is truly Israel. Only those who would come to Jesus would receive the blessing of the Messiah of forgiven sins and entrance into the city of God. We can dwell in the city of God.
C. We are invited to Zion
- We see that the opportunity to be in Zion is given to all people. To those who have already obeyed the words of Jesus have become part of Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
- I think I have taken for granted what it means to have come to Mount Zion until I had studied this psalm. For us to be part of Zion means all that we have seen in this psalm. a) We are in the presence of God b) God has shown himself to defend Zion against attack
c) God defeats the enemies of Zion
d) We have eternal security in Zion
e) We must celebrate God’s acts on our behalf ( Zion)
f) We must declare to future generations all we have seen and heard
g) God must be our guide even to death