“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised In the city of our God, In His holy mountain” (Psa. 48:1). The majestic opening words of this psalm, uttered in appreciation and awe at the protection afforded Jerusalem, force the reader to consider their timing to appreciate the full force of their meaning. However, neither the general designation of its authorship by the sons of Korah nor any specific clue provided by the text provide enough to offer a specific date. Nevertheless, considering the focus on Jerusalem—seen through references to Zion, palaces, and the temple—and the possible events that might have stirred such passion among the citizenry, it appears likely that the deliverance of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah, following the fall of the fortified cities of Judah, when the LORD killed one hundred eight-five thousand Assyrians as they lay seize to the city, best suits this description and praise (2 Kings 18:13-19:36). However, the ambiguity of the time also helps the reader look beyond the specific instance that gave rise to the author’s emotions to see the greater deliverance made possible by spiritual Zion.
The majesty of the city of God, described with such passion throughout the psalm, does not rest in its superior bulwarks, its impressive location, or its amazing wealth. Instead, the majesty of this city is derived from Yahweh, who has made it His dwelling place (Psa. 48:1-3). It is God’s presence that gives the city its significance, and for this her citizens rightly offer Him praise. Thus, because of His presence, the armies of kings ran away in fear, defeated not by the army of Judah but by the hand of Almighty God (Psa. 48:4-8). Such a deliverance demands reflection on the love God showed in making this possible, on the power God demonstrated in preserving righteousness for His people, and on the joy created in judging so (Psa. 48:9-11). This the psalmist offered with overwhelming gratitude and vigor. Thus delivered and thus blessed, God’s people had the privilege of surveying the city of their habitation, fully intact after the Assyrian’s attack, and declare their victory to future generations. However, the core message focused on this central theme: God guided the victory and thus He should ever be our guide—even to death (Psa. 48:12-14).
This psalm was the Star Spangled Banner of Judah but with God as the Hero. However, it is also much more than that. Its focus on Zion and the city of God do far more than associate Yahweh with Jerusalem; its intent is also to provide a spiritual context whereby we can see the imagery ring true for the church, God’s people today. For it is in the church today that God dwells among His people (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). It is the church that is the place of deliverance offering safety and security from the outside world (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25-27). It is the church that serves as the place of God’s care, the declarer of His righteousness, and recipient of His blessings (1 Pet. 5:7; Rom. 1:16-17; Eph. 1:3). It is the church that receives promises of victory over the world by faith through Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 5:4; 1 Cor. 15:57). God has done far more for the church than He did for Jerusalem, and therefore deserves our praise all the more.