April 17: Psalm 48

April 17: Psalm 48

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised

Long meter 88.88                     Duke Street (Jesus Shall Reign), p. 80
Truro (Lift up your Heads), p. 89
Old 100th (Doxology), p. 99
Tallis Canon (All Praise to Thee), p. 109

The Lord is great! Much to be praised, in our God’s city, of great worth;

His holy hill, most beautiful; Mount Zion, joy of all the earth!

She is the place where God resides, the city of the Mighty King.

God in her fortresses is known; a stronghold safe of which we sing.

For, lo, the kings their forces joined, advancing, marched with confidence,

But, seeing her, they were amazed; in terror their flight did commence.

For trembling seized its hold on them, pangs like a woman giving birth.

For You with east wind did destroy the Tarshish ships feared round the earth.

As we have heard, so we have seen, within the city of the Lord,

Within the city of our God: God keeps her safe for evermore.

O God, Your cov’nant love to us, we’ve thought on in Your temple’s courts.

O God, Your praise, just like Your name, extends to earth’s remotest shore.

Your right hand’s full of righteousness. O let Mount Zion now be glad;

Let Judah’s daughters all rejoice, for all Your judgments justly had.

Encircle Zion, walk about; her towers count, her ramparts see;

Go through her fortresses and tell descendents all who come to be.

The one true God, He is our God, and evermore He is the same;

Our God will guide us on through death; forever is His holy name.

It would be rather easy to read Psalm 48 as an expression of presumptuous confidence in Jerusalem’s invincibility, as the people of Israel had in Jeremiah’s day. They were persuaded that God would protect His holy city even if they did not repent. Micah, too, had warned them that unrepented sin inevitably invites the judgment of God, even on His chosen city (Micah 3:12).

In consequence of Israel’s sin, the city fell in 586 BC. But Jerusalem is vastly more than Jerusalem. Historically, it is the city of the Jews; allegorically, it is the Church of Christ. The confidence expressed in this psalm seems identical with that of the Apostle Paul: “If God is for us, who can be against us?…It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:31-35) Such sentiments express the consoling doctrine of the divine assurance, according to which no one can snatch our souls from the hand of Christ (John 10:28). This is a true and valid meaning of our psalm, I think, unless such confidence be understood in the same presumptuous sense condemned by the Prophets. The Church of God has indeed beheld the rise and fall of empires, and this psalm is perhaps best prayed as an expression of gratitude to God for this fixed and lasting institution of His grace in this world: “We have received Your mercy, O Lord, in the midst of Your Temple. As is Thy name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth.” (Reardon, p.93-94)

“I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).

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