God, the Mighty Fortress: Psalm 48

Psalm 48 (NIV)

Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
    in the city of our God, his holy mountain.

Beautiful in its loftiness,
    the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
    the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels;
    he has shown himself to be her fortress.

When the kings joined forces,
    when they advanced together,
they saw her and were astounded;
    they fled in terror.
Trembling seized them there,
    pain like that of a woman in labor.
You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish
    shattered by an east wind.

As we have heard,
    so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
    in the city of our God:
God makes her secure

Within your temple, O God,
    we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Like your name, O God,
    your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
    your right hand is filled with righteousness.
11 Mount Zion rejoices,
    the villages of Judah are glad
    because of your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
    count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
    view her citadels,
that you may tell of them
    to the next generation.

14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
    he will be our guide even to the end.

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This is a psalm of praise for the mighty fortress in Jerusalem, which was the pride of every Jew. Not only was it built on a high place, but its towers, ramparts, and citadels were extolled for the security they promised. The psalm challenges the people of God to “walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation” (vv. 12–13).

At first glance this may seem like a psalm completely irrelevant for a Christian worshipper. However, it is important to notice a small detail in this psalm that makes it a pointer to something far greater. As a point of fact, the temple being referred to in Psalm 48 was not built on Mount Zion. Originally, Mount Zion referred to a Jebusite fortress attacked and seized by David on the eastern hill, whereas the temple was built on the western hill. However, the name Mount Zion carried so many associations with the Jews that it was gradually applied to what is today the Temple Mount. In other words, the term “Mount Zion” became a type or symbol for the fortress of God. Later, in the New Testament, “Mount Zion” refers to the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1).

The symbolic use of words like Jerusalem and Mount Zion is important for us. When we celebrate Mount Zion, we are celebrating the impregnable fortress of God himself. All the references in the Psalms to Jerusalem, the temple, Mount Zion, and so forth are, at the deepest level, longings for the presence of God. The New Jerusalem does not even contain a temple. You may recall that in John’s vision he says, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22 ESV, italics added). This psalm points to that which is beyond stones or citadels. Indeed, Jesus told his disciples as they were admiring the temple, with its massive stones and towering citadels, that “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2 ESV). This psalm points us to God himself, the ultimate citadel of strength and protection.

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