Psalm 48: Zion, the City of Our God

Zion! The city of our God,
How glorious is the place!
The Savior there has his abode,
And sinners see his face!1

During the last few months of uncertainty and the fear of death by virus casting a shadow on everyday life, I’ve found that a change in perspective brings peace and hope. My thoughts run heavenward, toward Zion, the city of God, the New Jerusalem, my eternal home. What joy washes over me as I contemplate that day when I will gaze on the face of my Savior! Psalm 48 is a beautiful Zion hymn celebrating Jerusalem. It was most likely sung by Israel in their worship of God in His temple. It opens with  words of praise!

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,

Mount Zion, in the far north2,
the city of the great King.

Within her citadels God
has made himself known as a fortress (vv.1-3).

The LORD is great and worthy of praise! Why? Because He is a mighty fortress. No enemy can penetrate His walls of protection, try as they may. 

For behold, the kings assembled;
they came on together.

As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic; they took to flight.

Trembling took hold of them there,
anguish as of a woman in labor.

By the east wind you shattered
the ships of Tarshish.

As we have heard, so have we seen
in the city of the Lord of hosts,

in the city of our God,
which God will establish forever. Selah

We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of your temple.

As your name, O God,
so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.

Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Let Mount Zion be glad!

Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments! (vv. 4-11)

The picture painted in verses 4-8 depicts  God’s holy city surrounded by enemy kings and armies. Meanwhile, fearful and anxious, Israel watches from the ramparts of Jerusalem as panic sets in below. Trembling, the armies take to flight. Historically,  Psalm 48 could be referring to a few situations recorded in the Bible. The first is found in  2 Kings 18-19 (see also Isaiah 36-37) which speaks of Sennacherib king of Assyria, surrounding Jerusalem only to have 185,000 of his men die mysteriously overnight. God won! Another possibility found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 speaks of the kings and armies of Moab and Ammon laying siege on Jerusalem. In verse 15 we read, “… thus says the Lord to [Israel], ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s’ .”  Jerusalem looked on as the armies surrounding her began destroying each other! God won! 

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter what horrible situation the psalmist was referring to, God’s justice and righteousness prevailed. These historical events should strengthen our confidence in our God! His steadfast love did not fail. His people rejoiced and were glad!

Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers

consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels,

that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,

our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever. (vv. 12)

In conclusion, the psalmist summons the people to examine their city and ‘tell the next generation that this is God’ (v.13-14). In other words, God is the fortress. He is the one who delivers His people from their enemies. Those who humbly seek Him alone will find salvation. 

God used Jerusalem as an earthly illustration of an eternal truth. God protected His people physically within the walls of earthly Jerusalem foreshadowing His protection of His people spiritually through the person and work of Christ.  Jesus is our fortress and our salvation.  Jesus is the great King and He is on His throne (Hebrews 10:12)! We have nothing on earth to fear. Jesus never promised us we would never die physically. What He did promise was eternal life for those who trust in Him.

The psalmist ends with these words in the ESV. “[God] will guide us forever” (v.14b). The NASB translates it this way. ‘[God] will guide us until death.” Did you hear that? Until death!  God has every day of my life numbered (Psalm 139:16). I have no reason to fear my enemies, whether they consist of physical armies, terrorist insurgents, cancer, accidents or microscopic viruses I can’t see. God has me in the palm of His hand. He will guide me unto death at which point I will enter His heavenly Jerusalem. In the words of Christ Himself:

“Don’t be troubled. Believe in God, and believe in me. My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?  If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again. Then I will bring you into my presence so that you will be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. So how can we know the way?”

 Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-6)

So, change your perspective. Gaze heavenward! Gaze on Mount Zion’s great King! Gaze on The Way, The Truth and The Life! Gaze on our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has promised to guide us home.

Ask the Way to Zion
By John Newton

Zion! The city of our God,
How glorious is the place!
The Savior there has his abode,
And sinners see his face!1

Firm, against every adverse shock,
Its mighty bulwarks prove;
‘Tis built upon the living Rock,
And walled around with love.

There, all the fruits of glory grow,
And joys that never die;
And streams of grace, and knowledge flow,
The soul to satisfy.

Come, set your faces Zion-ward,
The sacred road enquire;
And let a union to the LORD
Be henceforth your desire!

The gospel shines to give you light,
No longer, then, delay;
The Spirit waits to guide you right,
And JESUS is the way.

O LORD, regard thy people’s prayer,
Thy promise now fulfill;
And young and old, by grace prepare,
To dwell on Zion’s hill.

“They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, ‘Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.’ ” – Jeremiah 50:53


1 Newton, J., & Cowper, W. (2011). John Newtons Olney hymns. Columbia, SC: Curiosmith, p. 104.

2 Jerusalem is identified as “the far north”. According to Derek Kidner in his commentary  entitled Psalms 1-72, “This was a traditional expression, in Israel and among her neighbors, for God’s royal seat: in Isaiah 14:13 it is equivalent to ‘heaven’” (Intervarsity Press. 1973. p. 196-197).

3 Newton. p. 104

1 comment

  1. I like how this Psalm reminds me of God’s power, His security, His unfailing love, His righteousness, and His perfect judgment-all comforting thoughts in these current days.

    “This God is our God forever and ever. He will be our Guide, even to the end.”
    —best verse ever!

    We are blessed to have Him as our Father.
    My life application is to live, think, and behave like the daughter of this great God/King.

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