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Psalm 48

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Beauty and Glory of Zion
MT Intro
A Song; a Psalm of the sons of Korah
The Glory of God in Zion A Song Celebrating the Beauty and Security of Zion Zion, the City of God Zion, the Mountain of God
48:1-3 48:1-3 48:1-3 48:1-3 48:1-3
48:4-8 48:4-7 48:4-8 48:4-7 48:4-5
        48:6-7
  48:8   48:8 48:8
48:9-14 48:9-11 48:9-11 48:9-11 48:9-10b
        48:10c-13b
  48:12-14 48:12-14 48:12-14  
        48:13c-14

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm is about God's special city and people. He is with them and for them. See Isaiah 26, Contextual Insights, D. online at www.freebiblecommentary.org for the imagery of "city."

 

B. Does this Psalm imply that Jerusalem in Israel will be the physical capital of the new age?

Using the terminology of this Psalm, how does one explain the capture, sacking, and occupying of Jerusalem by many different nations throughout history?

C. I have struggled with this issue because it is the heart of millennial theories. Please see my conclusions in the Special Topic: OT Predictions of the Future versus NT Predictions (taken from my commentary on Revelation) at Psalm 37 Introduction.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 48:1-3
 1Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
 In the city of our God, His holy mountain.
 2Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth,
 Is Mount Zion in the far north,
 The city of the great King.
 3God, in her palaces,
 Has made Himself known as a stronghold.

48:1-3 Notice the different ways Jerusalem and her different hills are characterized.

1. the city of our God, Ps. 48:1

2. His holy mountain, Ps. 48:1

3. beautiful in elevation (BDB 832, only here in the OT, possibly a superlative marker, most beautiful)

4. the joy of the whole earth, Ps. 48:2

5. Mount Zion in the far north (or "north" = Zaphon, the mountain of the Canaanite gods north of Ugarit, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 836), Ps. 48:2

6. the city of the great King, Ps. 48:2

7. God has made Himself known, in her palaces, as a stronghold, Ps. 48:3

These descriptions refer both to the temple on Mt. Moriah and the whole city of Jerusalem, often called Zion.

48:1 "the city of our God" This phrase can refer to several ideas.

1. the city linked to Melchezedek — Gen. 14:18 (i.e., Salem)

2. the city where YHWH caused His name to dwell — Deut. 12:5,11,21; 14:23,24; 16:2,6,11; 26:2

3. the city David captured from the Canaanites (i.e., Jebus), which later became his capital — 1 Sam. 5:7,9

4. the city linked to the angel of the Lord stopping the plague; purchased by David as site of the future temple — 2 Sam. 24:15-17,18-25; 2 Chr. 3:1 (i.e., Mt. Moriah, possible site of the offering of Isaac, Gen. 22:2)

5. Zion, same as Jebus — 2 Sam. 5:7; 1 Chr. 11:5 (i.e., way of referring to the whole city of Jerusalem, although it was built on seven hills, Zion became the common designation

The problem with Psalm 48 is verse 2, "Mount Zion in the far north." These are only theories.

1. It is metaphorical for heaven where YHWH dwells — Isa.14:13a,b; Rev. 3:12; 21:2,10

2. It, like other Psalms, incorporates some Canaanite mythological terminology (i.e., Zaphon = Hebrew "north," BDB 8) — Isa. 14:13c,d; Ezek. 28:14

It was common in Ancient Near Eastern religious thought to view the gods as living on mountain tops (cf. Gilgamesh Epic). This is especially true for the Ugaritic Ba'al myth poems from Ras Shamra. The gods met and lived on a northern mountain called Saphon or Zaphon. Ba'al had a throne there built by Anath. The male god of Phoenician fertility worship was called Baal Saphon. This name has been found in Phoenician colonies around the Mediterranean. This northern mountain tradition, totally unrelated to Israel's holy Mt. Moriah (cf. Ps. 20:40), seems to be the source of the imagery of both Isa. 14:13-15 and Ezek. 28:14,16. See Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, pp. 279-281.

3. Some scholars suggest a different division of the Hebrew consonants, "on the northern side of the city"

The concept of "city" as a way of referring to the place of YHWH's special presence continues in the NT.

1. Heb. 11:10 — "for he (Abraham) was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God"

2. Heb. 12:22 — "you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem"

3. Heb. 13:14 — "we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come"

4. Rev. 3:12 — "the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God"

5. Rev. 21:2,10 — "the city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God"

 

48:2 "mountains" For the ANE, mountains were the home of the gods. In Babylon, which had no natural mountain, they built elevated towers (i.e., ziggurat, cf. Gen. 11:3-4) for a place for heaven and earth to meet.

In Israel's history there are several significant mountains.

1. Mt. Sinai where YHWH met Israel and gave her the law (cf. Exodus 19-20)

2. Mt. Zion, the city of David (Salem [Genesis 14],later Jebus [2 Sam. 5:6-10])

3. Mt. Moriah, the location of the temple (cf. Genesis 22)

4. in this Psalm Mt. Zion is greater than Mt. Zaphon, the mountain of the Canaanite gods (equivalent to Mt. Olympus for the Greek pantheon) because YHWH is greater

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 48:4-8
 4For, lo, the kings assembled themselves,
 They passed by together.
 5They saw it, then they were amazed;
 They were terrified, they fled in alarm.
 6Panic seized them there,
 Anguish, as of a woman in childbirth.
 7With the east wind
 You break the ships of Tarshish.
 8As we have heard, so have we seen
 In the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God;
 God will establish her forever.  Selah.

48:4-8 This strophe focuses on the effect that God's city has on the world (cf. Ps. 48:2a; 10b). The imagery suggests fear and alarm based on God's power and presence in this special eternal city (cf. Ps. 48:8b.c).

As the kings of the nations are antagonistic in Psalm 2, so too, here. There is a real conflict between the worldview of Scripture and the pagan worship of Gentiles. This unseen, but real, conflict is a part of every age and every culture. The conflict is the exclusivism of monotheism.

48:6 "a woman in childbirth" This is a common biblical metaphor of fear, pain, and sudden anguish (cf. Isa. 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; Jer. 4:31; Hos. 13:13; Micah 4:9; John 16:21; Mark 13:8; 1 Thess. 5:3).

48:7 "the east wind" This was a hot desert wind (i.e., sirocco, from Arabic term for "east") that dried the crops, brought the locusts, and was a metaphor of destruction (cf. Jer. 18:17; Ezek. 17:10; Hos. 13:15; Jonah 4:8).

▣ "the ships of Tarshish" The exact location of Tarshish is uncertain, but a geographical location far to the west end of the Mediterranean, which would have denoted YHWH's universal power, is suggested. These ships were the largest, safest, ocean-going vessels in the Mediterranean. They were symbols of power and commerce.

48:8 "Selah" See note at Ps. 3:2 and Introduction to Psalms, VII.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 48:9-14
 9We have thought on Your lovingkindness, O God,
 In the midst of Your temple.
 10As is Your name, O God,
 So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
 Your right hand is full of righteousness.
 11Let Mount Zion be glad,
 Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
 Because of Your judgments.
 12Walk about Zion and go around her;
 Count her towers;
 13Consider her ramparts;
 Go through her palaces,
 That you may tell it to the next generation.
 14For such is God,
 Our God forever and ever;
 He will guide us until death.

48:9-14 This strophe magnifies YHWH.

1. they continue to think of His lovingkindness (i.e., covenant loyalty, see Special Topic at Ps. 5:7)

2. His presence in the temple in Jerusalem

3. His name (character/acts) praised to the ends of the earth

4. His right hand (i.e., power, see Special Topic at Ps. 7:3-4) is full of righteousness (see Special Topic at Ps. 1:5)

5. Judah's cities (i.e., daughters) rejoice because of His judgments (see Special Topic at Ps. 9:5-6)

6. notice His beautiful city

7. He is forever and ever

 

48:11-13 There is a series of commands.

1. let Mount Zion be glad — BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. let the daughters of Judah rejoice — BDB 162, KB189, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

3. walk about Zion — BDB 685, KB 738, Qal imperative

4. go around her — BDB 668, KB 722, Hiphil imperative

5. count her towers — BDB 707, KB 765, Qal imperative

6. consider her ramparts — BDB 1011, KB 1483, Qal imperative

7. go through her palaces — BDB 819, KB 946, Piel imperative

These may refer to a procession (cf. Ps. 26:6) as (1) Joshua surrounding Jericho seven times, cf. Jos. 6:3-15 or (2) in Nehemiah the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem, cf. Nehemiah 12.

▣ "towers" This word (BDB 153) refers to "watchtowers" (cf. 2 Kgs. 9:17; 17:9; 18:8) and to archers (cf. 2 Chr. 26:9,10,15; 32:5; Neh. 3:25-27; Isa. 2:15).

▣ "ramparts" This word (BDB 298) refers to either

1. a surrounding wall — Isa. 26:1; Lam. 2:8; Nah. 3:8

2. space between two outer walls — 2 Sam. 20:15; Lam. 2:8

 

▣ "palaces" (or "citadel") This word (BDB 74) can refer to any large building within a walled city (cf. 2 Kgs. 15:25; 2 Chr. 36:19; Pro. 18:10; Isa. 32:14; Jer. 17:27; Lam. 2:5,7; Hos. 8:14; Amos 2:5; 6:8; Micah 5:5).

All three of these terms would collectively denote a powerful and fortified city of the ANE. But her real strength and durability was because YHWH dwelt there!

48:14

NASB"until death"
NKJV"even to death"
NRSV"forever"
JPSOA"evermore"
LXX"for ages"
REB"for evermore"

The difference between "until death" and "forever" is

1. where to divide the Hebrew consonants

2. the vowels the Masoretic scholars added much later to a Hebrew text

There is a third option for understanding this line of poetry. The same Hebrew term can refer to a musical tune "according to Alamoth" (cf. Psalm 46 title). If so, it would go with Psalm 49. This may be why NJB omits this line.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Does this Psalm refer to a historical occasion or the eschaton?

2. Will Jerusalem be YHWH's capital in the new age?

3. Why is verse 2 so controversial? Did Bible authors use terminology and imagery from pagan sources?

4. Do verses 4-8 describe an event like Psalm 2?

5. List the universal elements in this Psalm.

6. Do verses 12-13 describe a ritual processional? If so, are there any others like this in the OT?