The City of God is great! — Psalm 48
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 9, 2017
Some of the things man has made can cause one to wonder: “How in the world did they do that?” Such things are Angkor Wat which is a huge temple complex covering 402 acres in Cambodia, the city of Petra that was carved out of the rock in southern Jordan, the huge sky scrapers like the Tokyo Sky Tree or United Arab Emirates’ Burj Khalifa tower. Then there are the Super Tree structures of Singapore that look like massive trees from another planet.
As great as the works of man are, God is greater. The psalmist writes a poem about the City of God, Zion. Some think he is referring to Jerusalem or perhaps a heavenly city yet to be erected. I happen to believe it is both. In a beautiful rendering he gives us a grand picture of the City of God Jerusalem and the future heavenly city we will enjoy as well. He sings of her condition; God’s relation to her; his love of her; the utter terror Zion is to her enemies, while she is the everlasting joy of those who love God! Let’s see how the City of God is great…
Why would we want to know how great the city of God is anyway? One of the main themes of a lot of end of the world scenarios in movies is there are always a few people trying to get to a place of safety; whether it is an area, island, military base, or city. The Psalmist writes that…
I. The City of God is great because of her protection! (Vv. 1-8)
Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. Like the utmost 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 have we seen in the city of the LORD Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever. Selah
1. The Psalmist begins his poem by relating what a lot of biblical writers do by stating, “Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise”, but why does he write what he does? He tells us not so much why but rather where God is great and the idea is one of rule or reign. We see that God is great and worthy of praise “in the city of our God, his holy mountain”. We learn in another Psalm that God “has set his foundation on the holy mountain” and in fact that “the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” (Psalm 87:1-2 NIV) God’s city is his holy mountain which is descriptive of his strength and power. But the Psalmist begins to veer away from describing earthly Jerusalem and begins to wax poetic concerning God’s heavenly city. So wonderful is this city of God’s that “It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.” It was the joy of the world because it is God’s city where he dwells, where his word is expounded and heard, and where his holy temple is! And “Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.” But here is the key to what the Psalmist wanted his listeners to understand, that when “God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.” God is the one who makes the city great, powerful, and secure. In fact, “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.” So powerful and mighty is God’s city that her enemies are “destroyed… like ships of Tarshish shattered by an east wind.” Was this especially true of Jerusalem? Nope, even though it had a continuous fresh water supply from the Gihon Spring which flowed along Hezekiah’s Tunnel to the Siloam Pool. Jerusalem had been overthrown quite a few times. But God’s enemies could never overthrow what his city stood for: his presence and power. And this truth is reflected in his stanza, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever.” The City of God is great because of her protection!
EXAMPLE: Now God is not a genie or good fairy who grants our wishes. He is not a wizard with a staff who stands in front of an oncoming demon declaring, “You shall not pass!” The Psalmist makes it plain that God is great because of whom he is and because of who he is he protects those he loves even in our darkest moments. King David would sing, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest–I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’” (Psalms 55:4-8 NIV) Like the Psalmist we can find rest in the shelter of God. The City of God is great because of her protection!
Few things in life last. Warrantees expire, guarantees fail, and promises are sometimes unkept. Is it any wonder then that so many are skeptical of God who promises protection in a world full of broken promises? And yet his promise of protection never fails those who trust him. We discover that…
II. The City of God is great because God is always there! (Vv. 9-14)
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments. 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. For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
1. Right away the Psalmist affirms that the Lord Almighty (the Lord of armies) had made his city secure. And interestingly it isn’t because of some vast army or military strength; it was due to something else entirely. The Psalmist did not think the city could withstand any physical attack but rather it could withstand anything man could throw at it because it was where God dwelled with his people! Being close to the Lord and in his presence is the source of comfort for God’s people. John in his final book writes of his vision of the City of God that, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23 NIV) The Psalmist understood this and sang, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” God’s city was beautiful and powerful and caused his people to think on his presence and to speak with him daily because God is there it is his temple! And like God’s name is known in the land, his “praise reaches to the ends of the earth” as well. It reminds me of the angels the Prophet Isaiah saw who sang together, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV) Therefore everyone knows that God’s “right hand is filled with righteousness” and for the reason of who God is! He always judges correctly without prejudice. In the light of this glorious truth we learn that “Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of [God’s] judgments.” Few, if any, cities of man can boast of the same greatness simply because of the impartial judgments that are enacted within its boundaries. As David would sing, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” (Psalms 19:7-10 NIV) Therefore one could feel safe and secure within the City of God. In fact the writer challenges his readers 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.” The City of God is great because God is always there!
EXAMPLE: As a child I would find comfort in the arms of my mother or in the steady hands of my Dad. And so it isn’t surprising that we find in the words of King David his relationship with God was comforting too. He would sing, “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalms 139:5-10 NIV) He understood what this Psalmist did as well, that the City of God is great because God is always there!
The City of God is great because of her protection! The City of God is great because God is always there!
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.