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Psalm 48

Zion’s glory and strength

Humanity’s inborn hostility to God—visible from the school playground to the United Nations—won’t last forever because God has fully committed himself to redeeming us from our sins and renewing his world.

A descendants of Korah psalm. 

Yahveh is so great, so worthy of praise
in the city he’s made his own—
here on his holy mountain!
So lofty, so beautiful
the joy of all the earth!
Mount Zion—earth’s true heights of Zaphos
the city of the great King!
In its citadels
God has proven himself its sure defence.

Then the kings made an alliance
and boldly advanced against it together.
But when they saw it
they were stunned and fled in panic.
Gripped with terror
they writhed like a woman in labor
shattered like a cargo ship[1]
by a fierce east wind.

All that we’d heard about it
we’ve now seen in the city of Yahveh
Commander of angel armies.
Our God will make his city secure forever.

O God, within your temple
we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Just like your renown, O God
your praise reaches the ends of the earth.
You powerfully execute saving justice.
11 Mount Zion celebrates
and Judah’s surrounding towns[2] rejoice
over your judgments.

12 Walk all around Zion, inside and out.
Count its towers,
13 examine its defenses, explore its citadels
so you can tell future generations:
14 this is God, our God forever and ever.
He will lead us forever.

Zion is Yahveh’s holy residence and earthly capital. Hence, its every stone makes the invisible God visible. The psalmist’s descriptions are larger-than-life. Indeed, how else can you describe a God the heavens can’t contain (1 Kings 8:27)? Though physically not so impressive, Zion is earth’s designated point of access to the God of the universe. So the psalmist pictures Zion soaring above all. Though very ordinary physically, its structures are beautified by its Chief Resident. The psalmist calls Zion the “heights of Zaphos”[3] and earth’s supreme joy since all of humanity longs to know the joy of God’s presence and rest in him. And God alone explains Zion’s impregnability against all odds, amidst hostile foes.

In verses 4-11, the psalmist pictures two different groups visiting Zion. The first is a coalition of kings hellbent on overthrowing the government of heaven. But at the mere sight of Zion’s God, they panic, abort their attempt to be overthrown instead. The second group is a band of pilgrims who find the city lives up to all their expectations. Seeing God there too, they celebrate his saving justice, meditate on his faithfulness and praise him. How apt that the Church uses this psalm to celebrate Pentecost, when God came to indwell his people.

I celebrate your unqualified victory over evil, God, perfect in justice, mercy and humility! Help me to live out of that reality—whether in power or apparent weakness—as you extend your rule in the world. Help me live in continuous conversation with you as you make me like you. Amen.

In your free moments today, declare this truth:

Just like your renown, O God, your praise reaches the ends of the earth.


[1] Literally, “ships of Tarshish.”

[2] Literally, “daughters of Judah.”

[3] Zaphos was the mythical home of the Canaanites’ supreme deity, Baal. This doesn’t signify theological confusion. Rather, the psalmist is saying Zion is the true home of the divine presence all peoples long to know and experience.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.