The Splendor of the Invincible City
1A psalm of the Korahites.* A song.
2Great is the LORD and highly praised
in the city of our God:a
His holy mountain,
3fairest of heights,
the joy of all the earth,b
the city of the great king.
4God is in its citadel,
renowned as a stronghold.
5See! The kings assembled,
together they advanced.
6*When they looked they were astounded;
terrified, they were put to flight!d
7Trembling seized them there,
anguish, like a woman’s labor,e
8As when the east wind wrecks
the ships of Tarshish!*
9*What we had heard we have now seen
in the city of the LORD of hosts,
In the city of our God,
which God establishes forever.
10We ponder, O God, your mercy
within your temple
11Like your name, O God,
so is your praise to the ends of the earth.f
Your right hand is fully victorious.
12Mount Zion is glad!
The daughters of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments!g
13Go about Zion, walk all around it,
note the number of its towers.
14Consider the ramparts, examine its citadels,
that you may tell future generations:h
15That this is God,
our God for ever and ever.*
He will lead us until death.
* [Psalm 48] A Zion hymn, praising the holy city as the invincible dwelling place of God. Unconquerable, it is an apt symbol of God who has defeated all enemies. After seven epithets describing the city (Ps 48:2–3), the Psalm describes the victory by the Divine Warrior over hostile kings (Ps 48:4–8). The second half proclaims the dominion of the God of Zion over all the earth (Ps 48:9–12) and invites pilgrims to announce that God is eternally invincible like Zion itself (Ps 48:13–14).
* [48:3] The heights of Zaphon: the mountain abode of the Canaanite storm-god Baal in comparable texts. To speak of Zion as if it were Zaphon was to claim for Israel’s God what Canaanites claimed for Baal. Though topographically speaking Zion is only a hill, viewed religiously it towers over other mountains as the home of the supreme God (cf. Ps 68:16–17).
* [48:6] When they looked: the kings are stunned by the sight of Zion, touched by divine splendor. The language is that of holy war, in which the enemy panics and flees at the sight of divine glory.
* [48:8] The ships of Tarshish: large ships, named after the distant land or port of Tarshish, probably ancient Tartessus in southern Spain, although other identifications have been proposed, cf. Is 2:16; 60:9; Jon 1:3.
* [48:9] What we had heard we have now seen: the glorious things that new pilgrims had heard about the holy city—its beauty and awesomeness—they now see with their own eyes. The seeing here contrasts with the seeing of the hostile kings in Ps 48:6.
* [48:15] Our God for ever and ever: Israel’s God is like Zion in being eternal and invincible. The holy city is therefore a kind of “sacrament” of God.