Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The inaccessibleness of the City of God
Psalm 48:1-14 is also a song of thanksgiving for victory. It is connected with Psalm 46:1-11 and Psalm 47:1-9 by the fundamental thought of the exaltation of Jahve above the peoples of the earth; but is distinguished from them both in this respect, viz., that, in accordance with the favourite characteristic of Korahitic poetry, the song of thanksgiving for victory has become a song in praise of Jerusalem, the glorious and strong city, protected by God who sits enthroned in it. The historical occasion is the same. The mention of the kings points to an army of confederates; Psalm 48:10 points to the gathering held in the temple before the setting out of the army; and the figurative representation of the hostile powers by the shattered ships of Tarshish does not apply to any period so well as to the time of Jehoshaphat. The points of coincidence between this Psalm (cf. Psalm 48:7 with Isaiah 33:14; Psalm 48:8 with Isaiah 33:21; Psalm 48:13 with Isaiah 33:18; v. 15 with Isaiah 33:22), as well as Psalm 46:1-11, and Isaiah do not prove that he is its author.
A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.(Heb.: 48:2-9) Viewed as to the nature of its subject-matter, the Psalm divides itself into three parts. We begin by considering the three strophes of the first part. The middle strophe presents an instance of the rising and falling caesural schema. Because Jahve has most marvellously delivered Jerusalem, the poet begins with the praise of the great King and of His Holy City. Great and praised according to His due (מהלּל as in Psalm 18:4) is He in her, is He upon His holy mountain, which there is His habitation. Next follow, in Psalm 48:3, two predicates of a threefold, or fundamentally only twofold, subject; for ירכּתי צפון, in whatever way it may be understood, is in apposition to הר־ציּון. The predicates consequently refer to Zion-Jerusalem; for קרית מלך רב is not a name for Zion, but, inasmuch as the transition is from the holy mountain to the Holy City (just as the reverse is the case in Psalm 48:2), Jerusalem; ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶ τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως, Matthew 5:35. Of Zion-Jerusalem it is therefore said, it is יפה נוף, beautiful in prominence or elevation (נוף from נוּף, Arabic nâfa, nauf, root נף, the stronger force of נב, Arab. nb, to raise one's self, to mount, to come sensibly forward; just as יפה also goes back to a root יף, Arab. yf, wf, which signifies "to rise, to be high," and is transferred in the Hebrew to eminence, perfection, beauty of form), a beautifully rising terrace-like height;
(Note: Luther with Jerome (departing from the lxx and Vulgate) renders it: "Mount Zion is like a beautiful branch," after the Mishna-Talmudic נוף, a branch, Maccoth 12a, which is compared also by Saadia and Dunash. The latter renders it "beautiful in branches," and refers it to the Mount of Olives.)
and, in the second place, it is the joy (משׂושׂ) of the whole earth. It is deserving of being such, as the people who dwell there are themselves convinced (Lamentations 2:15); and it is appointed to become such, it is indeed such even now in hope, - hope which is, as it were, being anticipatorily verified. but in what sense does the appositional ירכּתי צפון follow immediately upon הר־ציּון? Hitzig, Ewald, Hengstenberg, Caspari (Micha, p. 359), and others, are of opinion that the hill of Zion is called the extreme north with reference to the old Asiatic conception of the mountain of the gods - old Persic Ar-bur'g (Al-bur'g), and also called absolutely hara or haraiti,
(Note: Vid., Spiegel, Erân, S. 287f.)
old Indian Kailâsa and Mêru
(Note: Vide Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, ii.847.)
- forming the connecting link between heaven and earth, which lay in the inaccessible, holy distance and concealment of the extreme north. But the poet in no way betrays the idea that he applies this designation to Zion in an ideal sense only, as being not inferior to the extreme north (Bertheau, Lage des Paradieses, S. 50, and so also S. D. Luzzatto on Isaiah 14:13), or as having taken the place of it (Hitzig). That notion is found, it is true, in Isaiah 14:13, in the mouth of the king of the Chaldeans; but, with the exception of the passage before us, we have no trace of the Israelitish mind having blended this foreign mythological style of speech with its own. We therefore take the expression "sides of the north" to be a topographical designation, and intended literally. Mount Zion is thereby more definitely designated as the Temple-hill; for the Temple-hill, or Zion in the narrower sense, formed in reality the north-eastern angle or corner of ancient Jerusalem. It is not necessarily the extreme north (Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 39:2), which is called ירכתי צפון; for ירכּתים are the two sides, then the angle in which the two side lines meet, and just such a northern angle was Mount Moriah by its position in relation to the city of David and the lower city.
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.
God is known in her palaces for a refuge.(Heb.: 48:4) Psalm 48:3, where the pointing is rightly נודע, not נודע, shows that the praise sung by the poet is based upon an event in contemporary history. Elohim has made Himself known by the loftily built parts
(Note: lxx: ἐν ταῖς βάρεσιν αὐτῆς, on which Gregory of Nyssa remarks (Opera, Ed. Paris, t. i. p. 333): βάρεις λέγει τάς τῶν οἰκοδομημάτων περιγραφεὶς ἐν τετραγώνῳ τῷ σχήματι.)
of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:7) למשׂגּב (the ל that is customary with verbs of becoming and making), i.e., as an inaccessible fortress, making them secure against any hostile attack. The fact by which He has thus made Himself known now immediately follows. המּלכים points to a definite number of kings known to the poet; it therefore speaks in favour of the time of peril and war in the reign of Jehoshaphat and against that in the reign of Hezekiah. נועד is reciprocal: to appoint themselves a place of meeting, and meet together there. עבר, as in Judges 11:29; 2 Kings 8:21, of crossing the frontier and invasion (Hitzig), not of perishing and destruction, as in Psalm 37:36, Nahum 1:12 (De Wette); for נועדו requires further progress, and the declaration respecting their sudden downfall does not follow till later on. The allies encamped in the desert to Tekoa, about three hours distant from Jerusalem. The extensive view at that point extends even to Jerusalem: as soon as they saw it they were amazed, i.e., the seeing and astonishment, panic and confused flight, occurred all together; there went forth upon them from the Holy City, because Elohim dwells therein, a חרדּת אלהים (1 Samuel 14:15), or as we should say, a panic or a panic-striking terror. Concerning כּן as expressive of simultaneousness, vid., on Habakkuk 3:10. כּאשׁר in the correlative protasis is omitted, as in Hosea 11:2, and frequently; cf. on Isaiah 55:9. Trembling seized upon them there (שׁם, as in Psalm 14:5), pangs as of a woman in travail. In Psalm 48:8, the description passes over emotionally into the form of address. It moulds itself according to the remembrance of a recent event of the poet's own time, viz., the destruction of the merchant fleet fitted out by Jehoshaphat in conjunction with Ahaziah, king of Israel (1 Kings 22:49; 2 Chronicles 20:36.). The general meaning of Psalm 48:8 is, that God's omnipotence is irresistible. Concerning the "wind of the east quarter," which here, as in Ezekiel 27:26, causes shipwreck, vid., on Job 27:21. The "ships of Tarshish," as is clear from the context both before and after, are not meant literally, but used as a figure of the worldly powers; Isaiah (Isaiah 33) also compares Assyria to a gallant ship. Thus, then, the church can say that in the case of Jerusalem it has, as an eye-witness, experienced that which it has hitherto only heard from the tradition of a past age (ראה and שׁמע as in Job 42:5), viz., that God holds it erect, establishes it, for ever. Hengstenberg observes here, "The Jerusalem that has been laid in ruins is not that which the psalmist means; it is only its outward form which it has put off" [lit. its broken and deserted pupa]. It is true that, according to its inner and spiritual nature, Jerusalem continues its existence in the New Testament church; but it is not less true that its being trodden under foot for a season in the kairoi' ethnoo'n no more annuls the promise of God than Israel's temporary rejection annuls Israel's election. The Holy City does not fall without again rising up.
For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.
They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away.
Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.
Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever. Selah.
We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple.(Heb.: 48:10-12) Now follows grateful praise to God, who hears prayer and executes justice, to the joy of His city and of His people. By דּמּינוּ the poet refers back to the service held in the temple before the army set out, as narrated in 2 Chronicles 20, to the prayers offered in the time of their impending danger, and to the remembrance of the favour hitherto shown towards Jerusalem, from which source they drew the comfort of hope for the present time. דּמּה, to compare, to hold one thing over against another, in this instance by causing the history of the past to pass before one's mind. To God's mighty deeds of old is now added a new one. The Name of God, i.e., the sum of His self-attestations hitherto, was the subject of the דמינו in the temple, and more particularly of the Korahitic songs (2 Chronicles 20:19); and this name has gloriously verified itself by a new deed of righteousness. His fame extends even to the ends of the earth (2 Chronicles 20:29). He has proved Himself to be One whose right hand is full of righteousness, and who practises righteousness or justice where it is necessary. Let, then, the Holy City, let the country cities of Judah (Isaiah 40:9, cf. Psalm 16:2) rejoice. The whole inheritance of Israel was threatened. Now it is most gloriously delivered.
According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.
Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments.
Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.(Heb.: 48:13-15) The call is addressed not to the enemies of Jerusalem - for it would be absurd to invite such to look round about upon Jerusalem with joy and gladness - but to the people of Jerusalem itself. From the time of the going forth of the army to the arrival of the news of victory, they have remained behind the walls of the city in anxious expectation. Now they are to make the circuit of the city (הקּיף, still more definite than סבב, Joshua 6:3) outside the walls, and examine them and see that its towers are all standing, its bulwark is intact, its palaces are resplendent as formerly. לחילה, "upon its bulwark," equals לחילהּ (Zechariah 9:4), with softened suffix as in Isaiah 23:17; Psalm 45:6, and frequently; Ew. 247, d. פּסּג (according to another reading, הפסיג) signifies, in B. Baba kamma 81b, to cut through (a vineyard in a part where there is no way leading through it); the signification "to take to pieces and examine, to contemplate piece by piece," has no support in the usage of the language, and the signification "to extol" (erhhen, Luther following Jewish tradition) rests upon a false deduction from the name פּסגּה. Louis de Dieu correctly renders it: Dividite palatia, h. e. obambulate inter palatia ejus, secando omnes palatiorum vias, quo omnia possitis commode intueri. They are to convince themselves by all possible means of the uninjured state of the Holy City, in order that they may be able to tell to posterity, that זה, such an one, such a marvellous helper as is now manifest to them, is Elohim our God. He will also in the future guide us.... Here the Psalm closes; for, although נהג is wont to be construed with עלּ in the signification ἄγειν ἐπὶ (Psalm 23:2; Isaiah 49:10), still "at death" [lit. dying], i.e., when it comes to dying (Hengstenberg), or "even unto (על as in Psalm 48:11, Psalm 19:7) death" [lit. dying] (Hupfeld), forms no suitable close to this thoroughly national song, having reference to a people of whom the son of Sirach says (Psalm 37:25): ζωὴ ἀνδρὸς ἐν ἀριθμῷ ἡμερῶν καὶ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Ἰσραήλ ἀναρίθμητοι. The rendering of Mendelssohn, Stier, and others, "over death" i.e., beyond death (Syriac), would be better; more accurately: beyond dying equals destruction (Bunsen, Bibelwerk, Th. i. S. clxi.). but the expression does not admit of this extension, and the thought comes upon one unexpectedly and as a surprise in this Psalm belonging to the time before the Exile. The Jerusalem Talmud, Megilla, ch. ii.((fol. 73, col. b, ed. Venet.), present a choice of the following interpretations: (1) עלמוּת equals בּעלימוּת, in youthfulness, adopting which, but somewhat differently applied, the Targum renders, "in the days of youth;" (2) כעילין עלמות, like virgins, with which Luther's rendering coincides: like youth (wie die Jugent); (3) according to the reading עלמות, which the lxx also reproduces: in this and the future world, noting at the same time that Akilas (Aquila) translates the word by ἀθανασία: "in a world where there is no death." But in connection with this last rendering one would rather expect to find אל־מות (Proverbs 12:28) instead of על־מות. עלמות, however, as equivalent to αἰῶνες is Mishnic, not Biblical; and a Hebrew word עלמוּת (עלימוּת) in the sense of the Aramaic עלּימתּ cannot be justified elsewhere. We see from the wavering of the MSS, some of which give על־מוּת, and others עלמוּת, and from the wavering of expositors, what little success is likely to follow any attempt to gain for על־מות, as a substantial part of the Psalm, any sense that is secure and in accordance both with the genius of the language and with the context. Probably it is a marginal note of the melody, an abbreviation for על־מוּת לבּן, Psalm 9:1. And either this note, as in Habakkuk 3:19 למנצּח בּנגינותי, stands in an exceptional manner at the end instead of the beginning (Hitzig, Reggio), or it belongs to the למנצח of the following Psalm, and is to be inserted there (Bttcher, De inferis, 371). If, however, על־מות does not belong to the Psalm itself, then it must be assumed that the proper closing words are lost. The original close was probably more full-toned, and somewhat like Isaiah 33:22.
Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.
For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.