Psalm 48:2
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.
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(2) Situation.—Heb., nôph. A word only found here, but explained from a cognate Arabic word to mean elevation. And this feature is quite distinctive enough of Jerusalem to lend confirmation to this explanation—“Its elevation is remarkable.” (See Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 170.)

On the other hand, an adverbial use—highly beautiful or supremely beautiful (comp. Lamentations 2:15, “The perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth”) may be all that the poet intends.

Sides of the north.—A common phrase, generally taken to mean the quarter or region of the north (see Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2; Isaiah 14:13), but which, from the various uses of two words making it up, might mean northern recesses or secret recesses, according as we adopt the derived or the original meaning of tsāphôn.

With the former of the two meanings we should see a reference to the relative position of the Temple and its precincts to the rest of the city. For the identification of the ancient Zion (not to be confounded with the modern Zion) with the hill on which the Temple stood, see Smith’s Bib. Dict., art. “Jerusalem.”(Comp. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 171.)

If, on the other hand, we elect to render secret, or hidden, or secure recesses, we have a figure quite intelligible of the security and peace to be found in God’s holy city:

Beautiful for elevation,

The whole earth’s joy;

Mount Zion, a secure recess,

City of the great King.

And the thought is taken up in the word refuge in the next verse. (Comp. Ezekiel 7:22, where the Temple is actually called “Jehovah’s secret place.”)

Psalm 48:2. Beautiful for situation is mount Zion — A beautiful place it is, which he hath chosen for his habitation; and that which especially renders it beautiful is, that it is the mountain of God’s holiness, the place where, in infinite wisdom, he hath fixed his sanctuary. The joy of the whole earth — For the law was to go forth out of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; the joyful doctrine of the gospel, the glad tidings of salvation, were to go out from thence unto all nations. The words however may be rendered, The joy of the, or this, whole land: for God’s sanctuary, the solemn feasts kept there, and the vast multitudes of people who from time to time assembled at them, rendered it a most desirable place. On the sides of the north — It lies on the north side of Jerusalem; the city of the great King — Of Jehovah, the King of heaven and earth. Zion, however, is thought by some to have been situated on the south side of the mountain; but the temple stood on the north side of it, and was its peculiar honour and distinction.

48:1-7 Jerusalem is the city of our God: none on earth render him due honour except the citizens of the spiritual Jerusalem. Happy the kingdom, the city, the family, the heart, in which God is great, in which he is all. There God is known. The clearer discoveries are made to us of the Lord and his greatness, the more it is expected that we should abound in his praises. The earth is, by sin, covered with deformity, therefore justly might that spot of ground, which was beautified with holiness, be called the joy of the whole earth; that which the whole earth has reason to rejoice in, that God would thus in very deed dwell with man upon the earth. The kings of the earth were afraid of it. Nothing in nature can more fitly represent the overthrow of heathenism by the Spirit of the gospel, than the wreck of a fleet in a storm. Both are by the mighty power of the Lord.Beautiful for situation - The word rendered "situation" - נוף nôph - means properly "elevation, height," (Ges. Lexicon); and the idea here is, that the mountain referred to is "beautiful for elevation;" that is, it rises gracefully. The allusion here is to Jerusalem as it would appear to one approaching it, and especially as it appeared to the "kings" Psalm 48:4 who came to invest it, and who were so impressed with its marvelous beauty and strength, that they were afraid to attack it, and turned away Psalm 48:5.

The joy of the whole earth - Either the whole "land" of Palestine, or the whole world. Most probably the former is the meaning; and the idea is that, as a place of beauty and strength, and as a place where the worship of God was celebrated, and where the people of the land were accustomed to assemble, it was a source of national joy.

Is Mount Zion - The term used here would seem to denote the whole city, Jerusalem, as it often does. Mount Zion was the most conspicuous object in the city, the residence of the king, and for a long time, until the temple was built, the place where the ark reposed, and where the worship of God was celebrated, and hence, the term came to be used to denote the whole city.

On the sides of the north - That is, probably, the houses, the palaces, on the north sides of the Mount Zion. These were eminently beautiful; they struck one in approaching the city from that quarter, as impressive and grand. The natural and usual approach to the city was from the north, or the northwest. On the west was the valley of Gihon, on the south the valley of Hinnom; and on the east the valley of Jehoshaphat and of the brook Kidron; and it was only as the city was approached from the north that there would be a complete view of it; or, that was the only quarter from which it could be assailed. The "kings," therefore Psalm 48:8, may be supposed to have approached it from that quarter; and thus approaching it, they would have a clear and impressive view of its beauty, and of the sources of its strength - of the walls, towers, and bulwarks which defended it, and of the magnificence of the buildings on Mount Zion. Dr. Thomson (Land and the Book, vol. ii., p. 476), says of the situation of Mount Zion, "What is there or was there about Zion to justify the high eulogium of David: "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King?" The situation is indeed eminently adapted to be the platform of a magnificent citadel.

Rising high above the deep valley of Gihon and Hinnom on the west and south, and the scarcely less deep one of the Cheesemongers on the east, it could only be assailed from the northwest; and then "on the sides of the north" it was magnificently beautiful, and fortified by walls, towers, and bulwarks, the wonder and terror of the nations: "For the kings were assembled; they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled, and hasted away." At the thought of it the royal psalmist again bursts forth in triumph: "Walk about Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers thereof; mark ye well her bulwarks; consider her palaces, that ye may tell it to the generation following." Alas! her towers have long since fallen to the ground, her bulwarks have been overthrown, her palaces have crumbled to dust, and we who now walk about Zion can tell no other story than this to the generation following." It was actually on the northern side of Mount Zion that most of the edifices of the city were erected. (Reland, Pales., p. 847.)

The city of the great King - That is, of God; the place where he has taken up his abode. Compare the notes at Psalm 46:4.

2, 3. situation—literally, "elevation."

joy of, &c.—source of joy.

sides of the north—poetically for eminent, lofty, distinguished, as the ancients believed the north to be the highest part of the earth (compare Isa 14:13).

The joy of the whole earth: Jerusalem may be so called here, as it is also Lamentations 2:15, not actually, as if all people did rejoice in it, or for it; but,

1. Fundamentally or causally, because here was very great cause or ground or rejoicing for the Gentile world, if they had understood themselves, or their true interest; because here God was graciously present and ready to hear and answer the just desires and prayers, not only of the Israelites, but of any stranger, of what nation soever, according to Solomon’s prayer, 1 Kings 8:41, &c.; and here the Gentiles might find that God, whom like blind men they groped for, as the Greek phrase implies, Acts 17:27; and here they might be informed of the nature and properties, as also of the mind and will, of the almighty and everlasting God, of which they were so grossly ignorant, and of that Messias who was the desire of (and consequently matter of great joy unto) all nations, Haggai 2:7. And,

2. Prophetically, because the joyful doctrine of the gospel was to go from thence unto all nations; of which see Isaiah 2:2,3 Mic 4:1,2. Yet these words may be and are by others rendered and understood thus, the joy of the, or this, (for here is an emphatical article,) whole land.

On the sides of the north, i.e. which is on the northern part of Jerusalem. But because Josephus and some others affirm that Mount Zion stood southward from Jerusalem, this clause possibly may be added to signify that Zion is not here to be understood strictly and properly for that mountain, or part of the mountain so called, but for that other mountain, or part of the same mountain upon which the temple was built, which was strictly called Moriah, but is here called Zion, because that name was far better known in Scripture, as being oft put for the temple, as Psalm 137:3 Isaiah 18:7 Jeremiah 51:10 Lamentations 5:18, and for the whole city, and for the church of God, in a multitude of places of Scripture.

The city of the great King, i.e. the city of God, as it was now called, Psalm 48:1, who justly calls himself a great King, Malachi 1:14, as being King of kings, and Lord of lords, Revelation 19:16.

Beautiful for situation,.... This, and what follows, are said of the city of God, the city of Jerusalem, which was delightfully situated on an eminence, in a wholesome air; the brook Kidron gliding by it, the water of Siloah running through it or at least through some parts of it; fields and gardens adjoining to it, and mountains all around it: and so the church of Christ is built upon him, the Rock; the river of divine love runs by it, the streams whereof make it glad; the green pastures of the word and ordinances are in it; and salvation is as walls and bulwarks about it; and so healthful is it, that the inhabitants have no reason to say they are sick, since the people that dwell therein have their iniquities forgiven, Isaiah 33:24;

the joy of the whole earth: that is, the city of Jerusalem, Lamentations 2:15; especially it was so when Christ, whose birth near it was matter of great joy to all people; when he who is the desire of all nations was in it; and when the Gospel went out from it unto the whole earth, and caused joy wherever it came in power, and with the Holy Ghost: and the church of Christ, particularly in the latter day, will be an eternal excellency, and a joy of many generations, Isaiah 60:15; and even now the whole world has reason to rejoice and be glad, because of the church of Christ in it, who are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and on whose account the world continues, and the men of it enjoy the blessings they do;

is Mount Zion; or "by Mount Zion": Jerusalem was near it, and beautifully situated by it;

on the sides of the north; Jerusalem was north of Zion, as Zion was south of Jerusalem; likewise the temple was on the north part of Mount Zion, Isaiah 14:13; the altar and altar gate were on the north side at the temple, and there were the tables on which the sacrifices were slain, Ezekiel 8:5; and on the north side of the altar was the creature to be offered killed, Leviticus 1:11; and perhaps some reference is here had to the church of Christ in the latter day, which for many years past has been chiefly in our northern part of the world: hence the Protestant doctrine is by the Papists called the Northern Heresy; and it will be "tidings out of the north" that shall trouble the man of sin, or some agent of his, to come forth with fury, and plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas, in the glorious holy mountain, Daniel 11:44;

the city of the great King; of Christ the King of kings; See Gill on Psalm 47:2; and See Gill on Psalm 48:1.

Beautiful for situation, the {c} joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.

(c) Because the word of salvation came there to all who would believe.

2. Beautiful for situation] Rather, as R.V., beautiful in elevation. Cp. Psalm 50:2. “Its elevation,” writes Dean Stanley, “is remarkable; occasioned not from its being on the summit of one of the numerous hills of Judaea, like most of the towns and villages, but because it is on the edge of one of the highest tablelands of the country.… To the traveller approaching Jerusalem from the west or east, it must always have presented the appearance … of a mountain city; breathing, as compared with the plains of Jordan, a mountain air; enthroned, as compared with Jericho and Damascus, Gaza or Tyre, on a mountain fastness” (Sinai and Palestine: pp. 170, 171). May not the poet also have in mind that ‘ideal’ elevation of which the prophets speak? e.g. Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1.

the joy of the whole earth] Lamentations 2:15 combines this phrase with that of Psalm 50:2. “Is this the city that men called, The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?” Cp. Isaiah 60:15.

on the sides of the north] Thus rendered, the words appear to be a topographical description of the situation of Mount Zion to the north of the city; or, if we render, on the sides of the north is the citadel of the great King, a description of the position of the Temple. But ‘Mount Zion’ in this Psalm is not a part of the city but the whole city (Psalm 48:11-12); a merely topographical description would be frigid in the extreme; the rendering involves a doubtful construction; and it gives a very inadequate meaning to the phrase the sides of the north. This phrase occurs elsewhere in Isaiah 14:13; Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2; and in all these passages it means the recesses or remotest quarters of the north. In Isaiah 14:13 “the uttermost parts of the north” (R.V.) are mentioned as the locality of the sacred mountain, which according to Asiatic mythology was the abode of the gods. This mountain, corresponding to the Olympus of the Greeks, was the Meru of the Indians, the Alborg of the Persians, the Arâlu of the Assyrians and Babylonians. It would seem that the Psalmist boldly calls Mount Zion the uttermost parts of the north with reference to this mythological idea. According to this interpretation Psalm 48:1-2 may be rendered as follows:

Great Is Jehovah, and exceeding worthy to be praised,

In the city of our God is his holy mountain.

Beautiful in elevation, a Joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion,

The uttermost parts of the north, the citadel of the great King.

The sacred mountain of our God is not in the remote recesses of the north, but in the very midst of the city of His choice. Zion is in reality all that the Assyrians claim for their fabled mount of the gods. Their king too may style himself ‘great,’ but Zion is the citadel of One Who is in truth the great King, for He is the King of all the earth (Psalm 47:2; Psalm 47:7). “The great king” was a title claimed by the king of Assyria (Isaiah 36:4); and the word for ‘great’ is not that used in Psalm 48:1 (gâdôl) but rab, which corresponds to the Assyrian title sarru rabbu (Schrader, Cuneif. Inser. p. 320). ‘City’ (citadel) is not the same word as in Psalm 48:1 (‘îr), but ḳiryâh, a word which does not occur again in the Psalter, but is found several times in Isaiah (Isaiah 22:2; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 33:20). To many commentators it seems inconceivable that the Psalmist should allude to Assyrian mythology. But a writer of Isaiah’s time might easily have become acquainted with the religious ideas of the Assyrians, and the author of the Book of Job does not hesitate to introduce popular mythological ideas. See Prof. Davidson’s note on Job 26:12 : and cp. Isaiah 27:1.

Verse 2. - Beautiful for situation; literally, for elevation; i.e. in respect of its lofty position. "Jerusalem, above all other great capitals," says Professor Cheyne, "is a mountain city." "It is a glorious burst," says Canon Tristram, "as the traveller rounds the shoulder of Mount Olivet, and the Haram wall starts up before him from the deep gorge of the Kedron, with its domes and crescents sparkling in the sunlight - a royal city" ('Land of Israel,' pp. 111, 112). The joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion (comp. Romans 2:15). The psalmist writes as a devout Israelite. To him there is nothing in the world so lovely, nothing so gladdening, as Mount Zion and the holy city seated on it. He does not mean to say that all the earth felt as he did; though he may have thought that, if men were wise, they would so feel. On the sides of the north. Professor Cheyne regards this clause as a gloss which has crept into the text. Others give a mystical interpretation founded on Isaiah 14:15. But the simplest explanation seems to be the best. Zion, the city of David, lay to the north of the temple, and abutted on the city's northern wall. The city of the great King (comp. ver. 1, "the city of our God"). Psalm 48:2(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.

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