A Song of Deliverance
Psalm 48:1-14
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.…

The psalm has manifestly some historical basis. What is it? The psalm gives these points — a formidable muster before Jerusalem of hostile people under confederate kings with the purpose of laying siege to the city — some mysterious cheek which arrests them before a sword is drawn, as if some panic fear had shot from its towers and shaken their hearts — and a flight in wild confusion from the impregnable dwelling-place of the Lord of hosts. Now, there is only one event in Jewish history which corresponds, point for point, to these details — the crushing destruction of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib. The psalm falls into three portions.

I. THERE IS THE GLORY OF ZION (vers. 1, 2). Those words are something more than merely patriotic feeling. The Jew's glory in Jerusalem was a different thing altogether from the Roman's pride in Rome. For, to the devout Jew, there was one thing, and one thing only, that made Zion glorious — that in it God abode. The name even of that earthly Zion was "Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is there." They celebrate concerning it that it is His city, the mountain of His holiness. This is its glory. And it is no spiritualizing or forcing a New Testament meaning into these words when we see in them the eternal truth, that the living God abides, and energizes by His Spirit and by His Son in the souls of them that believe upon Him. It is that presence which makes His Church fair as it is, that presence which keeps her safe. It is God in her, not anything of her own, that constitutes her "the joy of the whole earth."

II. THE DELIVERANCE OF ZION. The psalm recounts with wonderful power and vigour the process of this deliverance (vers. 4-8). Mark the dramatic vigour of the description of the deliverance. There is, first, the mustering of the armies. "The kings were assembled" — we see them gathering their far-reaching and motley army, mustered from all corners of that gigantic empire. They advance together against the rocky fortress that towers above its girdling valleys. "They saw it, they marvelled" — in wonder, perhaps, at its beauty, as they first catch sight of its glittering whiteness from some hill crest on their march — or, perhaps, stricken by some strange amazement, as if, basilisk-like, its beauty were deadly, and a beam from the Shechinah had shot a nameless awe into their souls — "they were troubled, they hasted away." The abruptness of the language in this powerful description reminds us of the well-known words, "I came, I saw, I conquered," only that here we have to do with swift defeat — they came, they saw, they were conquered. In their scornful emphasis of triumph they are like Isaiah's description of the end of Sennacherib's invasion, "So Sennacherib, King of Assyria, departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh."

"The trumpet spake not the armed throng,

But kings sat still, with awful eye,

As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by."One image is all that is given to explain the whole process of the deliverance, "Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind." The metaphor is that of a ship like a great unwieldy galleon caught in a tempest — compare the destruction of the Spanish Armada. However strong for fight, it is not fit for sailing. And so this huge assailant of Israel, this great "galley with oars," washing about there in the trough of the sea, as it were — God broke it in two with the tempest which is His breath. You remember how on the medal that commemorated the destruction of the Spanish Armada — our English deliverance — there were written the words of Scripture: "God blew upon them and they were scattered." What was there true, literally, is here true in figure. And then mark how from this drastic description there rises a loftier thought still. The deliverance thus described links the present with the past. "As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God." And with all the future — "God will establish it for ever." God will establish Zion; or, as the word might be translated, God will hold it erect, as if with a strong hand grasping some pole or banner-staff that else would totter and fall — He will keep it up, standing there firm and stedfast. If it had been possible to destroy the Church of the living God it had been gone long, long ago. Its own weakness and sin, the ever-new corruptions of its belief and paring of its creed, the imperfections of its life and the worldliness of its heart, the abounding evils that lie around it and the actual hostility of many that look upon it and say, Raze it, even to the ground, would have smitten it to the dust long since. It lives, it has lived in spite of all, and therefore it shall live. "God will establish it for ever." In almost every land there is some fortress or other which the pride of the inhabitants calls "the maiden fortress," and whereof the legend is that it has never been taken, and is inexpugnable by any foe. It is true about the tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion. The grand words of Isaiah about this very Assyrian invader are our answer to all fears within and foes without, "Say unto him, the virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn."

III. ZION'S CONSEQUENT GRATEFUL PRAISE AND GLAD TRUST. The deliverance deepens their glad meditation on God's favour and defence. "We have thought of Thy lovingkindness in the midst of Thy temple." And it spreads God's fame throughout the world (ver. 10).

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: {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.

WEB: Great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.

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