The safest place you can be is in the very presence of God.
This truth is evident throughout the Old Testament as God promised to give his children a place to dwell with him as long as they listened and obeyed him.
The Sons of Korah pick up this theme in Ps. 48, giving the reader a breathtaking view of a city made strong by its Creator.
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.” (Ps. 48:1-3)
In Ps. 48:
- The city is made holy by him (48:1)
- The city is made lovely by him (48:2)
- The city is made glad by hi)m (48:2)
- The city is made safe by him (48:3)
But this city – which was intended to be a blessing to other nations looking in – confused their object of hope (48:4-7).
In 586 BC, their lovely city fell. It was made unholy, ugly, sad, and unsafe. God hid his presence from his people; He departed from the city. History tells us the terrible things done to the city when it was taken by the Babylonians. During this time “God’s people learned through bitter experience the importance of a faith that reflects itself in moral and ethical living.”
You can imagine their confusion when their beloved city that was promised to stand forever – did not (48:8).
So why is this psalm included in the Psalter if its words did not ring true for God’s people?
This psalm speaks to the renewed nature of hope that Israel placed in God for a future restoration. In short, they hoped the words of this psalm would ring true once again.
Here’s what the psalmists is calling us to do:
Trust in ‘what’ God does (48:9)
“We have thought, O God, on Your: lovingkindness,
In the midst of Your temple.” (Ps. 48:9)
God’s hesed (lovingkindness) toward his people was the basis of their trust; they trusted him for forgiveness, grace, and mercy. When we trust in what God does, we acknowledge his lovingkindness toward us.
They “thought on his hesed” in his temple – meaning they followed his prescribed method for worship. They wanted him to know they were following him and obeying his Word – strong sentiments considering there was no temple after their immediate return from exile.
Trust in ‘who’ God is (48:10)
“According to Your name, O God,
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness.” (Ps. 48:10)
God’s name is holy, and a holy God does holy things – like remember his promises. God’s holiness was key to the Israelites because he promised to make them holy like him. God gave his people his Law to show them what holiness looked like and how badly they needed it.
But here, we see a glimmer of hope bursting through for a righteousness to come. When we trust in who God is, we acknowledge his is righteous. And the God who loves his people has righteous Hands. This is cause for celebration because he upholds his people in his very own holiness.
Because of God’s hesed and holy righteousness, God’s people can trust that one day he will return to his city.
Throughout this song, the city is referred to as Zion – an eschatological (end times) hope in the eternal city in which God will dwell with his people forever. Old Testament theology makes much of Zion, and rightly so, because upon this “place” dwells the hope of many of God’s promises – safety, justice, peace, restoration, and more.
It why the Psalmist ends his song by urging God’s people to count the city towers as if they already existed (Ps. 48:12-14).
These writers had forward looking eyes. Instead of rabble, they saw rising towers. Instead of burning piles they saw bulwarks. Instead of smoldering ashes they saw palaces of grandeur.
“Walk about Zion, And go all around her. Count her towers; Mark well her bulwarks; Consider her palaces; That you may tell it to the generation following. For this is God, Our God forever and ever; He will be our guide Even to death.” (Ps. 48:12-14)
It was this hopeful eyesight that God intended for them to pass along to their children – a hope that rested not in the blessings of the city (happiness, prosperity, safety in vs. 1-3), but in the One that brought those blessings with his presence.
It’s easier than you think to confuse the blessings of dwelling with God, with the gift of his very presence.
As hope-filled believers, we know that God’s presence often comes hand-in-hand with difficult and painful times. But in the midst of suffering is the hope of God’s sustaining presence. It is enough for today and for tomorrow.
Dear God, please give me forward-looking eyes. Help me see rising towers instead of rabble. Help me see bulwarks in place of burning piles. In order to pass forward-looking eyes to my kids – I must first have the kind of eyes that behold the surety of your promises over poor circumstances. The kind of eyes that see who you are and what you do in the midst of a bleak skyline. Help us choose to hope and praise on days when disaster screams for us to hate, rail, and wail against your name. Be our guide. Dwell with us. In Jesus Name, Amen.
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 Dorothy Patterson, ed. The Woman’s Study Bible, 1st ed. (Nashville; Thomas Nelson Publishers), 909.