This jubilant psalm is not credited to any particular writer, but the tone and content make it likely that it was written in the aftermath of the great victory over Ammon, Moab, and Edom in the reign of Jehoshaphat—the time he sent the choir out in front of the army.
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation . . .” (Psalm 48:1-14).
Summary of the Text
First, here are just a few reasons for placing this psalm in Jehoshaphat’s time.
“And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and of the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with a loud voice on high . . . For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another . . . And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches with the dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away: and they were three days in gathering of the spoil, it was so much . . . And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: and they made the ships in Eziongeber” (2 Chron. 20:19, 23, 25, 36).
God is great, and is to be praised on the mountain of His holiness (v. 1). The city of Jerusalem is beautiful, and is the joy of the whole earth (v. 2). Her rulers, those who dwell in palaces, know that God is a refuge (v. 3). Confederate kings gathered, and were thwarted (v. 4). The reason they were defeated is because they panicked (vv. 5-6). God broke up the ships of Tarshish (v. 7). As we have heard of God’s faithfulness, so we have seen (v. 8). God has been remembered in His temple (v. 9). God is praised according to His worth; His right hand is filled with righteousness (v. 10). Let the city sing, let her daughters rejoice—because of God’s judgments (v. 11). Walk around Zion and look at it (v. 12). Reflect on the glory, so that you might tell the next generation all about it (v. 13). For this God is our God—the one who will lead us beyond death (v. 14).
In the Mountains of His Holiness
God is certainly great, and we ascribe this to Him by definition. How could He be God and not be great? But if we leave it at the level of theological definition, we will wither as a people. We also must take care to rejoice in the fact that God’s greatness is manifested in His deliverances of His people. He is praised in the city of our God (v. 1). Notice also that He is praised on the mountain of holiness. The city from which He is praised is the joy of the whole earth, and is the beautiful city of the great king (v. 2).
Known in Her Palaces
Notice that this was a time when Israel’s rulers feared God. And not a generic deity either—the palaces of Jerusalem were a place where God was known as a refuge. “And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chron. 20:3). Jehoshaphat was the king, and he humbled himself. He lived in a palace, and he humbled himself. Compare this to our situation—rubes and cornpones in the red states may believe in Jesus, but what about our great urban centers, what about our leaders, what about our sophisticates?
The Glory of Panic
One of the things that God promises us, as one of the terms of the covenant, is that when we are out-gunned, out- maneuvered, out-generaled, and out-classed—and we turn to Him in faith—He will give the gift of panic to our adversaries. This is what happened in 2 Chron. 20:23. These great armies came marching against Zion, and though they came and saw, unlike Caesar, they did not conquer. They assembled, but when they saw the city of God, they were troubled, they fled, and a fearful panic took hold of them—like a woman in travail (vv. 5-6).
God delivered Jehoshaphat this way, and this is referred to in Psalm 48. God delivers us in this way. “This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee” (Dt. 2:25). “And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword” (Lev. 26:8).
But this is not just an “old covenant” thing. “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them” (Acts 5:12-13).
Walk About Zion
Scriptures are full of the covenant duty that we have to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Walk around Zion—and study her turrets. Examine her palaces, and her walls and bulwarks. And why? So that you can tell it to the next generation. We are to bring up our children in such a way that they have a knowledgeable pride in, and loyalty to, the city of their God. They are not to be shipped off to a boarding school in Babylon so that they can study their turrets.
This God is Our God
Although the first Zion, the earthly Zion, no longer occupies the place it once did, the God of Israel has not changed. All His promises are yea and amen, and they are fulfilled in Christ, the Lord of the New Jerusalem, the new Zion. And this means that all these promises are still in our hearts and mouths, and then some. If the old Zion was to be holy, how much more the heavenly Zion? If her rulers and leaders took refuge in God alone, how much more should this be the case for the ministers and rulers of the new Zion? If God delivered His people in the old covenant by means of sending panics in among their adversaries, why would He stop doing that? And if they were to teach the next generation faithfully, how much more should we be doing so? This is because “this God is our God for ever and ever.”