Psalms For Life
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Psalm 48

Zion’s glory and strength

Evident from the school playground to the world stage, humanity’s inborn hostility to God won’t last forever because God has fully committed himself to redeeming us from our sins and renewing his world.

A descendants of Korah psalm. 

YHWH is so great, so worthy of praise
in the city he’s made his own—
here on his holy mountain.
So lofty, so beautiful
the joy of all the earth!
Mount Zion—earth’s true heights of Zaphos
the city of the great King!
In its citadels
God has proven himself its sure defence.

4 Look! The kings joined forces
and boldly advanced against it together.
But when they saw it
they were stunned and fled in panic.
Gripped with terror
they writhed like a woman in labor
shattered like the ships of Tarshish
by a fierce east wind.

All that we’d heard about it
we’ve now seen in the city of YHWH
Commander of Heaven’s Armies.
Our God will make his city secure forever.

O God, within your temple
we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Just like your renown, O God
your praise reaches the ends of the earth.
Your strong hand executes saving justice.
11 Mount Zion celebrates
and Judah’s surrounding towns rejoice
over your judgments.

12 Walk all around Zion, inside and out.
Count its towers,
13 examine its defenses, explore its citadels
so you can tell future generations:
14 This God is our God forever and ever—
he will lead us for all time to come.


Since Zion is YHWH’s holy residence and earthly capital, its every stone makes the invisible God visible. The psalmist’s descriptions are larger-than-life. Indeed, how else can you describe a God the heavens can’t contain? Though not particularly impressive physically, Zion is earth’s one designated point of access to the God of the universe. So the psalmist pictures Zion soaring above all, its structures all transfigured by its Chief Resident.

The psalmist calls Zion the “heights of Zaphos,” that being the mythical home of the Canaanites’ supreme deity, Baal. This doesn’t signify theological confusion. Rather, the psalmist is saying Zion is the true home of the divine presence every people longs to experience. Zion is also earth’s supreme joy since no joy compares to being in God’s presence, resting in him. And God alone explains Zion’s impregnability against all odds, surrounded by powerful hostile foes.

In verses 4-11, the psalmist pictures two different groups visiting Zion. The first is a coalition of kings hellbent on overthrowing the government of heaven. But at the mere sight of Zion’s God, they panic, abort their attack, and are overthrown, ending up like shattered cargo ships. The second group is a band of pilgrims who find the city lives up to all their expectations. Seeing God there too, they celebrate his saving justice, meditate on his faithfulness, and praise him. How apt that the Church uses this psalm to celebrate Pentecost, when Christ sent his Spirit down to indwell his people.

I celebrate your unqualified victory over evil, Jesus, perfect in justice, mercy and humility! Help me to live out of that victory—whether in power or apparent weakness—as you extend your rule in the world. Keep me living in a conversational relationship with you as you make me like you. Amen.

In your free moments today, declare this truth:

Just like your renown, O God,
your praise reaches the ends of the earth.

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.