Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 48
on the Whole Bible
This psalm, as the two former, is a triumphant song; some think it was
penned on occasion of Jehoshaphat's victory
(2 Chronicles 20:1-30),
others of Sennacherib's defeat, when his army laid siege to Jerusalem
in Hezekiah's time; but, for aught I know, it might be penned by David
upon occasion of some eminent victory obtained in his time; yet not so
calculated for that but that it might serve any other similar occasion
in aftertimes, and be applicable also to the glories of the gospel
church, of which Jerusalem was a type, especially when it shall come to
be a church triumphant, the "heavenly Jerusalem"
"the Jerusalem which is above,"
Jerusalem is here praised,
I. For its relation to God,
II. For God's care of it,
III. For the terror it strikes upon its enemies,
IV. For the pleasure it gives to its friends, who delight to think,
1. Of what God has done, does, and will do for it,
2. Of the gracious discoveries he makes of himself in and for that holy
3. Of the effectual provision which is made for its safety,
4. Of the assurance we have of the perpetuity of God's covenant with
the children of Zion,
In singing this psalm we must be affected with the privilege we have as
members of the gospel church, and must express and excite our sincere
good-will to all its interests.
|The Beauty and Strength of Zion.
A song and psalm for the sons of Korah.
1 Great is the LORD, and greatly
to be praised in the city of our God, in the
mountain of his holiness.
2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is
mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great
3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge.
4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.
5 They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled,
and hasted away.
6 Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in
7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
The psalmist is designing to praise Jerusalem and to set forth the
grandeur of that city; but he begins with the praises of God and his
and ends with the praises of God and his goodness,
For, whatever is the subject of our praises, God must be both the Alpha
and Omega of them. And, particularly, whatever is said to the honour of
the church must redound to the honour of the church's God.
What is here said to the honour of Jerusalem is,
I. That the King of heaven owns it: it is the city of our God
which he chose out of all the cities of Israel to put his name there.
Of Zion he said kinder things than ever he said of place upon earth.
This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired
It is the city of the great King
the King of all the earth, who is pleased to declare himself in a
special manner present there. This our Saviour quotes to prove that to
swear by Jerusalem is profanely to swear by God himself
for it is the city of the great King, who has chosen it for the
special residence of his grace, as heaven is of his glory.
1. It is enlightened with the knowledge of God. In Judah God is
known, and his name is great, but especially in Jerusalem, the
head-quarters of the priests, whose lips were to keep this knowledge.
In Jerusalem God is great
who in other places was made little of, was made nothing of. Happy the
kingdom, the city, the family, the heart, in which God is great, in
which he is uppermost, in which he is all. There God is known
and where he is known he will be great; none contemn God but those that
are ignorant of him.
2. It is devoted to the honour of God. It is therefore called the
mountain of his holiness, for holiness to the Lord is
written upon it and all the furniture of it,
This is the privilege of the church of Christ, that it is a holy
nation, a peculiar people; Jerusalem, the type of it, is called
the holy city, bad as it was
till that was set up, but never after.
3. It is the place appointed for the solemn service and worship of God;
there he is greatly praised, and greatly to be praised,
Note, The clearer discoveries are made to us of God and his greatness
the more it is expected that we should abound in his praises. Those
that from all parts of the country brought their offerings to Jerusalem
had reason to be thankful that God would not only permit them thus to
attend him, but promise to accept them, and meet them with a blessing,
and reckon himself praised and honoured by their services. Herein
Jerusalem typified the gospel church; for what little tribute of praise
God has from this earth arises from that church upon earth, which is
therefore his tabernacle among men.
4. It is taken under his special protection
He is known for a refuge; that is, he has approved himself such
a one, and as such a one he is there applied to by his worshippers.
Those that know him will trust in him, and seek to him,
God was known, not only in the streets, but even in the palaces of
Jerusalem, for a refuge; the great men had recourse to God and
acquaintance with him. And then religion was likely to flourish in the
city when it reigned in the palaces.
5. Upon all these accounts, Jerusalem, and especially Mount Zion, on
which the temple was built, were universally beloved and
admired--beautiful for situation, and the joy of the whole
The situation must needs be every way agreeable, when Infinite Wisdom
chose it for the place of the sanctuary; and that which made it
beautiful was that it was the mountain of holiness, for there is a
beauty in holiness. This earth is, by sin, covered with deformity, and
therefore justly might that spot of ground which was thus beautified
with holiness he called the joy of the whole earth, that is,
what the whole earth had reason to rejoice in, that God would thus in
very deed dwell with man upon the earth. Mount Zion was on the north
side of Jerusalem, and so was a shelter to the city from the cold and
bleak winds that blew from that quarter; or, if fair weather was
expected out of the north, they were thus directed to look Zion-ward
II. That the kings of the earth were afraid of it. That God was known
in their palaces for a refuge they had had a late instance, and a very
remarkable one. Whatever it was,
1. They had had but too much occasion to fear their enemies; for the
kings were assembled,
The neighbouring princes were confederate against Jerusalem; their
heads and horns, their policies and powers, were combined for its ruin;
they were assembled with all their forces; they passed, advanced, and
marched on together, not doubting but they should soon make themselves
masters of that city which should have been the joy, but was the envy
of the whole earth.
2. God made their enemies to fear them. The very sight of Jerusalem
struck them into a consternation and gave check to their fury, as the
sight of the tents of Jacob frightened Balaam from his purpose to curse
They saw it and marvelled, and hasted away,
Not Veni, vidi, vici--I came, I saw, I conquered; but, on the
contrary, Veni vidi victus sum--I came, I saw, I was defeated.
Not that there was any thing to be seen in Jerusalem that was so very
formidable; but the sight of it brought to mind what they had heard
concerning the special presence of God in that city and the divine
protection it was under, and God impressed such terrors on their minds
thereby as made them retire with precipitation. Though they were
kings, though they were many in confederacy, yet they knew themselves
an unequal match for Omnipotence, and therefore fear came upon them,
Note, God can dispirit the stoutest of his church's enemies, and soon
put those in pain that live at ease. The fright they were in upon the
sight of Jerusalem is here compared to the throes of a woman in
travail, which are sharp and grievous, which sometimes come suddenly
(1 Thessalonians 5:3),
which cannot be avoided, and which are effects of sin and the curse.
The defeat hereby given to their designs upon Jerusalem is compared to
the dreadful work made with a fleet of ships by a violent storm, when
some are split, others shattered, all dispersed
Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind; effects
at sea lie thus exposed. The terrors of God are compared to an east
these shall put them into confusion, and break all their measures.
Who knows the power of God's anger?
|God's Care of His Church.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of
hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever.
9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of
10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the
ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad,
because of thy judgments.
12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers
13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may
tell it to the generation following.
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our
guide even unto death.
We have here the good use and improvement which the people of God are
taught to make of his late glorious and gracious appearances for them
against their enemies, that they might work for their good.
I. Let our faith in the word of God be hereby confirmed. If we compare
what God has done with what he has spoken, we shall find that, as we
have heard, so have we seen
and what we have seen obliges us to believe what we have heard.
1. "As we have heard done in former providences, in the days of old, so
have we seen done in our own days." Note, God's latter appearances for
his people against his and their enemies are consonant to his former
appearances, and should put us in mind of them.
2. "As we have heard in the promise and prediction, so have we seen in
the performance and accomplishment. We have heard that God is the Lord
of hosts, and that Jerusalem is the city of our God, is dear to him, is
his particular care; and now we have seen it; we have seen the power of
our God; we have seen his goodness; we have seen his care and concern
for us, that he is a wall of fire round about Jerusalem and the
glory in the midst of her." Note, In the great things that God has
done, and is doing, for his church, it is good to take notice of the
fulfilling of the scriptures; and this would help us the better to
understand both the providence itself and the scripture that is
fulfilled in it.
II. Let our hope of the stability and perpetuity of the church be
hereby encouraged. "From what we have seen, compared with what we have
heard, in the city of our God, we may conclude that God will establish
it for ever." This was not fulfilled in Jerusalem (that city was long
since destroyed, and all its glory laid in the dust), but has its
accomplishment in the gospel church. We are sure that that shall be
established for ever; it is built upon a rock, and the gates of hell
cannot prevail against it,
God himself has undertaken the establishment of it; it is the Lord that
has founded Zion,
And what we have seen, compared with what we have heard, may encourage
us to hope in that promise of God upon which the church is built.
III. Let our minds be hereby filled with good thoughts of God. "From
what we have heard, and seen, and hope for, we may take occasion to
think much of God's loving-kindness, whenever we meet in the midst
of his temple,"
All the streams of mercy that flow down to us must be traced up to the
fountain of God's lovingkindness. It is not owing to any merit of ours,
but purely to his mercy, and the peculiar favour he bears to his
people. This therefore we must think of with delight, think of
frequently and fixedly. What subject can we dwell upon more noble, more
pleasant, more profitable? We must have God's lovingkindness always
before our eyes
especially when we attend upon him in his temple. When we enjoy the
benefit of public ordinances undisturbed, when we meet in his temple
and there is none to make us afraid, we should take occasion thence to
think of his lovingkindness.
IV. Let us give to God the glory of the great things which he has done
for us, and mention them to his honour
"According to thy name, O God! so is thy praise, not only in
Jerusalem, but to the ends of the earth." By the late signal
deliverance of Jerusalem God had made himself a name; that is, he had
gloriously discovered his wisdom, power, and goodness, and made all the
nations about sensible of it; and so was his praise; that is,
some in all parts would be found giving glory to him accordingly. As
far as his name goes his praise will go, at least it should go, and, at
length, it shall go, when all the ends of the world shall praise him,
Some, by his name, understand especially that glorious name of
his, the Lord of hosts; according to that name, so is his
praise; for all the creatures, even to the ends of the earth, are under
his command. But his people must, in a special manner, acknowledge his
justice in all he does for them. "Righteousness fills thy right
hand;" that is, all the operations of thy power are consonant to
the eternal rules of equity.
V. Let all the members of the church in particular take to themselves
the comfort of what God does for his church in general
"Let Mount Zion rejoice, the priests and Levites that attend the
sanctuary, and then let all the daughters of Judah, the
country towns, and the inhabitants of them, be glad: let the women in
their songs and dances, as usual on occasion of public joys, celebrate
with thankfulness the great salvation which God has wrought for us."
Note, When we have given God the praise we may then take the pleasure
of the extraordinary deliverances of the church, and be glad because
of God's judgments (that is, the operations of his providence), all
which we may see wrought in wisdom (therefore called judgments)
and working for the good of his church.
VI. Let us diligently observe the instances and evidences of the
church's beauty, strength, and safety, and faithfully transmit our
observations to those that shall come after us
Walk about Zion. Some think this refers to the ceremony of the
triumph; let those who are employed in that solemnity walk round the
walls (as they did,
singing and praising God. In doing this let them tell the towers and
mark well the bulwarks,
1. That they might magnify the late wonderful deliverance God had
wrought for them. Let them observe, with wonder, that the towers and
bulwarks are all in their full strength and none of them damaged, the
palaces in their beauty and none of them blemished; there is not the
least damage done to the city by the kings that were assembled against
Tell this to the generation following, as a wonderful instance
of God's care of his holy city, that the enemies should not only not
ruin or destroy it, but not so much as hurt or deface it.
2. That they might fortify themselves against the fear of the like
threatening danger another time. And so,
(1.) We may understand it literally of Jerusalem, and the strong-hold
of Zion. Let the daughters of Judah see the towers and bulwarks of
Zion, with a pleasure equal to the terror with which the kings their
enemies saw them,
Jerusalem was generally looked upon as an impregnable place, as
All the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that an
enemy should enter the gates of Jerusalem; nor could they have
entered if the inhabitants had not sinned away their defence. Set
your heart to her bulwarks. This intimates that the principal
bulwarks of Zion were not the objects of sense, which they might set
their eye upon, but the objects of faith, which they must set their
hearts upon. It was well enough fortified indeed both by nature and
art; but its bulwarks that were mostly to be relied upon were the
special presence of God in it, the beauty of holiness he had put upon
it, and the promises he had made concerning it. "Consider Jerusalem's
strength, and tell it to the generations to come, that they may do
nothing to weaken it, and that, if at any time it be in distress, they
may not basely surrender it to the enemy as not tenable." Calvin
observes here that when they are directed to transmit to posterity a
particular account of the towers, and bulwarks, and palaces of
Jerusalem, it is intimated that in process of time they would all be
destroyed and remain no longer to be seen; for, otherwise, what need
was thee to preserve the description and history of them? When the
disciples were admiring the buildings of the temple their Master told
them that in a little time one stone of it should not be left upon
(2.) This must certainly be applied to the gospel church, that Mount
"Consider the towers, and bulwarks, and palaces of that, that you may
be invited and encouraged to join yourselves to it and embark in it.
See it founded on Christ, the rock fortified by the divine power,
guarded by him that neither slumbers nor sleeps. See what precious
ordinances are its palaces, what precious promises are its bulwarks;
tell this to the generation following, that they may with purpose of
heart espouse its interests and cleave to it."
VII. Let us triumph in God, and in the assurances we have of his
Tell this to the generation following; transmit this truth as a sacred
deposit to your posterity, That this God, who has now done such
great things for us, is our God for ever and ever; he is
constant and unchangeable in his love to us and care for us.
1. If God be our God, he is ours for ever, not only through all the
ages of time, but to eternity; for it is the everlasting blessedness of
glorified saints that God himself will be with them and will be
2. If he be our God, he will be our guide, our faithful constant
guide, to show us our way and to lead us in it; he will be so, even
unto death, which will be the period of our way, and will bring us
to our rest. He will lead and keep us even to the last. He will be our
guide above death (so some); he will so guide us as to set us
above the reach of death, so that it shall not be able to do us any
real hurt. He will be our guide beyond death (so others); he
will conduct us safely to a happiness on the other side death, to a
life in which there shall be no more death. If we take the Lord for our
God, he will conduct and convey us safely to death, through death, and
beyond death--down to death and up again to glory.