Theme: In Praise of God
From this week’s lessons we learn that this Song of Zion is fundamentally a song of praise to God, who watches over his people in all times and forever.
Scripture: Psalm 48:1-14
We are used to symbolism in poetry, and it would be hard to find a psalm that did not employ much of it. But sometimes we come to a psalm that exceeds the others in the sense that its very theme is symbolic. Psalm 48 is such a psalm.
It is called a Song of Zion because of its references to Jerusalem as the “city of God.” Those words occurred once in Psalm 46 (in v. 4). Psalm 46 is the first of the Songs of Zion in the Psalter. The others are Psalms 76, 84, 87 and 122. Psalm 84 begins, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty.” Psalm 122 begins, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” All these praise Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. But if ever a psalm was truly a Song of Zion, it is the one we come to now. In it the words “city of our God” or its equivalent occur not once but three times (in vv. 1, 2, 8), and the people are actually invited to walk around the city, count its towers and meditate on the strength of its ramparts.
All this carries us beyond the mere city of Jerusalem, if read with understanding. For one thing, the city is not the Jews’ delight alone; it is “the joy of the whole earth” (v. 2). And God is not only to be praised by his own people; he is to be praised everywhere (v. 10).
Even more, as Derek Kidner suggests, in this psalm Zion itself seems to become more than a mere earthly capital, and the struggle described becomes more than local. It concerns the whole earth and the whole span of time. Thinking ahead to the final chapters of Revelation, which describe heavenly Jerusalem, Kidner says, “The outlines of the Jerusalem above, with its great walls and foundations which are ‘for ever,’ are already coming into view.”1
There is yet another way the psalm exceeds our expectations. Ostensibly in praise of Jerusalem, Psalm 48 is in reality a psalm in praise of God, for this is what Jerusalem stands for.
In fact, we see it not only in the opening couplet (v. 1) but also at the very end (v. 14). These two verses, in which God is praised, are a poetical device scholars call inclusio. Inclusio is a single idea that both opens and closes a poem or section of a poem. It binds its parts together and sometimes, as here, indicates how the material that is enclosed should be taken.2 Psalm 8 is a good example of inclusio. It begins and ends with the words, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1, 9), showing that the created order, which is what the middle portion of the psalm describes, comes from and should praise God.
This device is less obvious in Psalm 48, but it is nevertheless clear what it accomplishes. It tells us that its praise of Zion, which the body of the poem consists of, is actually praise of God. It begins: “Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain (v. 1). And it ends: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end (v. 14).”
These observations support Peter C. Craigie’s view, who says of the Songs of Zion, “The substance of the Songs of Zion may appear superficially to be the praise of Mount Zion in the holy city; but at a deeper level, it is the praise of God, whose presence and protection is symbolized by the holy mountain and its sanctuary.”3 In a similar vein, H. C. Leupold writes, “The conclusion that this psalm draws is that the God who dwells at Zion is immeasurably great and will be a sure defense of all who put their trust in him, as Psalm 46 had already pointed out with emphasis.”4
What other meanings do the different references to Jerusalem have that are beyond the mere earthly city?
What is an inclusio and how is Psalm 48 a good example of it?
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 179.2Tremper Longman says, “An inclusio gives the reader of the psalm a sense of closure, a sense of having read a complete poem. It imparts to the psalm a sense of unity, and perhaps most important, it sets the mood for the whole psalm” (Tremper Longman, III, How to Read the Psalms [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1988], p. 107).3Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 352.4H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 375.