Summary: Who is this great King?
The City of the Great King
The Book of Psalms was the Hebrew hymn book. Like our songs, they address a variety of topics and situations from simply giving praise, being comforted in times of trouble, of the need to have sin forgiven, and hope in times of war. Like our hymns, they can be individually focused or they can focus on the people of God as a whole. Like the song books, the Psalms address God directly or speaks about God. In other words, they are sacred and not secular. The Holy Spirit thought it well that these songs be included as part of Scripture which is our infallible guide from God.
Psalm 48 belongs to a group of Psalms known as the Songs of Zion. Psalm 46, which is similar is the Psalm which inspired Luther to write “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The city of Jerusalem provided a sense of security to the nation of Israel. It was upon a high hill which gave it strong defense against invaders. The enemy could be seen afar off and there would be time to warn the citizens to come to the defense. The steep climb would weary the enemy. The LORD had provided a natural fortress upon which He would establish a city for His name.
The Psalm also mentions that the city had many towers and strong walls. Zion was a strong fortress which would cause invaders to lose courage. It had access to underground water which means it was hard to encircle it with the purpose of starving out the residents. The strength of the city could be seen that it took a massive engineering effort by the Romans and several years to capture the city. Other invaders had frustrated themselves. The city had stood for hundreds of years in Jebusite hands before King David could reduce it and capture it. This was truly the city of a great king.
We don’t know when the Psalm was written, but it was written by the Sons of Korah. This was a priestly family who was responsible for conducting the worship which included the writing of the hymns to be sung. Since the city of Jerusalem was in Israelite hands, it was written after the time of David. Other than that, we cannot be certain of the date.
The Psalm begins with the shout “Great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised!” It does not begin with the description of the strength of the city, but rather with an acknowledgement that their chief security was in their relationship to Yahweh. Men had built their fortress on Mt. Zion, but it was held by the arm of God. It is called here the “city of the Great King.” Was this one of the kings of Judah like Josephat? The answer to this question is ultimately, “No.” There were many in the Middle East who claimed to be the “Great King.” But even at the pinnacle of her power, Israel was a relatively small player on the world stage. They certainly would not make the other kings tremble in fear and be seized as with labor pains. Mt. Zion was strategically strong as far as defense was concerned, but it could be bypassed. The big trade route between Egypt, the Hittites, and the Assyrians ran through the coastal highway. This was protected by the great fortress at the mountain outside Megiddo called “Har-Megiddo” or “Armageddon.” This fortress city has played a far greater role in history than Jerusalem.
Even though God had appointed earthly kings to rule over Israel and then Judah, it was truly Yahweh who was to be their Great King. As creator and sovereign, He is to be greatly feared. As long as Israel trusted in Him, no earthly power could overcome them. He was the true fortress of Zion. The “City of the Great King” is the “City of Yahweh” who is the true king.
There is more than the military aspect of Mt. Zion. When it is exalted, there is also a moral quality to the city. To go “up to Jerusalem” is to morally climb to the LORD as well. It is the home of the righteous judge who vindicates His people from their enemies. It is a place where Yahweh is praised in His Temple. The people of God are to rejoice in God their protector, even to the point of death. The LORD is God even in our death, which implies that there is more to life than this world. We can trust the LORD even unto death because there is resurrection. We don’t know how much the worshipers understood about life after death in the time the Psalm was originally written, but I feel it is far more than most modern “scholars” who think that the belief in life after death was not understood until the time of the Maccabees in 170 BC, or hundreds of years after the Psalm was written. But when one realizes that the Egyptians of Moses’ day and earlier believed in life after death. This is why they mummified bodies and put food for them to eat in the afterlife in jars. As Israel came out of Egypt, it seems logical that they believed in life after death.