Psalm 48: Great Is The Lord, And Greatly To Be Praised

In many ways, Psalm 47 [1] and Psalm 48 are closely connected as Psalms that together praise God for his rule, for his conquest of the heathen nations that rose up against God and have opposed God’s ways during human history, and for His strong protection of the redeemed Jerusalem as His city. In addition, Psalm 48 shares some ties with Psalm 84 as a psalm that praises the temple and the spiritual work of God that will go on in a restored and godly religious system [2]. In addition, Psalm 48 shares some ties with Psalm 46 [3] as a praise of God’s role as a refuge for God’s people. In many ways the thematic concerns of the Sons of Korah are frequently mentioned.

As Levites active in serving as musicians within the tabernacle and temple system, as gatekeepers of the temples, and as people with possibly mixed ethnic heritage (Ezrahite seems to refer to native-born or indigenous people, presumably among those who served like the Levites in the temple and tabernacle system). It is unsurprising, therefore, that the concerns of the Sons of Korah would reflect their role within the order and system of worship during the First and Second Temple periods. But since most Christians do not bother to understand or study this context, our understanding of the importance of the work and the meaning of the works of the Sons of Korah remains very limited.

The Popularity Of Psalm 48

Psalm 48 has been a relatively popular psalm for hymns. Within my own religious tradition at least two popular hymns have been made from it, “Great Is The Lord” and “Mount Zion Stands Most Beautiful.” Interestingly enough, the online guide for hymns confuses Psalm 48 with Psalm 87 as the inspiration for John Newton Howard’s “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” falsely assuming the song to refer to Psalm 48 because of its similarities with Psalm 87 as a psalm glorifying Jerusalem [4] [5]. Nonetheless, the fact that Psalm 48 sings praises to Jerusalem and to God’s people has long made it a fan of those who see it as pointing to either physical Jerusalem or the Israel of God, the Church.

Great Is The Lord

Psalm 48 consists of two stanzas, separated by the familiar “Selah” break common among Hebrew psalms. The first part of Psalm 48, from verses one to eight, comments about the greatness of God, of His city Jerusalem, as well as giving a prophetic glimpse of future troubles in and around Jerusalem. Psalm 48:1-8 reads as follows: “Great is the Lord, and greatly be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is in her palaces; He is known as her refuge. For behold, the kings assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled, they hastened away. Fear took hold of them there, and pain, as of a woman in birth pangs. As when you break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God; God will establish it forever. Selah.”

It is clear even from a surface reading of this passage that there is more than meets the eye about the praise of Jerusalem given in this passage. For one, the Jerusalem praised by the Sons of Korah is not the same Jerusalem that exists in Israel. This Jerusalem is the home of God, on the far sides of the north, the refuge of God’s people, and the joy of the whole earth. None of those things can be said about the Jerusalem of today, which is a stumbling block and frustration to the whole world, a place of division and hostility, a place where God’s ways are not welcome. Interestingly enough, Isaiah 14:13 speaks of Satan’s rebellion in a way that describes the identity of the Jerusalem sung by the Sons of Korah. Isaiah 14:13 reads: “For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north.” Here we see that the Jerusalem talked about by the Sons of Korah is the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4:26), the New Jerusalem, that currently resides in heaven and that will be brought to earth forever during the new heavens and new earth where God will dwell (Revelation 21:1-3). And that Jerusalem is the joy of the whole earth, a city in which there will be no death or sorrow or crying (Revelation 21:4).

In fact, the confusion of the holy city of the Jerusalem that is above and the earthly Jerusalem is a major problem today, as people can worship the physical and deeply flawed Jerusalem that exists now and conflate it with the blessings given for the heavenly Jerusalem by psalmists like the Sons of Korah. The references to God’s dwelling and the heavens helps us recognize that the praise for Jerusalem goes to God and not to the corrupt Jerusalem that is in the flesh, that is not worthy of that glory and honor but should hope to aspire to it through obedience to God’s ways. Interestingly enough, the pointing to the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven above as the place where God dwells would seem to imply that this particular psalm, and the terror of the kings that is described as they march against Jerusalem, is referring to their judgment by fire when they join the Satanic rebellion at the end of the thousand years of Jesus’ rule before the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:7-9). The content and context of the psalm would therefore suggest that Psalm 48 is a prophetic psalm in a way that has not often been realized by commentators, most of whom view it as a rather mundane ode to the glories of the physical Jerusalem alone [6].

This understanding of the prophetic meaning (aside from whatever relevance to the physical Jerusalem is meant in the praise of the Sons of Korah) would then add something of importance to the first-person witness statements of the Sons of Korah mentioned. It is clear that the author(s) of the Psalm are presenting themselves among God’s people, presumably among those who are part of the firstfruits of God who will be privileged to reign on earth with Jesus Christ and who will be witnesses of the events described in Revelation 20 and elsewhere. This psalm would therefore seem to indicate a close relationship between the faithful servants of the earthly temple and the kings and priests in God’s Kingdom who are of the Israel of God, greatly lessening the supposed discontinuity between physical and spiritual Israel, as well as the Hebrew scriptures and their applicability to Christians today.

He Will Be Our Guide Even To Death

The second part of Psalm 48 is from Psalm 48:9-14, and it reads: “We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, in the midst of Your temple. According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is full of righteousness. Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of your judgments. Walk about Zion, and go all around her, count her towers; mark well her bulwarks; consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following. For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.”

This psalm seems to refer back to the previous psalm, Psalm 47, which commented that “the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted” (Psalm 47:9). Here we see that the real bulwark and shield of Jerusalem was not their mighty military strength, but rather the grace and power of God Himself. The psalm also suggests either multiple authors or a strong identification of the author with His people, speaking on behalf of the entire godly community in praise of God’s hesed (grace, lovingkindness) toward His people. We therefore see that grace is not only an aspect of God’s dealing with believers today after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but that it has always marked God’s relationship with His people. Additionally, the people of God here in Psalm 48 are called on to praise and be glad because of God’s judgment. The authority and rule of God is something that believers look forward to–while the enemies of God’s people quake and fear (Psalm 48:5-6) in the expectation of God’s wrath against them for their rebellion and disobedience.

There are additional elements of interest in this particular psalm. In a similar manner to the Apostle John in Revelation 21, the psalmist commands believers to take a record of the towers and palaces in Jerusalem to leave a record for generations to come of God’s great favor and blessings. Here in this last section of Psalm 48, as it winds to its close, we see a moving back from prophetic and spiritual visions to more physical comments about the need for honest and faithful recording of facts and history for future generations. Of course, simply because one faithfully records one’s experiences and one’s life and one’s time does not mean that later generations will believe such works, but at the very least one’s obligations toward future generations will be done in giving them a true and accurate record of that which we have seen and experienced as honest eyewitnesses as well as a faithful example of godly behavior for future generations to model. It is also worthy of a brief note that the last phrase of this psalm is under some dispute as to its meaning in the ancient texts. The Masoretic Text and the Syriac give the reading “He will be our guide even to death,” while the Septuagint and Vulgate read the last phrase as, “He will be our guide forever.” This suggests, given that the older and more reliable versions point to our mortality as human beings, that while we have an eternal destiny as part of the heavenly Jerusalem that is above, believers will die physical deaths but that God remains faithful to His eternal promises.


Psalm 48 is a remarkable psalm for a variety of reasons. Its popularity seems to result from its praise of Jerusalem, which is either taken as referring to ancient Israel and the strong love of Judaism for the well-being of Jerusalem or as a praise of God’s church in a more metaphorical use of Jerusalem. At any rate, the prophetic implications of Psalm 48 as referring to future events would seem to indicate that Psalm 48 should be of even more interest than it is, in providing a connection between the First Temple service of the Sons of Korah and the service of believers in the Jerusalem of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Additionally, this poem is a moving tribute both to God’s promise to serve as a refuge and as a bulwark to protect His people as well as a testament to God’s grace and God’s judgments, showing that God is both merciful and just, a balanced presentation of both sides of God’s dealing with mankind. Let us therefore celebrate the skill of the Sons of Korah in creating such a concise statement of faith in God’s protection and lovingkindness, as well as such a thought provoking and worthwhile song in comparing this age with the age to come in ways that are far more worthwhile of exploration than this psalm often receives.







About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Music History, Psalms, Sons of Korah and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Psalm 48: Great Is The Lord, And Greatly To Be Praised

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Sons of Korah Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: An Introduction To The Psalms Commentary Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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