Thoughts on Psalm 48 (Paper 1)
James B. Currie, Belfast
This Psalm is the last of a group of three (46-48) which all bring before us the mighty power of God in delivering His people from their enemies, 47. 3. It is most encouraging to remind our hearts that the One who opens this trio of psalms, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble", closes the 48th Psalm as "this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death".
The 48th Psalm neatly divides into two sections : 1 -8 has as its theme the power of God and ends "for ever"; 9-14 is the favour of God also ending with "for ever"; that is, His greatness and His grace.
It would appear that nearly every psalm can be profitably studied from three different standpoints:
(1) Its Interpretation,
(2) Its Anticipation,
(3) Its Application.
Most agree that the interpretation of this psalm has to do with the mighty deliverance wrought by God in 2 Kings 19, when the people under Hezekiah were saved from the hand of the Assyrians led by Sennacherib. God alone could defend the city, and 185,000 Assyrians were slain in one night by the angel of the Lord, 19. 34-36.
As to its anticipation it is suggested that there is in view the defeat of the enemies of Israel as prophesied in Ezekiel 38. In this connection the phrase in verse 2 of our psalm "the sides of the north" takes on a significant meaning. The north being the place of darkness, mystery and intrigue is thus typical of that which is opposed to God who "is light, and in him is no darkness at all", 1 John 1. 5. Thus when this northern foe in Ezekiel 38. 15 rises to oppose the city, it is God who undertakes the deliverance, vv. 3, 4, 23.
The applications of this psalm are many and varied, and provided we can substantiate an application from the rest of the inspired volume then some help and blessing will be our portion. The passage may be read and taken to ourselves as individuals when we are on a stormy sea, but as the main thought seems to be the city this would rather remind us of a collective gathering. It is with a view to helping those who gather with other believers in assembly capacity that this study is undertaken. It is evident to the author that there is a great need for the restatement of assembly truths and practices to establish the young and remind the old of the things most surely believed amongst us, 1 Tim. 4. 6; 2 Tim. 2. 14; Luke 1.1.
Taking then the city as a type of a New Testament assembly it would be of profit to trace the following two thoughts : The Appellation of the City, and The Occupation of the Inhabitants of the City.
The Appellation of the City. The
city is described in a four fold way: v.1. "The city of our God"—
Majesty, v.2. "The city of the great King"
—Royalty, v.8. "The city of the Lord of
hosts"—Authority, v.8. "The city of our God"—
The first of these appellations "The city of our God" is linked with His holiness, "in his holy mountain" r.v. It is evident from the first time God dwelled with man in the garden of Eden to the last in Revelation 21 and 22 that such a fellowship demanded holiness, Rev. 21. 27. During this present dispensation the dwelling place of God is threefold :
(1) in the church which is His
habitation, Eph. 2. 22,
(2) in individual believers,
1 Cor. 6. 19,
(3) in the assemblies of His
people, 1 Cor. 3. 16. Each of these three dwellings must satisfy the condition of holiness to be in the enjoyment of God's presence. The first of the three will not be fully realized until after the Church has been raptured. The second of these is a fact, but if state does not correspond with standing, then the judgment of God may be experienced. The third is the one with which we are presently concerned, and again if conditions are not fit for the dwelling place of God then removal of individuals, 1 Cor. 11. 30, and eventually of the testimony may result, Rev. 2. 5. Those first Christians were reminded early in their experience of the demands of holiness, when in Acts 5. 1-10 God judged in a most spectacular fashion.
The presence of God dwelling among His people in any assembly thus demands holiness, reverence and modesty. When Jacob realized he was in the "house of God", he said "How dreadful (reverent) is this place !", Gen. 28. 17. All of the men God used were those who had realized His holiness and their nothingness; e.g., Moses, Exod. 3. 1 -5; Isaiah, Isa. 6. 1 -7; Ezekiel, Ezek. 1. 28; Paul, Acts 9. 4-5; John, Rev. 1. 17. With this in mind it behoves us to be careful in our behaviour in the house of God, 1 Tim. 3. 14-15.
We never read where any of the Lord's people addressed Him as Jesus. Their language is always reverent and dignified as would become the One who is the "mighty God" Isa. 9. 6. The apostles readily call Him "Lord", which was something never done by Judas. He called the Saviour "Master", Matt. 26. 49. How good it is to rise in our appreciation of Him and acknowledge like Thomas "my Lord and my God", John 20. 28. There is a tendency in our day to become too familiar in how we address God. Both old and young use language which is neither scriptural nor profitable even to the extent of introducing relationships which have no scriptural basis. The saint with his senses exercised shudders when our Lord Jesus is referred to as our Elder Brother.
In this connection it is remarkable that in the New English Bible when God is addressed the word "thou" is used, but when the Lord Jesus is addressed "you" is permitted, e.g. John 11. 27, 41-42; Acts 4. 24-30; 9.5. A glimpse of the holiness of the One we address would cure such inconsistent language.
It is most instructive to see the action of Peter who was naked when he realized he was coming into the presence of the Lord. He clothed himself, John 21. 7. Is it not suggestive that the Epistle which reminds us of our behaviour in the assembly also reminds us of modest apparel, 1 Tim. 2.9? Today in some assemblies it is becoming a rare sight to see a sister sitting modestly with her long hair covered, 1 Cor. 11.6, and a brother with his hair short, vv. 4, 14. Surely such behaviour does not become those who meet where God dwells "in the city of our God".
The second name the city is given is "the city of the great King". A king is one who rules and so we are taught that an assembly is a place of rule. It would be a most instructive study to trace those who rule, how they rule, and to see the glory of the Chief Shepherd who will rule. We must limit ourselves to a brief look at two portions of Scripture. Firstly Hebrews 13, where three times we are told of them which "have the rule over you", vv. 7, 17, 24. The meaning of the word is to lead or to guide. The first reference in verse 7 is an exhortation to "remember them which have the rule over you".
In verse 17 the exhortation is to obey, meaning to listen to and be persuaded; the word is frequently rendered "persuaded" as in Acts 13. 43; 21. 14; 26. 26, 28; 2 Tim. 1. 5, 12; Heb. 6. 9 ; 11. 13. This is a most timely word in the age of lawlessness in which we are found. It would appearth at the character of the world outside the assembly tends to find its way inside, as in Titus 1. 12, 13. The world around us is now characterized by lawlessness and self-expression, and we do well to be on our guard lest the enemy sow such seed within. The whole essence of Christianity is one of subjection and self-denial; thus disobedience to parents, disrespect for age, and the do-what-l-will attitude is most unbecoming in any Christian. We need to be reminded that an assembly is a place of godly order and rule.
The third reference in verse 24 is to "Salute (welcome or greet) all them that have the rule over you". We should not allow proud, haughty thoughts to arise in our minds with regard to our brethren who shepherd the flock. In fact the Spirit of God instructs us "to know them which labour among you, and are over you (stand in front) in the Lord, and admonish (put sense into) you ; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake", 1 Thess. 5. 12, 13.
It is necessary to observe that the overseers are not above the assembly in a "them" and "us" sense, but are "among you", and when such brethren, with a desire to instruct us in the ways of the Lord, try and "put sense into us", there ought to be a spirit of humble acceptance rather than a spirit of resentment.
Thirdly it is "the city of the Lord of hosts". This appellation would tell us of One who exercises authority over the innumerable angelic hosts, and surely He is the authoritative Lord over the assembly. We see this authority exercised in the letters to the seven churches in Asia, Rev. 2-3. As has previously been mentioned He is the One who can remove the testimony, Rev. 2. 5, and yet as the Sovereign Lord He holds out precious rewards to the overcomers. When sin enters the assembly and judgment is to be carried out, it is done "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "with the power (might) of our Lord Jesus Christ", 1 Cor. 5. 4. This putting away must not be done in a hard, vengeful spirit, but always with a view to recovery, remembering that we are putting into action on earth that which has already been ratified in heaven, Matt. 18. 18.
When we consider serving in evangelical work it is worthy of note that in Luke 10. 2 it is "the Lord of the harvest" sending forth labourers. An interest in the gospel, eloquence or natural ability are not the criteria for one to move out in service; only when it is evident that the Lord has called should one act.
Finally, as to the names of the city it is called "the city of our God". The next phrase would suggest the thought of sovereignty. "God will establish it for ever". The sovereignty of God is clearly seen in the operation of each assembly. If we consider one of the most important needs of any company, namely that of gift, we can see how it is sovereignty that meets the requirements. The three places where the distribution of gift is mentioned in the New Testament are Romans 12. 3; 1 Cor. 12. 11, and Eph. 4. 7-11.
In Romans 12 it is God who is working : "according as God hath dealt to every man". In 1 Corinthians 12 the Spirit is the One in control, and for the only time in the New Testament we read of the will of the Spirit, "dividing to every man severally as he will" (Hebrews 2. 4 refers to God's will). Finally in Ephesians the ascended Christ is the One who gives the gifts to men. Thus we see that the three Persons of the Trinity in sovereign wisdom give gifts. This being so, surely we ought to be content with the gift we have been given. There is a tendency for brethren to be jealous of another one's gift, and we suffer from men occupying positions for which God never gifted them. How beautifully an assembly functions when each brother and sister, content with his or her own gift, exercises it for God's glory and the edification of their fellow saints. Each fulfils a need, all need is met, each helping the other, and the assembly moves sweetly and harmoniously under divine control. Such a state is to be greatly treasured. To be concluded