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 greatness (Ps. 48:1), and ends with the praises of God and his goodness, Ps. 48:14. 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 (Ps. 48:1), 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, Ps. 132:13, 14. It is the city of the great King (Ps. 48:2), 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 (Matt. 5:35), 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 (Ps. 48:1) 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 (Ps. 48:3) 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, Zech. 14:20. 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 (Matt. 27:53), 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, Ps. 48:1. 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 (Ps. 48:3): 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, Ps. 9:10. 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 earth, Ps. 48:2. 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 for it.
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, Ps. 48:4. 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 Israel (Num. 24:2): They saw it and marvelled, and hasted away, Ps. 48:5. 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, and pain, Ps. 48:6. 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 Thess. 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 (Ps. 48:7): 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 wind (Job 27:20, 21); these shall put them into confusion, and break all their measures. Who knows the power of God’s anger?