A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah
1 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.
2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.
3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge.
4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.
5 They saw it, and so they marvelled: they were troubled, and hasted away.
6 Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.
7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever. Selah.
9 We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of Thy temple.
10 According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of Thy judgments.
12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.
13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces: that ye may tell it to the generation following.
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.
We rejoice because God strengthens and defends the church.
We are comforted with the beauty, strength, and permanence of the church of God in Christ Jesus. Seeing the care the Lord has for His church is encouraging to the hearts of His own.
Verses 1–2. When we come across references to Zion, Jerusalem, or the City of God, what do they mean to us? Hebrews 12:22– 23 equates the city of Zion to the church of the First Born who is Jesus Christ. The church met at Jerusalem in the Old Testament, but Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that this would end (John 4:21). Today the church meets where two or three of Christ’s ordained elders are gathered.
The business of the church is to gather together and praise God, because God is great and greatly to be praised. Nowhere is His greatness so richly manifested as in the church, the city of God.
The church is glorious, couched in the mountain range of His power. It holds a high position, not in physical altitude as on the mountain of Jerusalem, and not in political power, but in spiritual power and favor with God. Moreover, the church is on the mountain of God’s holiness. It is kept holy and set apart from the wickedness of the world. It is the city of the great King, who is Jesus Christ. Most kings rule from capitol cities on physical thrones. But the base of rule for Jesus is His church, where fifty, eighty, or two hundred people gather to sing His praises, preach His Word, and eat a meal with Him (the Lord’s Supper).
What enthralls us, what brings us to glory and awe, is what will become the focus of our lives. The world glories in its tall buildings, huge highway systems, powerful seats of government, and luxurious entertainment and living—all of which constitute the heart of the city of man. But we will glory in the city of God, which is the church of Jesus Christ. This city is not made of bricks, but of human beings who were bought by the blood of the Lamb.
Verses 3–8. We find God our refuge in times of distress: for He is the Lord Protector of His castle, the church. What is the relationship of this city of God and the city of man? Earthly kings rise up against the church even to the point of conspiring against it. But as soon as they come together, they are dispersed. The conspiracy fizzles. Every time worldly powers take on the church of Jesus Christ, their forces melt away like ice in a hot cup of coffee. Sometimes the forces of darkness appear intimidating as they surround us. The odds seem against us. But the God who overcame 135,000 with 300 (Jud. 7), and 185,000 with zero (2 Kings 19), is the same God who defends His precious church today. At first the enemy is confident he can crush this insignificant little body of believers. But as the angel of the Lord begins his work, fear grips the enemy, for he begins to see the true magnitude of what he opposes. Thus, the Psalmist sings of God’s sovereign power that snaps the largest ships in pieces with the winds.
Look at the history of the church. You will find the history of the city of the Lord of the Battle, the Lord God of Hosts! God has established it and will establish it forever. Sure, there have been times when the church was hanging together by a thin thread—but it was a stubborn thread. Consider the times of Abraham, the Judges, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees. During the time of great heresy spreading throughout the church, Athanasius stood almost alone contra mundum (against the world). Or what must it have been like for John Wycliff and John Hus who gave their lives to restore the Scriptures at a time when most of the “Christian” world stood against them? But through it all, the Lord never abandoned His church entirely. The stubborn faith of the martyrs under the Romans led to the establishment of the church in Europe. The work of Athanasius established the doctrine of the Trinity forever. To this day, millions of churches around the world teach the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, because one brave man stood up against a world of heresy. The work of Wycliff and Hus launched a mighty reformation that took the Word of God into North America in the 17th century and then into Asia, Africa, and South America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other kingdoms have come and gone, but the church of Jesus Christ has no end. No earthly king, heretic, or apostate can destroy the church of Jesus Christ. Anybody or anything that sets itself in opposition to this church will be destroyed.
Verses 9–14. Now how does this church continue to stand? Look at the last five or ten years of your own church. Though the fiercest powers of hell stand in opposition to the church, that little boat continues to float along from week to week. This is only because of the lovingkindness of God, who continues to uphold this tiny bark in the floods. Upon this meditation, the Psalmist breaks out in praise in verse 10. “According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise unto the ends of the earth!” Our response is both praise and rejoicing.
Take a stroll around the city of God. Study church history, but do not dwell on the detractors, the heretics, and apostates. Think rather on what God has done in bringing His kingdom into the hearts and lives of men, families, and churches. Think of the martyrs, the brave reformers, the stalwart preachers of the Word of God, and the millions of churches around the globe that sing the praises of Jesus each Sunday. And whatever you do, do not forget to teach the generation to come—your children and grandchildren—the great works of God in establishing this kingdom over the last 6,000 years. Do not forget to tell them the story of Zion.
The real core of the church is our relationship with God, and this is affirmed in the last verse of the psalm. This God is our God, and that relationship will go on forever. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). He will be our guide even unto death.
1. We must take our children on a walk around Zion. That is, we must teach the history of the church from Adam to the present day. If we were only to look at our own little congregation, perhaps we would think that the walls of Zion are a little weak. But as we look at the development of the church over the ages from Augustine and Athanasius to the mighty missionaries of the 19th century, such as William Carey and John Paton, we will see that Christ is establishing His church, and there is nothing the gates of hell can do about that.
2. This is yet another passage that commands us to respect and love of the church of Jesus Christ. How easy it is today to despise the church and treat it with disrespect! That is blasphemy to our Lord. In fact, He tells us in 1 Corinthians 3 that if anybody defiles His church, He will destroy that person.
Worship is invigorating and comforting. When we think that things are out of control, we should look at what has happened to Christ’s church in history, and then we will understand that God is in control and He will preserve His church forever. A worship psalm like this one is invigorating for those of us who must interact with a world that opposes Christ and His church.
1. Give an example of a Praise psalm.
2. What chapter of the Bible tells us that the city of God is the church of the First Born, Jesus Christ?
3. What happens to powerful kings and dictators that array themselves against the city of God?
4. Which is more important to God, big government buildings or the assembled people of a local church?
5. On what sort of occasion might we want to recite this psalm?
6. What makes this psalm so comforting to the church?
1. How do we view our own church in the 21st century? Do we see ourselves as the continuation of a vast history of godly men and women over the centuries, or do we see ourselves as the first real church in history? Do we tend to be too proud about ourselves and too pessimistic about God’s work in His church in history?
2. Would we rather be a part of building a nation or an empire, or a part of building the church of Christ in our day? Which is more important in the scheme of history?