Thursday, September 18, 2014

Psalm 48 - The City that God Built

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:10
1How great is the LORD,
how deserving of praise,
in the city of our God,
which sits on His holy mountain!
2It is high and magnificent;
the whole earth rejoices to see it!
Mount Zion, the holy mountain,a
is the city of the great King!
3God Himself is in Jerusalem’s towers,
revealing Himself as its Defender.
4The kings of the earth joined forces
and advanced against the city.
5But when they saw it, they were stunned;
they were terrified and ran away.
6They were gripped with terror
and writhed in pain like a woman in labor.
7You destroyed them like the mighty ships of Tarshish
shattered by a powerful east wind.
8We had heard of the city’s glory,
but now we have seen it ourselves—
the city of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
It is the city of our God;
He will make it safe forever.
9O God, we meditate on Your unfailing love
as we worship in Your Temple.
10As Your Name deserves, O God,
You will be praised to the ends of the earth.
Your strong right hand is filled with victory.
11Let the people on Mount Zion rejoice.
Let all the towns of Judah be glad
because of Your justice.
12Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem.b
Walk around and count the many towers.
13Take note of the fortified walls,
and tour all the citadels,
that you may describe them
to future generations.
14For that is what God is like.
            He is our God forever and ever,
            and He will guide us until we die.

Psalms 46 and 48 both seem to have been written in response to some stupendous deliverance of Jerusalem from powerful enemies that threatened to annihilate it. While scholars differ, most are inclined to view it as the deliverance under King Hezekiah from Sennacherib’s powerful army (described in 2 Kings 18:17-19:37; 2 Chronicles 32; & Isa. 36-37). This army had been unstoppable, and now it surrounded Jerusalem. It looked doomed. But in response to Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s prayers, the angel of the Lord went out and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops in one night. He returned defeated to Ninevah and was murdered by his sons as he worshiped in his idol temple.

But whatever the historical situation, the psalm joyously proclaims God’s greatness as seen in the splendor of His city, which He miraculously delivered. While parts of the psalm would almost lead you to think that it is praising the beauty of Zion, the first and last verses serve to show that it is actually a psalm about the greatness of God as seen through His city. The idea is: God’s city is to proclaim the praise of His salvation to all the earth and to succeeding generations. 

God describes heaven as a city. The city is called "New Jerusalem". So our eternity in heaven is city living! We will have lots of neighbors in heaven and they will all be perfect. In the Bible, cities are the desirable place to live. To live away from the city is to be unprotected from bandits, invading enemies, and predatory wild animals. It is to battle the elements. It is to cut yourself off from commerce, social relationships, and community support. The biblical mindset is, “Why in the world would anyone want to move out of the city into the wilderness?”

In America, though we have large cities, there is a cultural tendency towards individualism. Many people prize the rugged individualist. When we relate to one another, we tend to compete rather than to cooperate. As American Christians, we rightly emphasize having a personal relationship with Christ. 

I live in a big city and my tendency is to be highly independent - a loan ranger. I attend a church in my city within a few blocks of my loft. My neighborhood was formerly an industrial area that had railroad tracks running down side streets of dry docks and warehouses, which were transformed into condo and lofts. Stacked living, as it is called, lends itself to highly independent lone ranger types. As close in proximity that we live to one another, we remain mostly strangers. Christ emphasized that the life as a Christian is more than just me and Him. Being in Christ  makes me a part of His body, the church. I become a fellow citizen with the saints, a member of God’s household (Eph. 2:19). Or, to put it another way, I become a citizen of God’s city.

I cannot be a lone ranger Christian within the body of Christ, His church! Philosophically speaking, I cannot move to the country, away from God’s people. God’s purpose is bound up with a city. God purpose for believers s is to be residents of His city and join together as the citizens of Zion in proclaiming the praise of His salvation to all the earth and to succeeding generations. God desires  for me to be a citizen of the great community of believers who are united together in the city of our great King!

Psalm 48 teaches me that the history and destiny of God’s people is inextricably linked with God Himself. Knowing that this God is my God gives me a sense of peace when I am under attack. It gives me a sense of purpose to serve His great cause of spreading His glory to every people. It gives me a sense of belonging to be a part of the city of this great King.