224 - The Beautiful City of Zion (Psalms 48-50)
Jerusalem, or Zion, has a central role in God’s eternal plan. But God Himself, our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge is central to all history and eternity. It is not our sacrifices but His sacrifice that opens the door to eternal life.
The Beautiful City of Zion
I did a little search on the internet for the “five most famous cities in the world.” The city of Zion was not one of them. I searched for the “most popular cities in the world.” Zion was not among those either. It wasn’t listed among the “most beautiful” cities either. I even searched for the “most important city in the world,” and Zion was not it.
I’m sure the “sons of Korah” would be appalled. They knew Zion was the most important, the most beautiful, and the most significant city in human history—so important that they wrote a song about it!
Here in Psalm 48, the city of Zion is celebrated fourteen different ways. And the city also provides the context for the next two psalms.
Zion is the ancient name for what we call today Jerusalem. Originally, it referred to the section known as the City of David and the land upon which David’s son Solomon would build the magnificent temple to the glory of God. Eventually the name also embraced the whole expanding city, including the nearby ridge of hills where Jesus would die on a cross for your sins and mine.
I believe every follower of Jesus ought to know a little bit more about the history of this land and certainly the future kingdom that will one day make Zion its capital city.
Now as Psalm 48 opens, we read, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! . . . Mount Zion . . . the city of the great King” (verses 1-2). From the psalm’s perspective, so majestic is the city of Zion, with its massive, thick walls surrounding it, that verse 5 tells us that Israel’s enemies see it and are so intimidated they panic and run away.
This song is communicating that although Zion has many enemies, it will ultimately survive every enemy attack. Verse 8 declares that Zion is “the city of our God, which God will establish forever.”
Now back here in verse 2 is an interesting expression used to describe the beauty of Zion. Jerusalem is pictured as the hub—the central source of joy and beauty. Then we read that “on the sides of the north [is] the city of the great King” (KJV), or as other translations read, “in the far north.”
What do the sides of the north mean? What is this about Jerusalem and the far north?
Well, if you travel back to the ancient world, you discover the mythology that believed the far north was the home of the gods—the Olympus of the later Greek civilization. The far north had become this mystical seat of divine power.
Isaiah uses this expression when he records that Satan wanted to ascend the sides of the north (Isaiah 14:13) and take the throne of the creator God.
This does not mean Isaiah believes there are other gods. And it doesn’t mean the psalmist believes that either as he describes Jerusalem. What they are saying, in effect, is that anybody who attacks Jerusalem might as well be attacking the very seat of divine power—the powerful throne of the one and only, true and living God.
Again, just look at Mount Zion—Jerusalem. Verse 2 says it is “the joy of the whole earth . . . on the sides of the north, the city of the great King” (KJV). Then compare this to the powerful in this world, of whom the psalmist writes in the next psalm, “Though they called lands by their own names . . . Man in his pomp will not remain” (Psalm 49:11-12).
Look at the things people build and proudly name after themselves, and some of those things are indeed magnificent. They name their companies after themselves, and the towns and cities they build usually are given their names.
But it’s all temporary! Zion is forever.
Now Old Testament scholars think Psalm 48 was part of a worship event or festival, and it certainly sounds like it here in verses 12-13, where the Jewish people are commanded: “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels.”
And why the walk about the city? The psalmist says so “that you may tell the next generation that this is God . . . He will guide us forever” (verses 13-14).
The city of Zion is so intertwined with the plan of God that the city and the Lord are considered connected in a special way. Let me say it this way: In the eyes of God, Zion is the most important city in the world.
Why is this? Because Zion represents the promises of God and the will of God and the power of God’s throne, and nothing or no one will unseat Him from His divine throne.
So, given this truth, you had better listen to His instructions. In fact, that is the instruction Psalm 49 begins with: “Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world.”
This is a global command to listen, but with it also comes a global promise. Verse 15 says, “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” What a great promise that is! Even death cannot conquer the citizens of Zion. This is the city of the redeemed, who have entrusted their souls to the hands of the Lord.
And you are among them if you have trusted God’s plan of salvation—not your plan. I meet a lot of people who think they have got their own plan to get into heaven. They are trying to be good, stay out of trouble, help old ladies across the street, and pay their taxes on time.
No, God’s plan is admitting you are a sinner in need of a Savior and trusting the one and only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid for your sins through His death. It is by faith in Him that you receive forgiveness and eternal life.
The author gives a rather terrifying warning here, by the way, to the person who persists in defying God. He writes, “For when he dies, he will carry nothing away . . . [he] will never again see light” (verses 17, 19).
Now this isn’t just a scary warning; it’s the truth. Zion is the future city of light and life; hell is described as a place darkness and weeping that will never end.
Now in Psalm 50, the Lord tells us to worship Him the right way. That does not mean we need to bring cattle for sacrifices today. Now that Jesus has become the Lamb of God, dying for our sins, we don’t need any more sacrifices. In fact, God says here in verse 10, “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”
He doesn’t need any more animals. But here is a sacrifice you can offer. This psalm ends in verse 23 with God encouraging us with these words: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” @ end
All we have to do today is thank our great God for our salvation through His Son, for our forgiveness through Christ. And if that isn’t enough, just thank Him for the magnificent city where you will one day live.
The apostle John writes of Zion in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (verses 1-2)
Imagine, because of God’s power and God’s plan, He will keep His promise and bring you one day into His coming kingdom, headquartered in the beautiful city of Zion.
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