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Commentary On Psalms Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 48:1-3

1. Great is Jehovah, 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 in her palaces is known for a defence, [or fortress.]

1. Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised. The prophet, before proceeding to make mention of that special example of the favor of God towards them, to which I have adverted, teaches in general that the city of Jerusalem was happy and prosperous, because God had been graciously pleased to take upon him the charge of defending and preserving it. In this way he separates and distinguishes the Church of God from all the rest of the world; and when God selects from amongst the whole human race a small number whom he embraces with his fatherly love, this is an invaluable blessing which he bestows upon them. His wonderful goodness and righteousness shine forth in the government of the whole world, so that there is no part of it void of his praise, but we are everywhere furnished with abundant matter for praising him. Here, however, the inspired poet celebrates the glory of God which is manifested in the protection of the Church. He states, that Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised in the holy city. But is he not so also in the whole world? Undoubtedly he is. As I have said, there is not a corner so hidden, into which his wisdom, righteousness, and goodness, do not penetrate; but it being his will that they should be manifested chiefly and in a particular manner in his Church, the prophet very properly sets before our eyes this mirror, in which God gives a more clear and vivid representation of his character. By calling Jerusalem the holy mountain, he teaches us in one word, by what right and means it came to be in a peculiar manner the city of God. It was so because the ark of the covenant had been placed there by divine appointment. The import of the expression is this: If Jerusalem is, as it were, a beautiful and magnificent theater on which God would have the greatness of his majesty to be beheld, it is not owing to any merits of its own, but because the ark of the covenant was established there by the commandment of God as a token or symbol of his peculiar favor.

2. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion For the confirmation of the statement made in the preceding sentence, the prophet celebrates the excellencies for which mount Zion was at that time renowned; and in them was to be seen the glory of God, of which I have just now spoken. The beauty of its situation, which he mentions in the first place, was indeed natural; but by it he gives us to understand, that from the very commencement the agreeable appearance of the city had engraven upon it marks of the favor of God, so that the sight of it alone showed that God had in a special manner adorned and enriched that place, with the view of its being, at some future period, consecrated to sacred purposes. I do not, however, think that the situation is called beautiful and pleasant, merely because it was unequalled in the country of Judea; for there were other cities, as is well known, which were in no respect inferior to Jerusalem, either as to fertility or pleasantness of situation, and other advantages. In my opinion, along with the situation of the city, the Psalmist comprehends the glory which it derived from another source -- from the circumstance that the temple of God was built there. When, therefore, we hear the beauty of the city here celebrated, let us call to our remembrance that spiritual beauty which was added to the natural beauty of the place, after the prophecy was given forth that the ark would there abide for ever. With respect to the word nvph, noph, which I have translated situation, commentators are not agreed. Some understand it as meaning height or elevation, as if it had been said that Jerusalem was situated on high and elevated ground. Others render it climate because the Jews metaphorically call climates branches, on account of the extent to which they are spread out. In a matter like this, which is of no great consequence, I am not disposed to be so very critical. Only I have selected that translation which seemed to me the most probable, namely, that the country in its appearance was pre-eminently pleasant and delightful. When the Psalmist speaks of mount Zion being on the sides of the north, it is doubtful whether he lays it down as a commendation of mount Zion, that it lay or looked towards the north; or whether we should explain the sentence thus: Although mount Zion looks towards the north, that does not in any degree diminish its beauty. The former interpretation, however, seems to me to give the more natural meaning. We find the prophet Isaiah, with the view also of touching upon the excellence of this mountain, applying to it the very expression which is here employed. In the 14th chapter of his Prophecies, at the 13th verse, he represents Sennacherib as speaking thus: |I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north.|

The Psalmist, in the next place, calls mount Zion the joy of the whole earth And he thus describes it, not only because, as the Jews foolishly talk, that country was healthy on account of the mildness of the climate; or because it produced sweet and excellent fruits, which might gratify ard yield delight to foreign nations -- for this also is a cold and unsatisfactory speculation; -- but because from thence salvation was to issue forth to the whole world, even as all nations have borrowed from thence the light of life, and the testimony of heavenly grace. If the joy which men experience and cherish is without God, the issue of their joy at length will be destruction, and their laughter will be turned into gnashing of teeth. But Christ appeared with his Gospel out of Zion, to fill the world with true joy and everlasting felicity. In the time of the prophet, the knowledge of the Gospel, it is true, had not yet reached foreign nations; but he makes use of this manner of expression with the highest propriety, to teach the Jews that true blessedness was to be sought for only from the gracious covenant of God, which was deposited in that holy place. At the same time also, he has foretold that which was at length fulfilled in the last time by the coming of Christ. From this we may learn, that to cause the hearts of the godly to rejoice, the favor of God alone abundantly suffices; as, on the contrary, when it is withdrawn, all men must inevitably be thrown into a state of wretchedness and sorrow. What is added immediately after, concerning the city of the great King, is intended to show, that mount Zion was not only holy itself, but that this high prerogative had been conferred upon it to render sacred the whole city, where God had chosen his seat, that he might rule over all people.

3. God in her palaces is known for a defense Here the sacred poet again brings forward, for the purpose of setting forth the dignity of the city of Jerusalem, the protection which God afforded it; as we have seen in Psalm 46:5,

|God is in the midst of her: she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.|

He expressly makes mention of palaces for the sake of contrast -- to teach the Jews, that although the holy city was fortified by strong towers, and had within it magnificent houses, and such as resembled fortresses, yet its continued safety was owing to the power and aid of God alone. By these words, the people of God are taught, that although they dwell in strongholds and palaces, they must, nevertheless, be carefully on their guard, that this magnificence or loftiness may not shroud or conceal from their view the power of God; and that they be not like worldly men, who, resting satisfied with riches and earthly means of help, set no value whatever upon having God for their guardian and protector. Worldly wealth, from our natural perverseness, tends to dazzle our eyes, and to make us forget God, and, therefore, we ought to meditate with special attention upon this doctrine, That whatever we possess, which seems worthy of being prized, must not be permitted to obscure the knowledge of the power and grace of God; but that, on the contrary, the glory of God ought always clearly to shine forth in all the gifts with which he may be pleased to bless and adorn us; so that we may account ourselves rich and happy in him, and no where else.

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