1. Psalms: the Word of God to men that is the word of men to God
Those of us familiar with the psalms of the OT will know only too well both the variety and power of this part of the Bible.
Psalms = “praises”
Poetry – of a special type – Hebrew – features – unlike much Western poetry, doesn’t rhyme, but makes its point by intensification.
i.e. a point will be made in one line and in the next the same or the opposite point is made – but using different words or adding words.
So, in the psalm we read earlier, psalm 48, we find in v 8:
Psa 48:8 As we have heard,
so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts,
in the city of our God,
which God will establish forever.
Or, in Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd
I’ll not want . . .
And another thing : often the psalm has been penned as the author’s response to an event in his life, or the life of the people of God. So,
Psalm 51, To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
or Psalm 137 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
You can find praise or pain,
Adoration or anger
Quaking in fear or questioning in faith
Honouring or hesitating
Teaching or trembling
Now, I’ve lost you, haven’t I?
In previous generations of Christians, there was a familiarity with the psalms to such an extent, that many of their phrases became part of everyday life.
And that familiarity came about because they were reading them or reciting them all – in a monthly cycle.
Because our forbears had recognized that in the psalms you had the real word of men, humans, often characterised primarily by deeply felt yet sometimes almost inexpressible emotion – sometimes the most exquisite expressions of love and praise. At others even anger with God and at others such vehemence against other humans that we wonder if the author was even a believer.
Why did our forbears, both Jewish and Christian urge us to learn and make the psalms part of our mental furniture? Why have they encouraged us, by setting them down ALL to be read month and month about?
Because as well as being the real words of real people, they are the real word of God.
They are speech which his people are to use about God and to God in every life situation.
That is, they are authorised for use – in all of life.
Relief! – will give me the way to think about my depression and speak of it to God.
Will give us the way to think about failure or success and speak of it to God
Will give us the way to think about brotherhood and of opposition and speak of it to God
Will give us the way to think about God’s plans and purposes when they seem not to be working out, and when they are, and speak of our puzzlement, even our hurt and anger, or our wonder and admiration, and speak of it to God.
Very important, because often we are stumped to know how to think or speak of what God is like or what he is doing – but in giving us the psalms, we have what God knows we need.
The word of God to men(humans) that is the word of men (humans) to God.
2. Constant reminder
A wonderful minister of the gospel, now gone to glory, once told me – “the older I get the more I realize that 90% of life as a Christian is about being reminded of what you already know.”
Yes, we need to keep learning, reading our Bibles, praying, church, asking questions, groups, reading theology – all that’s involved in letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly.
And many here will have had the Ah-ah experience of suddenly understanding something which has eluded them for years.
Yet, if my friend is right, and I think he is, every believer needs to be reminded of those core truths they learned as new believers, or as they started to come into the faith.
So we come to Psalm 48 this morning.
And its great theme of
The Eternal Loving Greatness of Our God
That’s what the psalm is about.
That’s what I want to remind you of this morning.
3. The Greatness of the LORD
In these words, written by the temple musicians and lyricists, the sons of Korah, the theme is struck forcefully:
GREAT! - In a world of what we would call relativism, the psalm puts on the lips of God’s people his uniqueness. He is the great God, the only great God, and he is the LORD God of Israel.
That point is made as the psalmist ponders the wonder of the LORD revealing himself.
He has revealed himself at a particular place. Although he is the God whose praise reach and ought to reach to the ends of the earth, this God has an address.
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain,
Psa 48:2 beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.
Psa 48:3 Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.
NB : even so, both here and later (vv 12,13) we are saying God cannot be confined to barracks as it were. You mustn’t make the mistake that all that matters is the city or even the temple. It’s GOD who is the fortress, God who is the temple. Later.
Why speak like this?
Because of yet another experience in the life of God’s people.
Another experience of:
4. The Loving Greatness of God
Psa 48:4 For behold, the kings assembled; they came on together.
Psa 48:5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight.
Psa 48:6 Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labour.
Psa 48:7 By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish. (Probably from Spain or bought from Spain)
We don’t know any more details of this incident. It may refer to the story in 2 Samuel 10 – thousands of Syrians and Ammonites slain by King David and his general Joab. Seems to fit with some of the details in the psalm here of a proud and mighty clique of kings and their armies being scared out of their wits – “like a woman in labour” - NOT a putdown – any man with any understanding knows that women are superior in being able to bear pain – so . . .
But the greatness, the raw power and sovereignty of the Lord has brought to their knees this phalanx of opposition to Him.
And his people keep talking of this victory :
Psa 48:8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever.
Heard . . . . AND seen!
And . . this victory was no isolated act of God
They recognise this. What has happened is another wonderful instance of the
Loving Greatness of God
Psa 48:9 We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
As we have gathered, as we have met together, it’s your love we have been thinking about – your love, seen in this great victory. Your love seen in this great victory over our enemies which has meant our rescue, our salvation, and our eternal security.
5. The Eternal Loving Greatness of God
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever.
He will make her eternally secure, never to be moved
And v 14 : that you may tell it to the next generation, that this is God, our God for ever and ever. He will guide us forever. And it will be here.
The city, the mountain of God will last for ever.
It is eternal
Jerusalem is eternal
Zion is eternal
Because GOD is eternal.
We have seen and experienced at first hand the eternal loving greatness of God – our God, who is the lord over all peoples and all that he has made.
And that was the story.
Jerusalem was secure – each succeeding generation would say together this psalm of the sons of Korah
On their lips would be the words that expressed yet again the eternal loving greatness of their God
Express their confidence that by his great victory, protecting his “home”as it were, he is their God for ever and ever. He is their fortress – literally!
And look at her! Vv 12, 13
So their security – to their great relief – was in the city of God. The city of our God!
Communal – gated
Personal – alarm
For the future
Financial – esp super
Yet – all those things have a limited shelf life, they cannot, as we know give real security
Vandhy – terrible, terrible abuse, - migration community, family, 3 months!!
And in a moment – all swept away at 42
Some : that’s life!
Others – why?
Blame the medicos. . . .
But you know – she is secure – for like Israel in Psalm 48 . . . forever, established forever . . .
Her family is deeply assured that God was and is her fortress and strength.
That she is now in that celestial city in the presence of her Lord, to rejoin her family on the day of resurrection.
Or was it like that? Is she really secure in a way that only God can guarantee?
I ask that question, because there’s a big “but” about Psalm 48
If you know the history it did not last, and has not lasted as the eternal city of God.
If you know your psalms you will know that the “why not” question causes deep pain for the people of God, exiled following the sacking of Jerusalem.
Were they ever able to say again the words of Psalm 48 about the eternal loving greatness of God without tears, or even anger. Was it all some terrible divine joke?
Reminds us to look:
8. Backwards and Forwards
Backwards, like they did, to the ways God so powerfully loved them – victory over his enemies and theirs.
Backwards to the glorious security he had provided – or rather, that he had proved to be.
And now that it had all fallen to the ground, despite futile attempts to get it up and running again, some of them taking seriously, looking forwards to the promise of God of a whole new world order to come.
A whole new world order when the small foretaste mentioned in Psalm 48 would be expanded universally and eternally.
2 reminders today : Lord’s Supper (till he comes again)
9. The Eternal Loving Greatness of Our God
This is our God for ever and ever