BLESSED CITY OF GOD
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Psalm 46:4-5).
Please read the eleven verses of Psalm 46, underline words with special meaning to you, then consider these reflections:
Around 1,000 B.C. king David conquered the Jebusites, took over Jerusalem, their national capital, and renamed it the “stronghold of Zion, the City of David” (2 Samuel 5:6-7). David had no idea how important the city would become in the history of Israel. Historians say that through the centuries Jerusalem became known by 72 different names, including “the City of God,” the “habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4). It was a holy city, the capital city God’s holy nation, the city where God dwelt, a city which would bring safety in troublesome times. By reflecting on God’s power and strength displayed in Jerusalem His people would find solace in God Himself, for “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). To speak of God as a “refuge” is to affirm that He “is like strong fortress into which a man may flee and be absolutely safe; to affirm that He is a “strength” is to declare He is “an unfailing source of strength, enabling one to cope manfully with the dangers that assail him” (H.C. Leupold, Expositions on the Psalms). Martin Luther’s famous hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was based on the words of this psalm.
For followers of Jesus Christ the earthly, physical Jerusalem is symbolic of the “Jerusalem above” where our citizenship is (Galatians 4:26). As God’s spiritually chosen people, we have come to “Mount Zion, the city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22). Nevertheless, there are valuable lessons we can learn concerning God and that ancient geographical city.
In Psalm 46 the sons of Korah (authors of the psalm) remind us that the Israelites were surrounded by serious dangers in the world outside the city. Things people took for granted could and would be shaken and destroyed. Using poetical language, the writers let us know that mountains could “be moved into the heart of the sea;” while waters would “foam and roar” as floods rushed to cover the ground (verses 2-3). It is not necessary to identify specific times and places when such natural disasters literally occurred in ancient times. The psalmists may be using poetic words describing spiritual, and emotional upheavals that came upon the ancient nation. In such times God would be their “refuge and strength.” Neither is it necessary (as some biblical commentators have attempted to do) to identify literal national and international conflicts and wars when God stepped in to bring wars to an end and to “break the bow and shatter the spear” (Psalm 46:9). God’s holy people knew that whatever fears and disasters came upon them, God would be an “ever present help” (the foot note in some Bibles reads “a well proved help”) in time of trouble (verse 1).
We live 3,000 years since David declared Jerusalem to be the City of God. Through disobedience Israel lost its holy city. The physical city of Zion is no longer the place where God dwells. All people–– Jew and Gentile––can now respond to the gospel commands to “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” and become God’s spiritual people (Acts 2:38).
The apostle Peter declares that today Christians are God’s “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:4). We are the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). If God promised to be an “ever present help in trouble” to the Israelites of old, think of what He has promised those who are his spiritual Israelites today! Our modern world is enduring the corona-virus which has closed our schools, strained our mental capacities, caused loss of income, shut down our shopping malls, brought thousands upon thousands to hospitalization and ultimately to death. This pandemic has hindered our ability to meet together, to study the Bible together and to worship God together. We may be tempted to think God has abandoned us. However, we do not need to be filled with fear of what the future holds. In the words of Psalm 46: “We will not fear though the earth gives way” (verse 2). God is still on His throne! He is helping us here and now, and He will help us “when morning dawns” (verse 5). We look toward the return of our Savior Jesus Christ, who will come down from heaven with the “new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-4). We will live in that City forever. Truly, it will be the eternal “City of God,” the “habitation of the most High God.”
“There is a habitation,
Built by the Living God,
For all of every nation
Who seek that grand abode.
O Zion! Lovely Zion!
I long thy gates to see!
O Zion! Lovely Zion!
When shall I dwell in thee?”
–– Love H. Jameson, 1882
Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version
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