Does the place you are in impact your sense of the presence of God and your ability to worship God? The protestant church has had an uncomfortable history with buildings and symbols fearing that manmade objects can lure one into idolatry. Isaiah was clear that God cannot be contained within a building, ‘Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.’ Is 66.-2 However, it is true for many that we associate a place either natural or man-made with an encounter with God. A woman seeking refuge in this country, with little or no knowledge of Christianity, walked into Liverpool Cathedral and sensed God’s presence with her. This led her to find a local church and ask how to become a Christian and so began her daily walk with God. Special places form a part of our spirituality because they convey our awareness of God.
The complexity of the Ancient Hebrew makes the translation of some words in Psalm 48 difficult and so aspects of their meaning are not easy to understand. As the Psalmist worships the Lord in the temple and on Mount Zion he is aware God surrounds him in every sense. Zaphon v2 a mountain in the north also means north. East v7 means in front as the Hebrews made the top of their compass where the sun rose before them. East also means before in time. The word translated ‘the next generation’ v13 also means behind, in terms of direction and after, relating to time. The Great Lord, most worthy of praise, v1 found in the city of God is not confined to the city alone, he surrounds them in all directions and through all time.
Mount Zion and Jerusalem in this psalm are synonymous. Mount Zion is given exaggerated praise v2 when comparing it to Mount Zaphon, a much bigger mountain in the north, which Caananites believed to be the home of Baal. The city of Jerusalem was seen as a citadel defended by God that God makes impregnable. vv 4-8 The particular incident referred to is not known although there are several possibilities recorded in the bible. A leading candidate is when the Assyrians failed in their siege in the time of Hezikiah. 2 Kings 19.35-36 New Testament imagery of the temple of God refers to the heart of the believer 1 Corinthians 3.16 or the collective church. 1 Corinthians 3.17 The threat to the temple, in Paul’s letters, is not physical destruction but the corruption of faith through false teaching leading believers away from Christ and immoral behaviour. As the psalmist celebrated the temple in Jerusalem as sacred so we are to treat our lives and bodies as sacred. The whole community of the universal church is to be considered the temple of God. ‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.’ Ephesians 2.19-22
To help us maintain a mindset where the unity in the Spirit with Jesus (1 Corinthians 6.17) is worked out in our lives, the psalmist provides us with helpful guidance. He spends time thinking about the steadfast love of God. v9 The more we grasp God’s love for us, the more we will respond with obedience and love towards him. He also enjoys the righteousness of God and spends time rejoicing in his judgements. v10b,11 When we live in a society that frequently values and applauds things that do not accord with God’s righteousness it makes it easy to drift away from godliness. Finally spending time considering how God has built his kingdom through the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross and his glorious resurrection will encourage us to pass on the good news and that good news will guide our lives. Vv 12-14
Jesus, all for Jesus – Robin Mark