Psalm 48 – “Zion Hymn”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist recounts a victory in Zion and exhorts the people to celebrate around God’s city.

II. Photo
The psalmist recalls a battle: “[The enemies] were seized there with a trembling, like a woman in the throes of labor!” (v. 7)

III. Select Verses
2-3:  The LORD is great and much acclaimed in the city of our God, His holy mountain — fair-crested, joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, summit of Zaphon, city of the great king.
5-8: See, the kings joined forces; they advanced together. At the mere sight of it they were stunned, they were terrified, they panicked;  they were seized there with a trembling, like a woman in the throes of labor, as the Tarshish fleet was wrecked in an easterly gale.
12: Let Mount Zion rejoice! Let the towns of Judah exult, because of Your judgments.
13-15: Walk around Zion, circle it; count its towers, take note of its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may recount it to a future age. For God — He is our God forever; He will lead us evermore.

IV. Outline

1. Superscription
2-4. Praise of God and Zion
5-9. Historical account
    5. Account of threat
    6-8. Account of victory
    9a. Affirmation statement
    9b. Wish
10-11. Invocations, praise
12. Summons for the Judaean hills to praise
13-14. Summons to procession around Zion
15. Rationale

V. Comment
Like Psalms 76, 84, 87 and 122, Psalm 48 is classified by many as a Song of Zion. Verse 3 describes “God’s holy mountain” as “fair-crested, joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, summit of Zaphon, city of the great king.” What is “Zaphon” and why is it equated with Zion? While the answer to this question may never be known, Hector Avalos describes Mount Zaphon in the Anchor Bible Dictionary as “A mountain identified with modern Jebel ‘el-Aqra{ (35°59’N; 36°00’E), and located near the mouth of the Orontes River in N Syria. Mt. Zaphon was the sacred mountain of the storm god Baal-Hadad in ancient Canaanite mythology. It was also known as Mt. Casius in classical sources, and Mt. Hazzi in Hurrian texts. Aside from the passages discussed below, zaphon is usually the general designation for “north” in the Hebrew Bible…
“Recent discussion of Mt. Zaphon has focused on the function of sacred mountains in Canaanite religion, especially as exemplified in Ugaritic texts… Mt. Zaphon was a feasting place for the gods and the site of Baal’s proclamations. It was also where Baal and his archrival Mot engaged in a cosmic battle. The mountain itself appears as a deity in many Ugaritic offering lists and in Phoenician personal names such as עבדצפן, “servant of Zaphon.” [“Zaphon, Mount” in ABD VI, 1040-1041]

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
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