Psalm 48 - Walk all around Zion

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.
1) Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God. 2) beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
3) Within its citadels God
has shown himself a sure defense.
4) Then the kings assembled;
they came on together.
5) As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic; they took to flight;
6) trembling took hold of them there,
pains as of a woman in labor,
7) as when an east wind shatters
the ships of Tarshish.
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 establishes forever.
9) We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of your temple.
10) Your name, O God, like your praise,
reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
11) Let Mount Zion be glad;
let the towns of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments.
12) Walk about Zion; go all around it;
count its towers;
13) consider well its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14) that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will be our guide forever.

Proper 9, Sunday between July 3 and July 9, Year B

Most Biblical texts can be read in many ways. Firstly, we know that the Psalms were the hymnbook and prayerbook of Israel, and used in worship at the Jerusalem Temple. As a "Psalm of the Korahites," we might infer that this psalm is Zion-forcused, with Korahites among the servants of the temple.

On its face, it seems to be a song encouraging belief and faith in the strength of Zion, undergirded by the Great King, the God of Israel. You could call it a patriotic anthem, "See the stronghold of Zion!", but understand that national and tribal and religious identities are all linked together.

Dare we even call it propaganda? For it highlights the might of the Lord's power over Israel's enemies, in ways which are wished for, if not consistently seen. The psalm speaks to an exalted view of Zion, which was not always realized in the nation's history.

Today I was struck by the counsel to "Walk about Zion; go all around it; count its towers." This means literally to walk 'round the geography of Mount Zion, and the Lord's Temple. Good advice.

In the psalm, the purpose is to see and pass on to the next generation the story of God's might, which in the faith of Israel is so rooted in this holy place.

But a soldier walks a perimeter to ensure it is sound, there are no breaches in the fortifications, that guards are posted and alert, and to look both out and in, alert to possible threats. A peace officer walks their beat, to take the temperature of the neighborhood and those who dwell there, and also to be seen on the job. A farmer walks their lands, assessing the state of soil, plants, and animals, to see what has changed, to stay connected with their sustenance and to hold the land in trust for its heirs.

Today I am hearing this psalm less as a trumpet call of victory than as a word to the wise to "mind the store." Our business is not God's might - that is God's to deploy - but God's charge to us to be his people, to mind her flock, to seek the shalom of the city, that from this place might flow the healing of the nations.

I was thinking about some of the saints I have known, who make it their custom to walk about the church. Some of these are deacons and janitors, looking after the physical space. Others go from pew to pew and chair to chair, praying for those coming to worship. And some make their rounds to visit with, and thus make tangible their care for the souls in the church fellowship.

Ths is part of the vocation of the people of God. If we have been given dominion, authority, over the works of God's hands (Psalm 8:6), we have a responsibility to care for all of creation. Not as a ruler - the earth is the Lord's - but as a steward. As caretakers, we should always be walking about Zion, which is for us not a single holy mountain, but the earth and its creatures. Whether you view this caretaking role as a duty to the Lord, or a responsibility to the next seven generations, it does not change our basic duty to continually be engaged with the world around us, with our family, our neighbors, our society, and yes, with the places God has given us.

The temple, though, our holy, consecrated spaces, have a special place in our role as stewards of this wonderful creation, of which we are a full part. "We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple" (v9).

Our sacred spaces are where we gather our strength, where we build our knowledge, where we remind each other of why we are here and who we belong to. I think the mightiest work of the Lord is choosing us. The towers, ramparts, and citadels have their place. And so do we.

The strength of Zion is seen everywhere the Lord is at work. This is why Zion - wherever we find it - is the joy of all the earth. God's story is neverending. So we may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.

And that is what we do as we are walking all around our Zion.

John Fedele/Getty. Farmer walking corn field.
Korahites. (2024, April 14). In Wikipedia. Korahites.

* New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition Bible (NRSVUE), copyright © 2021 the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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