Psalms 481The Lord is great and certainly worthy of praise
in the city of our God, ▼ his holy hill.
2 It is lofty and pleasing to look at, ▼
▼ Heb “beautiful of height.” The Hebrew term נוֹף (nof, “height”) is a genitive of specification after the qualitative noun “beautiful.” The idea seems to be that Mount Zion, because of its lofty appearance, is pleasing to the sight.
a source of joy to the whole earth. ▼
Mount Zion resembles the peaks of Zaphon; ▼
▼ Heb “Mount Zion, the peaks of Zaphon.” Like all the preceding phrases in v. 2, both phrases are appositional to “city of our God, his holy hill” in v. 1, suggesting an identification in the poet’s mind between Mount Zion and Zaphon. “Zaphon” usually refers to the “north” in a general sense (see Pss 89:12; 107:3), but here, where it is collocated with “peaks,” it refers specifically to Mount Zaphon, located in the vicinity of ancient Ugarit and viewed as the mountain where the gods assembled (see Isa 14:13). By alluding to West Semitic mythology in this way, the psalm affirms that Mount Zion is the real divine mountain, for it is here that the Lord God of Israel lives and rules over the nations. See P. Craigie, Psalms 1–50 (WBC), 353, and T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 103.
it is the city of the great king.
3 God is in its fortresses;
he reveals himself as its defender. ▼
▼ Heb “he is known for an elevated place.”
4 For ▼ look, the kings assemble; ▼
▼ The perfect verbal forms in vv. 4–6 are understood as descriptive. In dramatic style (note הִנֵּה, hinneh, “look”) the psalm describes an enemy attack against the city as if it were occurring at this very moment. Another option is to take the perfects as narrational (“the kings assembled, they advanced”), referring to a particular historical event, such as Sennacherib’s siege of the city in 701 b.c. (cf. NIV, NRSV). Even if one translates the verses in a dramatic-descriptive manner (as the present translation does), the Lord’s victory over the Assyrians was probably what served as the inspiration of the description (see v. 8).
they advance together.
5 As soon as they see, ▼ they are shocked; ▼
▼ Heb “they look, so they are shocked.” Here כֵּן (ken, “so”) has the force of “in the same measure.”
they are terrified, they quickly retreat. ▼
6 Look at them shake uncontrollably, ▼
▼ Heb “trembling seizes them there.” The adverb שָׁם (sham, “there”) is used here, as often in poetic texts, to point “to a spot in which a scene is localized vividly in the imagination” (BDB 1027 s.v.).
like a woman writhing in childbirth. ▼
▼ Heb “[with] writhing like one giving birth.”▼
7 With an east wind
you shatter ▼
▼ The switch to the imperfect, as well as the introduction of the ship metaphor, perhaps signals a change to a generalizing tone; the Lord typically shatters these large ships, symbolic of the human strength of hostile armies (see the following note on “large ships”). The verb שָׁבַר (shavar, “break”) appears in the Piel here (see Pss 29:5; 46:9). In the OT it occurs thirty-six times in the Piel, always with multiple objects (the object is either a collective singular or grammatically plural or dual form). The Piel may highlight the repetition of the pluralative action, or it may suggest an intensification of action, indicating repeated action comprising a whole, perhaps with the nuance “break again and again, break in pieces.” Another option is to understand the form as resultative: “make broken” (see IBHS 404–7 #24.3).the large ships. ▼
▼ Heb “the ships of Tarshish.” This probably refers to large ships either made in or capable of traveling to and from the distant western port of Tarshish. These ships, which were the best of their class, here symbolize the mere human strength of hostile armies, which are incapable of withstanding the Lord’s divine power (see Isa 2:16).
8 We heard about God’s mighty deeds, now we have seen them, ▼
▼ Heb “As we have heard, so we have seen.” The community had heard about God’s mighty deeds in the nation’s history. Having personally witnessed his saving power with their own eyes, they could now affirm that the tradition was not exaggerated or inaccurate.
in the city of the Lord, the invincible Warrior, ▼
in the city of our God.
God makes it permanently secure. ▼
▼ Or “God makes it secure forever.” The imperfect highlights the characteristic nature of the generalizing statement.(Selah)
9 We reflect on your loyal love, O God,
within your temple.
10 The praise you receive as far away as the ends of the earth
is worthy of your reputation, O God. ▼
▼ Heb “like your name, O God, so [is] your praise to the ends of the earth.” Here “name” refers to God’s reputation and revealed character.
You execute justice! ▼
▼ Heb “your right hand is full of justice.” The “right hand” suggests activity and power.
11 Mount Zion rejoices;
the towns ▼ of Judah are happy, ▼
▼ The prefixed verbal forms are understood as generalizing imperfects. (For other examples of an imperfect followed by causal לְמַעַן [lema’an], see Ps 23:3; Isa 49:7; 55:5.) Another option is to interpret the forms as jussives, “Let Mount Zion rejoice! Let the towns of Judah be happy!” (cf. NASB, NRSV; note the imperatives in vv. 12–13.)
because of your acts of judgment. ▼
12 Walk around ▼ Zion! Encircle it!
Count its towers!
13 Consider its defenses! ▼
▼ Heb “set your heart to its rampart.”
Walk through ▼
▼ The precise meaning of the Hebrew word translated “walk through,” which occurs only here in the OT, is uncertain. Cf. NEB “pass…in review”; NIV “view.”its fortresses,
so you can tell the next generation about it! ▼
▼ The city’s towers, defenses, and fortresses are outward reminders and tangible symbols of the divine protection the city enjoys.
For God, our God, is our defender forever! ▼
▼ Heb “for this is God, our God, forever and ever.” “This” might be paraphrased, “this protector described and praised in the preceding verses.”
He guides ▼
▼ The imperfect highlights the characteristic nature of the generalizing statement.us! ▼
▼ In the Hebrew text the psalm ends with the words עַל־מוּת (’al-mut, “upon [unto?] dying”), which make little, if any, sense. M. Dahood (Psalms [AB], 1:293) proposes an otherwise unattested plural form עֹלָמוֹת (’olamot; from עוֹלָם, ’olam, “eternity”). This would provide a nice parallel to עוֹלָם וָעֶד (’olam va’ed, “forever”) in the preceding line, but elsewhere the plural of עוֹלָם appears as עֹלָמִים (’olamim). It is preferable to understand the phrase as a musical direction of some sort (see עַל־מוּת [’al-mut] in the superscription of Ps 9) or to emend the text to עַל־עֲלָמוֹת (’al-’alamot, “according to the alamoth style”; see the heading of Ps 46). In either case it should be understood as belonging with the superscription of the following psalm.
▼ Psalm 49. In this so-called wisdom psalm (see v. 3) the psalmist states that he will not fear the rich enemies who threaten him, for despite their wealth, they are mere men who will die like everyone else. The psalmist is confident the Lord will vindicate the godly and protect them from the attacks of their oppressors.
For the music director, a psalm by the Korahites.14
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