We are studying Psalm 48 for Sunday, February 10. Psalm 48 is one of the “songs of Zion,” psalms that praise the city of Jerusalem and by extension the God worshipped in that ancient city. [Study notes are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to consider as we think about and discuss this text:
The Psalmist describes Jerusalem in various ways in verses 1-3. (E.g., “the city of our God,” “holy mountain,” “beautiful in elevation,” etc.) What images do these different descriptions give us of the Jerusalem the Psalmist has in mind?
Are these descriptions similar in any way? What is that? Does each of the descriptions add something unique to the picture of Jerusalem? What is that?
Are any of these descriptions or images particularly appealing to us? Which one(s)? Why do we think that is?
The Psalmist begins by saying “great is YHWH and greatly to be praised …”(v1). Does the Psalmist tell us why God is great and greatly to be praised, do we think? Where? What reasons does the Psalmist give?
What reasons would we, ourselves, give based on our own experience? How similar are those to the reasons the Psalmist gives? Why is that, do we think?
When we, ourselves, think of Jerusalem, do any personal experiences or any images come to mind? What are those? How do those images affect the way we read this psalm?
Scholars think this psalm, or a portion of it, was composed before the Babylonian exile. That is, some of its historic readers had a personal experience of an undefeated Jerusalem. Later historic readers would have had a personal experience of a defeated Jerusalem. Still later historic readers would have had a personal experience of a restored Jerusalem. What difference do we think those experiences might make in reading this psalm? Does one of those experiences seem easier to us than another? Which seems more like our own situation? Which seems more different? Why do we say that?
There are at least three common ways readers today might connect with the Jerusalem in the psalm: We might feel a relationship to the historic Jerusalem described in the psalm. (If we think of the Jerusalem in the psalm as the historic Jerusalem, how do we understand the psalm? What does it seem to say to us?)
We might feel a relationship to something that Jerusalem symbolizes, so, a symbolic Jerusalem. (If we think of the Jerusalem in the psalm as a symbolic Jerusalem, what does it seem to symbolize? What does the psalm seem to say to us? Why is that?)
We might feel a relationship to a future or “heavenly Jerusalem.” (If we think of the Jerusalem in the psalm as a future city, what does the psalm seem to say to us? Why is that?)
Can we think of any other ways we are related to the Jerusalem in this psalm? What are those?
Which of these “Jerusalems” speaks most clearly to us? Why is that, do we think?
In v9, the psalmist ponders God’s steadfast love in midst of the temple in Jerusalem. Why do we think this is? What is the connection between a worship space, or the activity of worship, and the experience of God’s love, do we think?
Where do we, ourselves, seem to ponder God’s steadfast love? Why is that, do we think? How is that location or activity similar to the temple for the psalmist? How is it different? Are those differences and similarities interesting in any way? How?
In vv12-14, the psalmist proposes a walking tour of Jerusalem, as a way to “tell the next generation” about the identity of God. Why? What do we understand that tour will tell them – or us – about God?
If we, ourselves, were to go on a walking tour of … our church building … or our town … or some part of our town … what would that tell us, or allow us to tell others, about God? How would it do that?
Overall, we seem to have several ways we could go in listening to what this psalm has to say to us:
We could focus on the meaning, or meanings, of Jerusalem for us – considering that it has a deep and complex historic and symbolic place in our tradition (capital of Israel, Judah, place from which Israel is exiled, to which it returns, site of a lot of Jesus’ activity, including passion, death, and resurrection, and home of the early church, and the “heavenly Jerusalem” of Revelation), and is also a contemporary, geographical place.
We could focus on what demonstrates the steadfast love of God to us, in our experience – how the psalm reminds us of that, what in our own day and lives does for us what Jerusalem and the temple did for the psalmist.
We could focus on what prompts us to praise God, and what we do when faced with circumstances that might make it difficult to praise God.
Want to add anything to this list?