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The City of God

February 24, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Acts 4–8 and Psalm 48.

As I work through the Psalms after having covered them in my Old Testament survery class, a few themes are much more apparent to me than they had been before. Notably, looking at Psalm 48, the prominence of Zion throughout the Psalms and in this Psalm in particular is striking. It is of course not Zion itself that is the cause for note and rejoicing, but the presence of Yahweh within the city. (The temple in this city is where God makes his dwelling place on earth—a striking thought!) But the city does come in for special notice because Yahweh dwells there, and does so often throughout the Old Testament.1

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
    in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
    is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
    the city of the great King.

(Psalm 48:1–2)

The temple of God, his dwelling place with and among us, comes up over and over again throughout the Scriptures. It is there from the very beginning, from Eden where God would walk with his people in the cool of the day. It is there in the end, in the New Jerusalem where the dwelling place of God is with man and there is no temple at all because God himself is the temple. It is here, now, in the time when the people of God have replaced a building and become a temple of living stones.

The Psalmist’s call to survey Zion (Psalm 48:12–13a) does what all such calls in the Scriptures do: it points the listener to the God whose dwelling place Zion is (48:13b–14). Yahweh will establish this city forever (48:8) as a mark of his triumph over the (rebellious) nations, and as a result his name—that is, knowledge of him and his character—and his praise will fill the ends of the earth. And the end of people coming to this city will be that all will know that “this is our God, / our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.”2

Meditating on Zion—that is, on Jerusalem both old and new—does not seem at first blush a fertile ground for worship. But that is exactly where the Psalmist has taken us. The old Jerusalem was the city that rejected the prophets and finally rejected the prophet like Moses, the promised Davidic king (a point driven home rather forcefully in Stephen’s monologue in Acts 7, which I also read today). Though it was the dwelling place of God, it was also the city that rejected God—much as Adam and Eve had done in Eden. That even so God dwelt there, that even so God dwells with us who are so often so very sinful, is nothing short of astounding. That he will someday bring down a new Jerusalem that he has made, and in which he will be both the spiritual center and the righteous ruler, is the more astounding yet.

So with the Psalmist, I thank God for his city. And with the Psalmist, I look forward to the day when God shows his glory to all the earth through his city.

  1. And the New. But I’ll get to that.

  2. “Forever” here has sometimes been read as “beyond death.” There’s a striking image in the Old Testament, opaque about the fate of men and women after death as it usually is!