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Psalm 48: Joy of the World

What if kindness, generosity and justice took over?

Read Psalm 48

Open the translation of your choice...


Stronghold (Psalm 48)

Stronghold, joy of the earth

Stronghold, joy of the earth


Keeping nothing out,

strong enough holding everything in

Keeping nothing out,

strong enough holding everything in

oh, everything in



Feel the eastern wind,

see our ancestors crossing the sea

Feel the eastern wind,

see our ancestors crossing the sea

oh, crossing the sea


Keeper of the world,

fortress and lighthouse, covenant love

Keeper of the world,

fortress and lighthouse, covenant love

oh, covenant love




Words and music by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

©2016 (ASCAP)

All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Licensed via, CCLI and

Sing it with your circle

Stronghold is on the "Trust" album.

Album songbook available here.



Stronghold Charts:

  • piano score

  • ​lead sheet

  • guitar/bass chart

  • jpg of congregational line

  • songleader's notes


                                         Stronghold Charts


Stronghold Accompaniment Pack:

  • all charts above


  • powerpoint & keynote lyric slides

  • original recording

  • instrumental accompaniment track


                                         Stronghold Accomp Pack






Listen up, preachers





Walk with me. Talk with me. Richard is on location in Northeastern Iowa under the impression that it's something like Jerusalem. From the legendary Pulpit Fiction podcast.

Psalm 48 podcast nugget - Pulpit Fiction
00:00 / 00:00

Rooftops of Jerusalem

Pic by Bill Silvermintz

Muslim Girls in Al-Quds

Pic by Carles Suri* Alb*

Going Deep

Psalm 48 is about the presence of God as experienced by ancient Israel in Jerusalem. Some scholars see a trilogy in Psalms 46, 47 and 48, and unlike the Star Wars saga, all episodes are equally brilliant. Try reading these three in one sitting and enjoy a long arc of story, prayer and heartfelt emotion.


Written by Whom?

The Korahites-- or Sons of Korah-- were part of the tribe of Levi that carried and cared for items of the sanctuary, things related to the ark of the covenant and the special objects of the tabernacle. Seems like they may have been musicians as well. Eleven psalms (42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87 and 88) note them as authors.


As you study your preferred translation of the text (see top of the page for links), a few thoughts follow.


We might divide Psalm 48 into two sections divided by a Selah after verse 9. The first half is story-telling and description. The second half is about action.

Verses 1-8: Just: Wow.

  • In heartfelt devotion, the psalmist describes the beauty of Mount Zion, the city of God, Jerusalem. "The joy of the earth" it is called in verse 2. So in love with this place is the psalmist that though Mount Zion is actually not as tall as other mountains in the region, the psalmist praises its elevation. Robert Alter notes how out of scale the description is. "Although Jerusalem, as some archaeologists have argued, may have actually been a small backwater capital among the great cities of the Near East, the poet imagines it in cosmic terms." (Robert Alter. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. 168). James Mays sums up the purpose of the hyperbole: "...for the psalm, the geographic place is the theological place, and it is of that identity that it speaks by using a vocabulary that does not correspond to the physical and political reality of Jerusalem. The low ridge on which Jerusalem sits is called a holy mountain, beautuful in its towering height that makes it visible and central to the whole earth... It is not the town of David but the capital of "the great king," the most high God who rules over all other kings, gods and human beings... In all this contradictory language the psalm is disclosing that other identity which Jerusalem acquired when the ark of the LORD was brought into its walls." (Robert L. Mays. Psalms. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox: 1994. 189).


  • Some translations at the end of verse 2 mention The North, or name Mount Zaphon. Possibly, the reference is to mythical home of the Canaanite gods El and Baal (Mays, 189). Rabbi Benjamin Segal suggests it's kind of like how "Mount Olympus" conjures images of the pantheon of Greek gods. Naming Jerusalem as "Zaphon" loads the city's name with the traditional mythology of power while also co-opting the site with historical resonance: Jerusalem is the new and true Zaphon.


  • Verses 4-8 tell a little story. Great kings attacking with their armies catch a glimpse of the city from a distance and are devastated with awe and fear. They tremble in pain like a woman in labor (verse 6) and flee. All this language connects to Exodus 15 which describes the dismay, horror and pain of the Egyptian army as they are overwhelmed at the Red Sea. Verse 7 of the psalm mentions the "east wind," also a detail of the Exodus story-- the wind that blew the Red Sea apart.


  • Selah (Take a deep breath. You've earned it).

Verses 9-14: Count and Recount

  • As God’s reputation spans the globe, so shall our praise ring out to all corners of the world. Reputation for what? For unfailing love and justice. After what we’ve been through, reflect the people of ancient Israel, we are grateful and bursting with song. 


  • Verse 9 features one of the most important attributes of God in the Psalms: Hesed, meaning unfailing, perfect, steadfast love. God's love plus God's righteous judgment (verses 10-11) are the primary things celebrated.


  • The closing words of verses 12-14 imagine a walk around the city with our attention on the Temple where the people of God reflect on the love and justice God has lavished on them. Imagine walking around Mount Zion and picture a fortress with


  • Cue the Hebrew pun in the text that brings it home. The wordplay goes: “Count the towers so you can re-count the story to future generations.”  In other words: 1) Enjoy your walk in the holy city. 2) Take it all in and remember God's generous love and justice. Then, 3) go and share your experience.

great fortifications and battlements. We’re remembering the stories of God’s help, God’s faithfulness. We’re thinking of the Exodus, about the deep transformation in our lives-- as individuals, as a family and as a nation. We delight to wonder what we have become with God’s help. We are moved to remember our identity as people of God with a home, a purpose and a future. The text calls for both kingdoms— north and south— to rejoice. And in touring the site, taking it all in, we can’t help but tell our story. 

Western Wall and Temple Mount Pic by Daniel Gittler

For years and years (and years), the people of God called Israel wandered with a tent/tabernacle holding the ark of the covenant. For them, it represented nothing less than the very presence of the Holy One traveling with them wherever they went.
Then, the story goes, the people got land and a permanent temple was built-- The Temple. Jerusalem became the most wonderful, awesome, sacred place in the world for them. God had chosen a footstool, Mount Zion, where the Holy One was present in a place to call home.
Better than Disneyworld and Comic-Con together.
It's a place the people of God pilgrimage to this day. It's counted holy to the three major monotheistic, Abrahamic religions of the world-- Judiasm, Islam and Christianity. And if you're thinking that's no small thing to agree on something like this, I think so, too.

Pic by Christine Valters-Paintner

To understand the joy and brilliance of Jerusalem, Christians might think in terms of the incarnation story of Jesus Christ. Embodied in this particularity is the presence of the Holy One. 
Professor Clint McCann writes:
"What Psalm 48... [says] about Jerusalem is what Christians profess about Jesus: No one can see him and go away unchanged...
For the psalmist, the vision of Jerusalem, the city of God, reshaped time and space. For Christians, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth have reshaped the world, reshaped our time and space into a new reality. Thus, amid the same old realities of trouble and turmoil, we are changed and able to discern by the eye of faith the dimensions of a new creation."
(Clint McCann, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV, Psalms. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. 874).
In Psalm 48, Jerusalem is where the king chosen by God reigns, and-- for the moment, at least-- all is right with the world. 
See why Jerusalem is so important in our lineage of faith?
Mount Zion was of central importance to the writers of the First Testament, including the psalms writers. In fact, some psalms like 76, 84, 87 and 122 are dedicated to celebrating and praying for Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was also vital for Jesus, the first gatherings of the Christian tradition and to millions today.
Maybe it’s a bit like Hinhan Kaga (Harney Peak) in the Black Hills of South Dakota for Native American Lakota people. At this place, holy man Black Elk received his great vision where he described being present at the axis of the six sacred directions, able to witness everything as holy.

What's So Great About Jerusalem?


Pic by Dan Jaeger

Palastinian Girl

Pic by edler

We can drive, fly, paddle or drive a tricycle but these modes all bring the speed of movement out of our bodies' natural scale. Nothing wrong with that, but worth noticing that none of these fancy means of transportation are at human pace.


Some of us-- not all, but some-- think most clearly when we are moving. We function best when brainwork is concurrent with physical exercise of some kind. Maybe it's a bloodflow thing or a sense of circulating energy, but for some of us, embodiment of ideas through motion is important. In fact, it can be a spiritual prcatice-- a vital way of integrating what's most important through our whole sense of self.


You may be a peripatetic if:

-- You like walking around.

-- You enjoy movement through landscapes to stimulate your thinking.

-- You get your best ideas while you're running, biking or working out.

-- Your favorite way to talk to a friend is by walking together.

-- You are energized by labyrinth walking.


For the writer of Psalm 48, walking around and noticing the geography brings rich reflection on the most essential things in life. The closing verses invite integration of theology and praxis: What's most important to you and how are you sharing it wih the world?

Peripatetics, Rejoice


Psalm 48 is about walking around and noticing stuff.


       Peri = around


       Patetic = walking


Back in the day when Aristotle roamed the earth, there was a whole philosophical school devoted to learning by walking around and chatting. The story goes that Aristotle walked while he lectured, engaging his students in riviting discussions as they moved about the city like a curious parade


As Psalm 48 takes us on a tour of Jerusalem, we might ponder the value of

simple walking. 


"The whole struggle of life

is to some extent a struggle about

how slowly or how quickly to do each thing."

-- Sten Nadolny, author of The Discovery of Slowness

PD via Wikimedia Commons.

Pic by Paul Segal


Pic by Riesma Pawestri

Pic by Vassiliki Koutsothanasi

So What's Your Story?


Cue air raid siren. Here comes a Very Churchy word.

The word is evangelism.


Some call it proclaiming the gospel, sharing your personal story of faith or inviting new life where there was none before.


In Psalm 48, the final lines of verses 13-15 suggest a simple call to evangelism: Count the towers so you can re-count the story.


For the moment, let's try it on this way: Consider your life (deep breath) and then tell your unique story.


It's a process of discovery, and when you're ready, here are five steps. Move through them with a generous slowness. You might choose to do this alone or with a friend over an afternoon or over months.


1. To begin, take a deep breath. Paying attention to your own life is sometimes difficult either because there's pain we'd rather forget or because it seems way too self-centered to spend time thinking about yourself. If you're willing, take a moment to collect yourself.


2. Reflect on the experience of your life-- the winding course of vocation, family, friendships, geography, important times of both celebration and sadness.


If you're a poet or storyteller, you might write out some words as if making chapter titles for the great holy book of your life. Artists might take watercolors or markers and put something on paper. Scrapbookers, you know what to do. If your physically inclined, you might take a walk or go for a drive, allowing the passing landscape to inspire memories.


3. Pull the camera back from the particulars. What are the wider themes of your life? Where do you see struggles come up again and again? What learnings? When have you felt proud of your life and when daunted? In what ways have your patterns of thinking stayed the same or evolved over time? Do friendships, family or jobs have a common thread?


These are unique, brilliant elements of a full life. As a spiritual director, when I'm sitting with someone opening a deep story of their lives, I sometimes think to myself, "I am beholding the story of the Christ." Sometimes I say it out loud for that person. Whether death or resurrection, trajedy or glory, suffering or ecstacy, we are sharing the Story of Christ and embodying it for the world. It might be worth proclaiming to yourself, too.


4. From a spiritual perspective, tell yourself the story of your life.


Do not concern yourself right now with how it might sound to anyone else; this is just for you.


If your life is a play or a film or a novel, what kind of character is God? Where have been seasons of action or quiet? What fears or hopes have been present that have brought meaning to your life? What have been your most potent questions and how has your spiritual life been shaped by them over time? Use whatever kind of language naturally comes to you.


Getting clarity on this dimension of one's story can be transformational. take your time. It may take a few minutes, a few weeks or even years.


5. In any way you desire, consider sharing your story. Make a recording for kids and grandkids, speak with a friend over coffee, create a poem or picture that rings true.


In our own way, we have followed the psalmist, taking a tour of the holy city and recounting our experiences of that holiness. Amen to the variety of ways the Holy One manifests in each of us-- we, whom Jesus called the light of the world

More Music for Psalm 48

Psalm 48

Shirei HaLeviim





















"Great is the Lord (Psalm 48)"

Richard Smallwood Singers



















"Great is the Lord" (Psalm 48)

Opus 67 by Sir Edward Elgar

Performed by choir and organ of St. Paul's,

Rock Creek Parish, Washington, D.C.
















"Great Is the Lord"

Karl Kohlhase

(song and then reflection)

Thank you

for studying with us at


May you behold your life with the generous delight of the Holy One and open it to flood the world with your unique way of compassion and justice.


Got a story to tell, questions or comments? We'd like to hear from you!



































Tower of David

Pic by Paul Segal



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