- This is a song. A psalm of Korah’s family.1
God runs security for Jerusalem
- 1 Our awesome LORD deserves awesome praise.
In Jerusalem,2 the city of our God.
His holy mountain,
- 2 On the beautiful crest of a ridge,
Is a place the whole world loves:
Mount Zion,3 the true Zaphon,4
City of our great king.
- 3 God, in palaces of Jerusalem,
Has made it perfectly clear
He’s in charge of security.
- 4 Rulers joined forces against Jerusalem.
This coalition army came to attack.
- 5 They were amazed at what they saw.
Terrified, they sounded the retreat.
- 6 They ran away in panic,
In the wrenching anguish
of a woman giving birth,
- 7 And like helpless sailors wrecked at Tarshish,5
Ships blown and broken by the east wind.
- 8 We heard it. We saw it.
The LORD of all
In the city of our God
Will protect this place forever.
God’s firm grip on justice
- 9 In your temple, God,
We think about your kindness and love.
- 10 The reputation of your name and the praise it produces
Reaches to the far ends of the earth.
Your powerful right hand has a firm grip on justice.
- 11 Let Mount Zion ring with joy.
Let all of Judah celebrate
That justice is your fame.
- 12 Go ahead. Take a walk through Jerusalem.
Count the towers on the walls.
- 13 Look at those thick walls.
Stroll through the palaces.
Then tell your kids what you saw.
- 14 This mountain represents God.
He’s our God,
Now and forever.
And he’s our guide Until we get to where we’re going.
The subtitle wasn’t part of the original psalm. Korah was a musical family in the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 tribes that made up the original nation of Israel. Levite families worked as priests and worship leaders and assistants for the Jewish nation.
The song doesn’t mention Jerusalem by name, but the writer’s description that follows makes it clear that it’s Jerusalem in mind.
“Zion” is a term of endearment, and another name for Jerusalem. It’s a bit like “The Big Apple” for New York City, “The City of Love” for Paris, and “Sin City” for Las Vegas, though some wouldn’t call that a term of endearment.
Zaphon, many scholars say, seems to refer to the mythological hilltop home of Baal—god of the Canaanites who lived in the Jewish homeland before the Jews arrived. The context of what follows suggests that the “great king” the songwriter describes is God, and not King David or any other king.
Location of Tarshish is unknown. It was the prophet Jonah’s destination when he tried to run away from God. Scholars often guess that it was a city in Spain or somewhere else at the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea from the Jewish homeland. Some say it was a Phoenician colony called Tartessus, in Spain. Phoenicians were native to what is now Lebanon, but their merchant ships sailed through the Mediterranean Sea.
The word in the original language of Hebrew is selah. Bible scholars haven’t figured out what it means yet, so all we can do is guess. It could mean “pause for effect,” “instrumental interlude,” or “choir singing ‘Amen.’” We’re offering a guess instead of selah. Though selah might be the better way to go because it’s always correct, it’s also always incomprehensible. “Instruments” has a good chance of being wrong, but at least we convey the idea that the Hebrew word behind it probably has something to do with enhancing the song.