Psalm 48 – The City of God & Zaphon, Olympus, Sinai, and Zion: The Mountain of God

A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah.

1 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.

2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.

3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge.

4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.

5 They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled, and hasted away.

6 Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail.

7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.

8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it forever. Selah.

9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple.

10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.

11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy Judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.

13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.

14 For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.

The folly of worldlings who live on in sin, without thinking of death or hell..  Appreciating and experiencing Zion as the highest reality and enjoyment of God in the universe.

Zaphon, Olympus, Sinai, and Zion:
The Mountain of God

Mount Olympus (also transliterated as Olympos, and on Greek maps, Oros Olympos) is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest mountain in the Balkans.

It is located in the Olympus Range on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, between the prefectures of Pieria and Larissa, about 80 km (50 mi) southwest from Thessaloniki.

Mount Olympus has 52 peaks, deep gorges, and exceptional biodiversity.

The highest peak Mytikas, meaning “nose”, rises to 2,917 metres (9,570 ft).

It is one of the highest peaks in Europe in terms of topographic prominence.

Olympus was notable in Ancient Greek Mythology as the home of the Twelve Olympians, on the Mytikas peak.

Mount Olympus is also noted for its very rich flora with several species.

It has been the first National Park of Greece, since 1938, and a World’s Biosphere Reserve.

Every year thousands of people visit Olympus to admire its nature, to tour its slopes, and reach its peaks.

Organized mountain refuges and various mountaineering and climbing routes are available to visitors, who want to explore its nature.

The usual starting point for it is the town of Litochoro, on the eastern foothills of the mountain, 100 km from Thessaloniki, where, in the beginning of every summer, the Mountain Olympus Marathon terminates.

Most people today are aware that the gods of the Greek myths had their palace on Mount Olympus; less well known is Zaphon, the sacred mountain of the Canaanite god Baal-Hadad.  The actual Mount Olympus (9,573 ft. in height) is in northern Greece at the border of Thessaly and Macedonia; the actual Zaphon (5,807 ft. high) is in Syria on the Orontes River. 

Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City.
Mount Zion has been historically associated with the Temple Mount.

In the Bible, Mount Zion is synonymous with Mount Moriah, the site of the binding of Isaac and the Jewish Temple.

The term is also used for the entire Land of Israel.

David’s Tomb on Mount Zion

According to the Book of Samuel, Mount Zion was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the “stronghold of Zion” that was conquered by King David, becoming his palace and the City of David.

It is mentioned in the Book of Isaiah (60:14), the Book of Psalms, and the first book of the Maccabees (c. 2nd century B.C.).

After the conquest of the Jebusite city, the hill of the Lower City was divided into several parts. The highest part, in the north, became the site of Solomon’s Temple.

Based on archaeological excavations revealing sections of the First Temple city wall, this is believed to have been the true Mount Zion.

Towards the end of the First Temple period, the city expanded westward.

Just before the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple,

Josephus described Mount Zion as a hill across the valley to the west.

Thus, the western hill extending south of the Old City came to be known as Mount Zion, and this has been the case ever since.

At the end of the Roman period, a synagogue was built at the entrance of the structure known as David’s Tomb probably based on the belief that David brought the Ark of the Covenant here from Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Ye’arim before the construction of the Temple.

In 1948, Mount Zion was linked to the Yemin Moshe neighborhood in West Jerusalem via a narrow tunnel.

During the war, an alternative was needed to evacuate the wounded and transport supplies to soldiers on Mt. Zion.

A cable car capable of carrying a load of 250 kilos was designed for this purpose.

The cable car was only used at night and lowered into the valley during the day to escape detection, it is still in place at the now Mount Zion Hotel.

The ride from the Israeli position at the St. John Eye Hospital to Mount Zion took two minutes.

Mount Zion was conquered by the Harel Brigade on May 18, 1948.

Between 1948 and 1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian occupation, Israelis were forbidden access to the Jewish holy places.

Mount Zion was a designated no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan.

Mount Zion was the closest accessible site to the ancient Jewish Temple.

Until East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War,

Israelis would climb to the rooftop of David’s Tomb to pray.

The winding road leading up to Mount Zion is known as Pope’s Way (Derekh Ha’apifyor).

It was paved in honor of the historic visit to Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI in 1964.

In both cases the mystery and grandeur of a high mountain in the far north seemed appropriate to ancient peoples as the abides of their gods. 

The Israelites also had sacred mountains.  The first of these was Mount Sinai, located far to the south.  Mount Sinai was not recognized as the home of God but as the mountain to which He had descended in order to meet Moses and give Israel his law.

Despite the fact that a pivotal even in Israel’s history had taken place there, later texts, such as the Psalms, pay relatively little attention to Sinai.  It does not appear to have been a place of pilgrimage either, although on one occasion Elijah did journey to Sinai in order to encounter God (see 1 Kgs 19:8, where Sinai is called Horeb). 

Both the psalmists and the Old Testament prophets paid far more attention to Mount Zion.  This is somewhat surprising, for, unlike the other mountains mentioned above, Zion is neither remote nor particularly impressive.  It constitutes the hilly area of Jerusalem – more specifically, the temple mount. 

The claim of Ps 48:2 (“It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.  Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion”) would hardly seem accurate with reference to its literal height. 

This area of Jerusalem sits about 2,000 feet above sea level, and although the views are impressive, Zion hardly dominates the area of Judah in the same way Olympus overshadows Greece.  Also, unlike the other mountains, it had a large human population and thus none of the remoteness or mystery typically associated with the mountains of the gods.

the term “Zion” in the Old Testament is used as a kind of code word for the coming kingdom of God.  Zion was a symbol of God’s dominion over the whole earth, as well as the promise of a great future, when the Gentiles would come and submit to Israel’s God (Is 2:2-4). 

The worship at the temple was a foretaste of that future, when David’s kingdom would extend over all humanity forever, the very presence of Zion in a human city, Jerusalem was proof that God’s covenant was with people that, unlike the gods of the nations, he would indeed dwell among us.

“They wrote it intending it to be cryptic,” said Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte – one of the lead excavators on the dig – speaking to National Geographic. Clearly the cup bore some enigmatic meaning which – similar to, say, the writing in the Dead Sea Scrolls – was intended to be understood only by certain specific individuals.

“They could be instructions on how to use [the cup], which could have incantations or curses,” he continued. “It’s not going to be something mundane like a shopping list.”

Cups of the time that came into contact with forbidden foodstuffs had to be smashed up and disposed of, according to strict Jewish purity laws on eating and drinking. This one was – very practically – made out of stone.

“According to Jewish law, stone cannot become ritually impure,” explained archaeologist Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – an expert on daily life in biblical Jerusalem – also talking to National Geographic. “In the long run, if you’re observing purity laws, it’s cost-effective to use stone vessels.”

Such mugs are very commonly found in the area. However, this one is unique. “This is the first time an inscription has been found on a stone vessel of this type,” commented Gibson.

He’s been circulating images of the artifact as widely as possible among experts on writing from the period, and also hopes to get as many pictures as possible online in the hope of it being spotted by someone who can interpret the text.

Archaeologists have unearthed a unique Aramaic inscription, on a stone excavated on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion.  But the phrase is written in such an odd way experts fear it will take months to understand.

The stone, believed to have been created around the city’s Second Temple Period (516 B.C.-70 A.D.), was found inside a house complex which has already proffered a mikye ritual bath and three bread ovens. 

Shimon Gibson, who is leading the University of North Carolina dig at the site, was enthralled by the remarkable stone, but warned it would be at least two months before anyone could decipher its clear but cryptic message.

Jerusalem is one of the world’s historically richest cities.

“This is a difficult script, not one that is worn or graded, which demands research,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “It’s like digging out grandparents’ hand-written letters.”

Gibson and his team have also uncovered dwellings and items from the First Temple Period, Byzantine and early Islamic eras. Experts believe the Upper City district of Jerusalem to have been a priestly quarter during the Second Temple Period. Several religious buildings have been recovered from the area.