Psalm 48

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.
Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.

(Psalm 48:1-3, ESV)

Like an Old Testament version of the familiar hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” Psalm 48 is full of praise for the city of God and its Maker.  Echoing themes from similar psalms, such as 46, 87, and 122, this text presents a majestic call to worship our God.  Nor does the Psalter Hymnal shortchange this psalm in its selections.  While only two settings of Psalm 48 are included, both songs solidly reflect the majesty of the original text.

88, “The Lord Is Great”

Short, accurate, and powerful, this long-meter setting presents the first eight verses of Psalm 48 in four stanzas.  Yet while the text is solid, I don’t think I’ve ever played, sung, or heard this setting (in my limited experience) in worship.  Certainly we could sing it more often!

One potential drawback of this setting is the tune, ST. JOHN’S HIGHLANDS.  Although there’s no obvious flaws with the structure of the tune, some of the intervals (such as the C to G-flat in mm. 3, 4 and 11, 12) could surprise an unsuspecting congregation.  But the tune can easily be interchanged with the familiar L.M. tune DUKE STREET instead—a melody that’s easy to sing and reinforces the triumphant message of the text.

The concept of the “praise medley” may be more common in contemporary evangelical churches than in URC congregations, but here’s an interesting twist on the idea.  What would happen if a congregation were to sing a medley of numbers 88 and 89? For number 88, the tune DUKE STREET could be used in the typical key of D; then the key could be raised to E to conclude majestically with number 89.  This might be an uplifting venture for accompanist and congregation alike!

89, “Within Thy Temple, Lord”

Many factors combine to make this psalm setting one of the most well-known in the Psalter Hymnal, as far as my experience reaches.  Taken from Psalm 48:9-14, this song is easy to appreciate and even easier to sing.  The lack of archaic language (for the most part) makes the text understandable to all, both young and old, and the concise three-stanza format makes the setting flow just like a traditional hymn.

The text and tune are perfectly paired as well.  DIADEMATA, in S.M.D. (double 6.6.8.6.), is the tune most commonly used to the words “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”  The melody line rises and falls right along with the text.  All the way through the third line, the tension builds and builds, till it resolves in a grand series of cadences in the fourth.  This is especially powerful when set to the words of the third stanza:

For God as our own God
Forever will abide,
And till life’s journey close in death
Will be our faithful Guide.

Too often, this majestic tune is played in the dull keys of E-flat or D.  One of these keys may be suitable for the first two stanzas if your congregation has trouble hitting the high notes, but the brilliance of the original key of E is something that should be preserved if at all possible, at least for the final stanza.  With full organ, and maybe some broad piano accompaniment, this tune is awe-inspiring.  Singing this psalm should inspire every believer to praise the Lord of the Church, the King of “the city of our God, which God will establish forever” (Psalm 48:8, ESV).

To God be the glory!

–MRK

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