Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. (Psalm 48:1, 14)
Next Monday is July 4. All across this country we will be celebrating the day our forefathers declared independence from England in 1776. They declared that they would no longer be colonies of another country, nor subject to a king, but would seek to become a union of “free and independent states…with a firm reliance on the protection of the divine Providence.” John Adams was so excited on that day that he proclaimed it ought to be commemorated, “as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illumination from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward and forever more.”
So, next Monday, in every U.S. city, large or small, we’ll celebrate…something. And mostly, I think we are celebrating US (pun intended). Nowhere is this more obvious than in our nation’s capital, where millions of dollars will be spent and myriad speeches will be spoken; all intended to show off—to tell us what and who has made our great country great.
In Psalm 48, the songwriter is pretty excited his own great capital city, Zion. You might know it better as Jerusalem, the city of David. He uses his song to “show off” Zion’s strength and security (vs. 3, 8); her beauty and her power (vs. 2, 7). But the psalmist doesn’t focus on the city’s founders or military might; he doesn’t attribute her greatness to the people’s sacrifices or ideals or leaders. Instead, he directs all of the attention to God, “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise!” God is not a part of the celebration; He is at the heart of the celebration! He is the point of it all. The songwriter knows that God isn’t interested in showing off Zion to the world; Zion is supposed to be showing off God!
In every city and country around the world, there is still only one thing worth showing off. And it isn’t us!
When God delivered His people, and brought them into the Promised Land, he warned them to remember the One who had made them great. He told them that they would be tempted to take credit for their successes and forget about Him (Deuteronomy 8:10-20). The writer of Psalm 48 knew that God’s warning was still a thing. He knew that people and leaders were still excited to show off their cities and successes…and that they were still tempted to take credit for all of it. He knew that there were other cities that had sought to bring all the attention to themselves—Babel, Sodom, Nineveh—cities that had celebrated their technology, their freedoms, their military strength. Those cities had been destroyed, but the city that celebrates God remains firm.
Unlike John Adam’s proclamation that our commemoration should be marked by “solemn acts,” we are often more interested in the “pomp and parade.” Rather than having a focus on “devotion to God Almighty,” we are more devoted to showing off how great we have made ourselves. So, as the firetrucks and marching bands and politicians march by next week; as we fill our bodies with food and fill the skies with fireworks; remember and celebrate the God who demands to be at the center of every city, every church, every family, every life. “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.”
Have a happy Fourth of July! And always stay thirsty for God!