God In The City
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
What gives us hope in times of trouble? That’s a good question, mostly because, in one way or another, we find ourselves in trouble at every point in our lives. The answer this psalm gives may surprise us: a city. But this source of hope, this city, is no normal city: God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. God chose Jerusalem (Zion) as his special dwelling place. This was surprising. There were doubtless bigger cities, more powerful cities, taller mountains, more dominant nations, better looking people. Yet, in his free and mysterious grace, he chose this city: Jerusalem.
The Old Testament gives us hints that this city was more than just an earthly city. Psalm 48.2 says, ‘Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.’ We start to see the foundations of a much bigger city come into view here, just as in Psalm 46. In the New Testament this vision becomes clear: ‘But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant’ (Heb 12.22-4). The city is the church, in its full heavenly perfection, and our little bite-size tastes and homesick steps toward it here and now.
This city has a constant, never ending, inexhaustible, infinite, ever-satisfying, glad producing river giving it life, and that river is none other than God himself, in the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
What characterizes this city? First, it is a glad city. Think about that. The city that Paul says we are citizens of (Phil 3.20), to which Jesus went to prepare a place for us (John 14), is above all, a glad place. This is because ‘there is a river that makes glad.’ In the previous verses, the seas and water were scary destructive forces. But this city has water that is life-giving. Revelation 22.1 picks up on this idea when it says, ‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city…’ Joy inexpressible, gladness overflowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. ‘The resources of God’s people are found in the perpetual stream of blessings which flow from his wisdom and mercy through Jesus Christ’ (Plumer). Jesus invites us to drink deeply of this fountain of gladness: ‘On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink”’ (John 7.37). This city has a constant, never ending, inexhaustible, infinite, ever-satisfying, glad producing river giving it life, and that river is none other than God himself, in the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
‘The resources of God’s people are found in the perpetual stream of blessings which flow from his wisdom and mercy through Jesus Christ’
Second, it is a solid city. In that ancient time, you were as safe as your city was safe. If your city had strong walls, unbreakable doors, and a good source of resources inside, you were safe. This psalm powerfully expresses how solid God’s city is. The same word is used in verse 2 for the mountains (though the mountains be moved), and in verse 6 for kingdoms (the kingdoms totter) as in verse 5 (she shall not be moved). What moves the mountains, what causes kingdoms to totter, doesn’t even touch God’s city: it shall not be moved. Nothing, nothing in all creation, whether natural or human, can shake or totter this city. Why? God is in the midst of her. God is in his city, and so, we are secure. Calvin says, ‘If we desire to be protected by the hand of God, we must be concerned above all things that he may dwell amongst us; for all hope of safety depends on his presence alone.’ He is present to us in Jesus Christ, and by his Spirit (John 14.16-17), and amazingly, we are present with him, seated in the heavenly places where Christ is, and so we dwell in a city that cannot be shaken. This is yours in Christ; this is hope. Praise God that there is a river that makes glad the city of God; thank God that he is in the midst of this city; thank God that we have such a home — enjoyed now in hope, enjoyed soon by sight.
May God give each one of us the grace to run to him as our refuge, and to know the hope of belonging to God’s city, which shall never be moved. A city solid and glad, because God dwells there.