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God is with Us: Be Conscious of His Presence

Sermon passage: (Psalm 48:1-14) Spoken on: May 31, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Dr. Tan Hock Seng
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms

Tags: Korah, Psalms, 诗篇

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About Dr. Tan Hock Seng: Dr. Tan teaches New Testament studies, theology and languages in various seminaries in Singapore.

Title: God is with Us: Be Conscious of His Presence
Date: 31 May 2020
Preacher: Dr Tan Hock Seng

In the book of the Psalms we will encounter the term “Mount Zion” many times. When the Psalms were being composed Mount Zion was identified with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is at a mountain top, and is about 3.2 times the size of Tiong Bahru, and about 8 times higher than our Mount Faber. The City of David and the Temple were located in Jerusalem. Sometimes, the Psalmist refers to Jerusalem as “Zion” or the “City of David.” So, “Zion” and “Jerusalem” are interchangeable words in Hebrew poetry, but different locations in Geography.

Psalm 48 extols LORD who dwells among of His people. Mount Zion is majestic in beauty, and the City of Jerusalem is well-protected because of God is present with Israel.

However, our focus on the description of Zion and Jerusalem can overshadow the Presence of God the Psalmist depicted. Likewise, many times our overly focus on the created things in life can distract our attention from the Creator.

Thus, when reading Psalm 48, some readers may misread the text way:

Great is the city of our God! His Holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth. Mount Zion the city, within her citadels, a fortress.

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, 2 beautiful, the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, the city of the great King. 3 Within her citadels a fortress. .

Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels that you may tell the next generation.

12 Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, 13 consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation …

Then Psalm 48 becomes an advertisement. Verses 12-13 will sound like a jingle, calling the readers to visit Jerusalem.

But that is not the intention of the Psalmist.

Some contents of Psalm 48 remind me of an experience when I was very young.

In my early twenties, this place, Prince Philip Avenue, was the most beautiful place in Singapore. At Jerusalem the Psalmist said, ““count her towers, note her ramparts (fortified walls), go through her citadels … (vv.12b-13a). At Prince Philip Avenue I told myself – Walk through the pathways; look at the canal; admire the rain trees.

I felt that everything there was beautiful and perfect. Why is that so? Well, you guessed correctly –the place was beautiful to me because the girl whom I loved lived there. Those who guessed correctly, I say, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but your similar experience. You know better, there are many other place in Singapore more beautiful than Prince Philip Avenue. My girlfriend, now my wife, stayed there. She was the one who made that place so special. And I wished to go there often. But when Siew Hua moved away, Prince Philip Avenue was no longer fascinating or attractive to me.

Likewise, we know that there are many places and wonders in this world that are more attractive than Zion or Jerusalem.

In verse 2 the Psalmist tells us,
His holy mountain, 2 beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.

The City of Jerusalem was majestic and grand to the Psalmist because the LORD whom he loved and worship “lived” there among the people.

Most of us will agree that our house becomes a home because the ones we loved live there. To the Psalmist Jerusalem was a Holy City because the LORD was there. Jubilee Church is a growing Spirit-filled Community because God “walks” among us. It is not the physical structures that make the church great; it is the LORD’s presence that makes it authentic and dynamic.

However, be aware that …
We Can Be Distracted by Created Things and Forget the Creator

Although we know that we should always focus on God, very often we can become distracted by “the city with its infrastructure”. We have the tendency to lose sight of our Creator while indulging in the created things.

King Solomon spent seven years to build the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:38), and thirteen years to build his own palace in the city (1 kings 7:1). Thus, it was not surprising that whenever Solomon looked at Jerusalem, he might think to himself, “I’m the one who made Jerusalem great; and because Jerusalem is great, that’s why God is great also.”

In his reign, King Solomon ushered in the Golden Age in Israel. As we look at the map we observe that the size of Solomon’s kingdom was about 4 times that of modern Israel today. The green-colored region is size of modern Israel today; the light yellow area is the boundary of Israel during Solomon’s time.

1 Kings 4:21-28
21 And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. 24 For he ruled over all the kingdoms west of the River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides. 25 During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.

But Solomon had a very expensive hobby. In 1 Kings 4:21-25, we read

26 Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses. But the teaching of Deuteronomy 17:16 forbids any king to acquire many horses for himself.

Translated to today’s life-context Solomon would have 4,000 showrooms for sport-cars and 12,000 racing cars. If cars seem boring, then in aerospace context,

Solomon would have 400 hangers of Fighter Jets and 120 Private Jets.

Thus, blinded by his glory and success king Solomon might boast:

Because of my abilities and achievements in my kingdom, 4 For behold, the kings assembled; they came on together. 5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight. 6 Trembling took hold of them there … …

Therefore, Psalm 48 serves to drag people out of their distractions and bring their attention back towards God. The Psalmist reminds the readers,

God is the fortress of the Israel kingdom. That’s why when the kings, when they formed alliance to invade Jerusalem, they panicked and took flight.

God is the One who shattered the ships of Tarshish. God uses the East Wind to destroy all navy ships from Tarshish.

3 Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress. That’s why … the kings assembled … came on together … were astounded; they were in panic; [and] they took to flight … 7 By the east wind God shattered the ships of Tarshish …God [is] in the midst of the temple. 10 … God’s right hand is filled with righteousness. So, as So, as you walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, 13 consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation 14 that this is [the work of ] God, our God forever and ever. [Only] God will guide us forever.

The Psalmist reminds the king and the people, Jerusalem is strong because God is her fortress; the city is well-protected because God is her Defender; and the Temple-worship is meaningful because the LORD is present there.

Q:Did Israel always see God as their Protector?

There were many times in history when Israel lost sight of God as their focus in worship. During the days of the prophet Jeremiah the people wrongly perceived the Temple-building in Jerusalem as a holy icon They believed that the Temple could protect the City from invasion.

Thus, Jeremiah warned the people against their misplaced trust:
Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4).

Sadly, the people ignored Jeremiah’s warning. They completely replaced their faith in God with trust in the City and the Temple. Eventually, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC. The city was ravaged; and the temple, destroyed.

Then the people asked, “How could God let the Holy City and the Holy Temple be destroyed?” “Was God too weak?” No, the Presence of the LORD had already left the Temple and the City (Ezekiel 9:3; 10:18-19; 11:23). When God left the Holy Temple and the City, the Temple was longer holy; and Jerusalem became an ordinary town.

Thus, the Psalmist rightly reminds the people that the LORD is the true Fortress; the LORD is the true Defender; and His Presence makes worship vibrant and meaningful.

Sometimes, like the people in Jerusalem, we may wrongly attribute “Who we are”; “What we have become” to our talents and achievements. We forget that we succeeded because God is with us and He has guided us. He blessed us with good health so that we did not miss the important tests or exams. He enabled us to attend meetings on time so that we can clinch the business deal.

We should often remind ourselves and remind one another that “All things came from Thee, O LORD,” [万物都从主您而来/万物都是从主而来] and “Praise God from whom all blessings flows.” [赞美圣父万福之根]

Next, we should understand that God’s Presence with us” does not imply that we will live “happily ever after” – our lives shall be trouble-free.

The story of Joseph in Genesis depicts a realistic picture about living in “the Presence of God”.

In Genesis 37, we read that Joseph’s brothers conspired against him (v. 18). They sold him to the Ishmaelites traders for 20 shekels (v. 20), and lied to their father that Joseph was killed and eaten by some ferocious animal (v. 33). So, Jacob had no thought of searching for Joseph.

But Joseph was sold to an Egyptian to be a slave (39:1).

Naturally, readers will assume that Joseph would be very miserable for the rest of his life. However, the Bible tells us that God did not forsake Joseph.

In Genesis 39, the story-narrator tells us that the LORD was with Joseph.

When the narrator says the same thing 4 times in one story-scene, it means that “the LORD was with Joseph” was a very important reality in Joseph’s life. We must pay attention to that truth.

Because the LORD was present with Joseph, we read “and he had success in everything he did.” Even the Egyptian master could see that God was present with Joseph

His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. [39:3]

The LORD granted Joseph favor in the eyes of his master and blessed him with success:

4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. (Genesis 39:4-5)

One day the master Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. When she could not get what she wanted, she accused Joseph of attempting to molest her. In his anger Potiphar cast Joseph into prison.

Joseph plunged from the status of a slave to a prisoner. Some readers might feel that Joseph’s feng sui was very bad. But the Bible tells us, “God’s Presence was still with Joseph.” Listen, “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him unfailing love … the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD gave him success.” (Genesis 39:21; 23b)

“[The LORD] and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him (Gen. 39:21b-23a).

Joseph endured injustice for thirteen years Joseph was brought to Egypt when he at age 17 (37:2) and he became the Pharaoh’s right hand man at age 30 (41:46).

The LORD was with Joseph all those 13 years.

The Presence of God did not shorten Joseph’s time of slavery (the 13 years);

Joseph faced injustice even though God’s presence was with him Joseph did right but he was not rewarded. Instead he was falsely accused of evil Joseph was greatly disappointed by people he had helped Joseph told the cupbearer, “Remember me when it is well with you; Mention me to the Pharaoh to get me out” (13:14). Yet, we read “the cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (40:23). Joseph waited; but two years passed. He waited in vain.

Then a day came, Pharaoh put his own signet ring on Joseph’s hand (Genesis 41:42).

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, "Bow the knee!" Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:42-43)

Joseph himself summarized what it means to have the LORD’s presence with him.

He told his brothers, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.

Genesis 50:20
As for you, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Yes, we may still encounter evil even when the God is with us; but the “LORD’s Presence with us” can bring forth good from intended evils – God meant it for good.

One year ago, Rev Tiong Ann exhorted us in his preaching to think theologically. Not just think logically, but also think theologically.

Genesis 50:20 illustrates one aspect of thinking logically versus thinking theologically.

From the logical perspective in Joseph’s situation:

When sold as a slave to a country far away, that was evil.
When cast into prison for something he did not do, that was injustice.
When people whom he helped had forgotten about him, that led to utter hopelessness.

Just thinking logically, these negative experiences only spell the end of life.

But God was with Joseph. When we think theologically, we bring
God into the picture. We become conscious of God’s Presence.
Because God is with us … in hopelessness, we still have hope. There will be vindication of injustice eventually. God is able to bring forth good from evil.

From the perspective of thinking logically , Joseph told his brothers “You intended evil for me”. From the perspective of thinking theologically , Joseph’s testified, “but God intended it for good. God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

The Presence of the LORD with us means:

In hopeless, God gives us Hope;
In the face of injustice, God can vindicate us of being wronged
In evils, God is able to bring forth Good for us.

Sometimes, God does not just make things good, but very good.

If the LORD is with me,

Q: Why do I often feel that God is far, far, way from me?
It was likea long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,
I felt close to God.

This comic clip depicts a common syndrome experienced by many believers in Singapore today: The Overcrowding of the Soul.

In the picture the “sheep” wonders why he could not hear the shepherd’s voice anymore.
The magazine, the TV, the Radio and headset have blocked the sheep’s ears. Those things distracted the sheep’s attention from hearing the shepherd’s calling. However, that is just a simple depiction of things that distract us. In reality, the distractions in our lives can be far more complicated.

Psalm 48:9 exhorts us to come before the LORD’s presence and mediate on his unfailing love whenever we worship Him. We need to learn to make time for God in our busyness.

“O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple.” (Psalm 48:9)

The “Presence of God”: An Important Concept to the Apostle Paul.

The “Presence of God” is an important truth and reality to the Apostle Paul. In the letters Paul wrote the churches, he often concluded with the “Presence of God” in his benediction.

The God of peace be with you all. Amen. (Rom. 15:33)
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. (1 Cor. 16:23)
And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor. 13:11)
And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1 Thess. 5:28)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thess. 3:18)

In 1 Thessalonians 5:28, Paul ended his letter with the blessing,
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
Just a few lines before this prayer, Paul exhorted the church to:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances.

When we meditate on the truth that the LORD is always present with us,
[1] We have reason to rejoice. In the song “Hold my hand” [牵我的手] there is a repeated cry, “Please don’t forsake me! [请祢别离开我]. This plea is appears 4 times. Then the lyrics say, “Sometimes, I’m fearful; I don’t know which path to choose” [有时我会怕 有时不知怎么走]. But Jesus has assured us “I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20) and “I will never forsake you” (Heb. 13:5b). We are comforted by this assurance that God is always with us. Therefore, we can rejoice always.

[2] When we know that God is with us, when can talk to Him any time. Today, we can talk to our friends by tweeting short messages; we can chat with them through WhatsApp. Likewise, we can do the same things in God’s Presence. We can pray short prayers anytime. We can chat with Him even when we doing house chores or watching TV. That is the concept of “Pray without ceasing”. Because God is with us, we can fellowship with Him every moment.

[3] [Do not read] Give thanks in all circumstance. [Say] When we know the God who is able bring good out of evil, we have good reason give thanks in everything.

The above examples are only a few ways we can live out the reality of “God being with us”


As the Psalm comes to an end, the Sons of Korah encourages the worshippers:

Walk about Zion, /as you go around her, think about His unfailing love; /count her towers and think of His unfailing love; /and consider her rampart, /and as you go through her citadel, think of His unfailing love.

Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels (Psalm 12-13)

The psalmist reminds us in verse 14, “The LORD is our God forever and ever. He will guide us until death.”

10 Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. 11 Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments. 12 Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, 13 consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. 14 For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. (Psalm 48-14)