This song of the Korahites is another royal moment, with Zion and the holy hill “the very centre of the world”. (2) In modern times, this is generally regarded as a non-geographic metaphor. (See also comments made in Psalm 47 regarding ‘sponsorship’.)
Time and place
As has been noted in relation to other songs wherein the psalmists long for the holy City of God as a particular place in time and history, this predated the advent of the Christian and Islamic religions. So while Zion is often mentioned, this is poetry. There is no caliphate here. The longing for mercy and safety is universal. The poem may be applied to the locus of life, love and justice in creation, or in your own experience and faith.
One can hardly be surprised if a reader is less than thrilled when coming across compositions for this psalm from publications called “The Columbian Harmonist, 1807, words by Isaac Watts, 1719″, and “Transcribed from The American Singing-Book, 1786. A simple song, apparently written for newcomers to a singing-school. Words by Isaac Watts, his paraphrase of Psalm 48.” (CPDL entry) But it’s horses for courses. The music leader is constantly challenged to make something meaningful of ideas that may initially seem too complex or too sparse.
More modern refrains in New Century Hymnal and Psalms For All Seasons (nothing in TiS) commend themselves to us more warmly, not only for simplicity and good music but also because they spotlight a key verse, whether literally geographic or not:
We ponder your steadfast love O God, in the midst of your temple. (v.9)
The illustration, from the Oscott Psalter of around 1270 CE, shows the Latin script of that same verse: Suscepimus Deus misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui. Note the abbreviation, common in medieval manuscripts, marked by superscript tilde ~. Thus the third word misericordiam (mercy or loving-kindness) appears as mīam, and in as ī. The script in blue in the second column is described as a ‘metrical paraphrase’. This beautiful psalter includes no antiphon.
Everett in TEP chooses the penultimate verse, “Tell the next generation” (13) for his refrain.