Psalm 97 – The Greatness and Wisdom of God
Psalm 97 continues in the theme and tone of the previous psalms. It uses phrases found in other psalms and other Old Testament passages. “The psalmist’s mind is saturated with old sayings, which he finds flashed up into new meaning by recent experiences. He is not ‘original,’ and does not try to be so; but he has drunk in the spirit of his predecessors, and words which to others were antiquated and cold blaze with light for him, and seem made for his lips.” (Alexander Maclaren)
“The psalm contains many allusions to other parts of the Old Testament, all of which have been shaped into a magnificent hymn.” (Willem VanGemeren)
G. Campbell Morgan summarized this psalm: “The effects of His judgments are declared. His adversaries are destroyed, His glory is revealed, His people are filled with joy.”
“Psalms 96-98 each hail God’s coming as the world’s King. But Psalm 96 and Psalm 98 soar with delight at what is in store for the world when God returns, while in Psalm 97 the frightening, awesome side of God’s kingly rule is emphasized.” (James Montgomery Boice)
A. Rejoicing in the greatness of God.
1. (1) A summons to rejoice in God’s reign.
The LORD reigns;
Let the earth rejoice;
Let the multitude of isles be glad!
a. The LORD reigns: Like Psalm 93, this psalm begins suddenly and wonderfully with the proclamation of Yahweh’s rule. He is not a useless idol or local deity. Yahweh is not passive, nor the “watchmaker” who created all things and then left it alone. He reigns; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actively plans, acts, and rules over the universe.
i. The LORD reigns: “Here is a simple proposition, which is a self-evident axiom, and requires no proof: JEHOVAH is infinite and eternal; is possessed of unlimited power and unerring wisdom; as he is the Maker, so he must be the Governor, of all things. His authority is absolute, and his government therefore universal. In all places, on all occasions, and in all times, Jehovah reigns.” (Clarke)
b. Let the earth rejoice: Yahweh’s reign brings joy to the earth. We could imagine an evil or dark deity whose reign would bring terror. We see such in a limited sense, where men and devils are given room to exercise their wicked will. Yet the more Yahweh’s reign is obvious and observed, the more rejoicing there is, extending to the multitude of the isles, the most distant places.
i. The multitude of isles: “The Hebrews called by the name of ‘isles,’ not only countries surrounded by the sea, but all the countries which the sea divided from them; so that the term became synonymous with ‘Gentiles.’” (Horne)
2. (2-6) The LORD’s greatness over creation.
Clouds and darkness surround Him;
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
A fire goes before Him,
And burns up His enemies round about.
His lightnings light the world;
The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness,
And all the peoples see His glory.
a. Clouds and darkness surround Him: The psalmist may have had in mind the appearance of God at Mount Sinai, which was marked by a thick cloud on the mountain and the smoke of a furnace (Exodus 19:16-20).
i. “Clouds and thick darkness warn of his unapproachable holiness and hiddenness to presumptuous man (yet the hiddenness owes nothing to caprice: 2b), while the fire and lightnings reveal a holiness that is also devouring and irresistible (cf. Heb. 12:29).” (Kidner)
ii. Adam Clarke had a curious thought regarding a fire goes before Him: “Literally, this and the following verse may refer to the electric fluid, or to manifestations of the Divine displeasure, in which, by means of ethereal fire, God consumed his enemies.” (Clarke)
b. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne: God’s throne is not based on deception, bribery, the blood of conquest, or even hereditary right. The foundation of His throne is nothing else but righteousness and justice. This is why the earth can rejoice at His reign (Psalm 97:1).
i. “Jehovah is an autocrat, but not a despot. Absolute power is safe in the hands of him who cannot err, or act unrighteously.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “We know that in His government there can be no departure from righteousness, no deflection of justice. This is the secret of our confidence, and should be the inspiration of perpetual songs, of ceaseless worship.” (Morgan)
c. A fire goes before Him: This is a poetic description of the same kind of phenomena that happened at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-20). This phrase either refers to what God did then or uses the same ideas to describe a future display of God’s sovereign presence, the presence of the Lord of the whole earth, when all the peoples see His glory.
i. “The lightning flash is meant to set forth the sudden, swift forth-darting of God’s delivering power, which awes a gazing world, while the hills melting like wax from before His face solemnly proclaim how terrible its radiance is, and how easily the mere showing of Himself annihilates all high things that oppose.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The parallelism of ‘LORD’ (YHWH [Yahweh]) and ‘Lord’ (Adonai) affirms that Yahweh is the Lord (‘great King’) of all the earth.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “‘The Lord of the whole earth’ is an unusual designation, first found in a significant connection in Joshua 3:11; Joshua 3:13, as emphasising His triumph over heathen gods, in leading the people into Canaan.” (Maclaren)
iv. The mountains melt like wax: “Men cannot move the hills, with difficulty do they climb them, with incredible toil do they pierce their way through their fastnesses, but it is not so with the Lord, his presence makes a clear pathway, obstacles disappear, a highway is made, and that not by his hand as though it cost him pains, but by his mere presence, for power goes forth from him with a word or a glance.” (Spurgeon)
v. All the peoples see His glory: “This will be more eminently the case at the second advent, when the trumpet of the archangel shall proclaim his approach in the clouds of heaven, and all the tribes of the earth shall see him coming in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.” (Horne)
B. Instructing the people.
1. (7-9) Instructing the nations about the LORD’s greatness.
Let all be put to shame who serve carved images,
Who boast of idols.
Worship Him, all you gods.
Zion hears and is glad,
And the daughters of Judah rejoice
Because of Your judgments, O LORD.
For You, LORD, are most high above all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.
a. Let all be put to shame who serve carved images: Considering the greatness and power of Yahweh, those who boast of idols should be ashamed. Poetically speaking, even the gods of the heathen worship Him.
i. “So the gods themselves are summoned to fall down before this triumphant Jehovah, as Dagon did before the Ark.” (Maclaren)
b. Zion hears and is glad: The whole earth benefits from the majestic and awesome revelation of God, but His people are especially glad. His righteous judgments make the daughters of Judah rejoice.
i. Charles Spurgeon thought that this was relevant to an ultimate restoration of the land of Israel: “The day shall come when the literal Zion, so long forsaken, shall joy in the common salvation.”
ii. The daughters of Judah rejoiced: “David alludes to a custom familiar in Judea, of forming choral bands of maidens after a victory or some happy circumstance.” (Le Blanc, cited in Spurgeon)
c. You, LORD, are most high above all the earth: Previously the psalmist spoke about God to the world. Here he addresses God directly, praising and extolling Him as exalted far above all gods.
i. John Trapp connected Psalm 97:9 with Ephesians 1:21: far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
2. (10-12) Instructing the people of God about His righteous deliverance.
You who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the souls of His saints;
He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
And gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
a. You who love the LORD, hate evil: Again, the psalmist addresses the people of Israel who love the LORD, and introduces a strong statement. Despite the seemingly abrupt transition, the psalmist sensibly connected the appearance of the God whose very throne is founded on righteousness and justice with the heart for righteousness and justice that His people should also have.
i. It may be that this command is one of the most often broken among God’s people. We find it easy to be too loving, or rather express a twisted love that pretends to both love the LORD and love or accept the things that He hates.
ii. It is possible for us to be angry at sin or evil, without truly hating it. We may be angry at the trouble sin causes, but not hate it enough to repent and forsake our sin.
b. He preserves the souls of His saints: The psalmist described many ways that God blesses and protects His people.
· He cares for their souls.
· He delivers them from the wicked.
· He sends light before their path.
· He gives gladness unto them.
i. “…preserves would be better rendered ‘guards’ or ‘watches over’; and lives [souls] is a word that includes the whole person. It is a promise of God’s defence and watchful care, not a guarantee against casualties.” (Kidner)
ii. Preserves the souls: “He may leave the bodies of his persecuted saints in the hand of the wicked, but not their souls, these are very dear to him, and he preserves them safe in his bosom.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Light is sown: “You do not realize it, but you are sowing light. Each act of self-denial, in which you cast yourself into the ground to die, is a seed-germ of the harvest of gladness.” (Meyer)
iv. Light is sown: “Every grace of God is a seed, which he intends should produce a thousand fold in the hearts of genuine believers. We do not so much require more grace from God, as the cultivation of what we have received. God will not give more, unless we improve what we have got. Remember the parable of the talents. Let the light and gladness be faithfully cultivated, and they will multiply themselves till the whole body shall be full of light, and the whole soul full of happiness.” (Clarke)
v. Kidner argued that light is sown was not the best translation. “Light dawns…is surely the right reading here, following one Hebrew manuscript and all the ancient versions.” (Kidner)
c. Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous: Considering the greatness of God and His goodness to His people, it is proper for them to rejoice in Him. The rejoicing should not be primarily in what He has given, but in the LORD Himself – with plenty of thanksgiving at even the remembrance of His holy name.
i. “Having sung the glory of the Redeemer, the Psalmist delineates the duty of the redeemed.” (Horne)
ii. “It began by calling upon the people of the whole earth to rejoice in God’s rule (Psalm 97:1). It ends by calling upon us to lead the way in this worship.” (Boice)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org