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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 97

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Some of the opening words of this psalm were quoted by James A. Garfield on that night when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, as Garfield sought to quiet a restless mob on Wall Street, New York City. He concluded his remarks by saying, “God reigns, and the government in Washington still stands.”

“God as Creator and the source of all righteousness and truth is again emphasized and amplified in Psalms 97. Here God is described: (1) as the Supreme One before whom creation itself is ever on the verge of dissolution; and (2) then as the Faithful One whose goodness and holiness are always being disclosed to all peoples through Zion.”(F1)

The dissolution of the earth mentioned here (Psalms 97:5), “Is possibly a reference to both the First and Second Advents of Jesus Christ,”(F2) a figurative reference to the First, and a literal reference to the Second, when “Every mountain and every island shall be moved out of its place” (Revelation 6:14).

“The Latin Vulgate assigns this psalm to David, `when his land was restored;’“(F3) but it is not clear exactly what occasion was meant by that. “The Ethiopic and Arabic versions carry the same ascription; and the Syriac has `A Psalm of David in which he predicts the advent of Christ (i.e., in the flesh) and through it, his last appearing (i.e., in judgment).’“(F4)

We include these evidences of Davidic authorship as worthy of scholarly attention, although, again to quote Adam Clarke, “Still, the name of the author remains uncertain. Much of this psalm is in the Spirit of David’s finest compositions, and yet many learned men suppose it was written to celebrate the Lord’s power and goodness in the restoration of the Jews from their Babylonian captivity.”(F5)

Hebrews 1:6 quotes a part of Psalms 97:7 here, applying it to Christ,”(F6) according to Adam Clarke, but we do not believe that “all the angels of God,” mentioned in the Hebrews quotation is the same as “all ye gods” of Psalms 97:7. This is undoubtedly a designation of judges and other high officials of Israel. See my extensive discussion of “gods” in Psalms 82:6.


In July of 1991, as this is written, a mighty volcano has forced the evacuation of an American Army Base in the Philippines; and not long ago, the awesome eruption of Mount St. Helens in the state of Washington provided a similar demonstration of the fearful powers of the natural world. Such things naturally turn the thoughts of men toward the Creator. In a similar way, “The ancients thought of God as `the God of fire and tempest, earthquake and volcano.’“(F7) The psalmist in this chapter mentions “the clouds and darkness,” “the lightnings,” and the “melting mountains.”

Can mountains “melt”? This morning’s news release tells us that a tremendous dome of “molten rock” has formed in the crown of that threatening volcano in the Philippines, which the experts assure us will shortly erupt.

Verses 1-2

“Jehovah reigneth; let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him: Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”

“Let the earth rejoice” “When Almighty God condescends to come to earth, the earth is bound to rejoice.”(F8) This, of course concerns the First Advent, when God’s visitation of our sinful earth was indeed a matter of good news and universal rejoicing. It will not be so at the Second Advent, because then, “All the tribes of the earth will mourn over him” (Revelation 1:7). The greatest glory of the human race is simply this: “The Dayspring from on High has visited us, to shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

“Clouds and darkness are round about him” The unfathomable mysteries of God, his ways which are higher than our ways, the secret things which belong to God - all these are symbolized by the darkness mentioned here. Also, as noted above, God’s presence in the dark clouds of a great storm is suggested.

“Righteousness and justice… the foundations of his throne” Although, not a quotation, the word in Hebrews is, “The sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom (Hebrews 1:8).”

Verses 3-6


“A fire goeth before him, And burneth up his adversaries round about. His lightnings lightened the world: The earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of Jehovah, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, And all the peoples have seen his glory.”

“A fire goeth before him” This passage is a prophecy of the Second Advent of Christ in the Judgment of the whole earth. An apostle has warned us that, “The heavens and the earth which now are, are stored up for fire against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7).

“The earth saw and trembled” The Final Judgment is an appointment that shall be universally attended, with no absentees whatever. This thought is reiterated in Psalms 97:6, where “all the peoples” are depicted as seeing God’s glory. The “trembling,” due to the wrath of God and the stricken consciences of guilty men, is mentioned in Revelation 6:14 ff.

“The mountains melted like wax” This is the same prophecy as that of the apostle Peter, who said, “The elements shall melt with fervent heat; and the earth and the things that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

Verse 7


“Let them be put to shame that serve graven images, That boast themselves of idols: Worship him, all ye gods.”

“Graven images… idols” Since the Edict of Theodosius (381 A.D.), pagan temples and the worship of idols has been outlawed among many of the earth’s civilized nations. However, the worship of the evil things which the idols represented is still flourishing. Indeed the temples of Bacchus are closed, but countless millions of our fellow-Americans worship the liquor bottle. The temple of Aphrodite Pan Demos atop the Acro Corinthus has been destroyed, but unbridled sex is the god of countless millions. And then as William Jennings Bryan stated it, “Men are worshipping Money, Power, Fame, Travel, Sex, Liquor, Fashion, Pleasure, Popularity, Entertainment, Food, and Success, to name only a few of the modern `gods’ that have replaced the ancient idols.”

Only God is entitled to the worship and adoration of men; and the warning here is stark and blunt enough. Those who worship anything other than the Almighty God are on a collision course with disaster, and are certain to perish.

“Worship him all ye gods” See the chapter introduction for a discussion of this.

Verses 8-12


“Zion heard and was glad, And the daughters of Judah rejoiced, Because of thy judgments, O Jehovah. For thou, Jehovah, art most high above all the earth: Thou art exalted far above all gods. Oh ye that love Jehovah, hate evil: He preserveth the souls of his saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness for the upright in heart. Be glad in Jehovah, ye righteous; And give thanks to his holy memorial name.”

“Zion heard and was glad… daughters of Judah rejoiced” The Anchor Bible renders this, “Let Zion hear… let the daughters of Judah rejoice.”(F9) It appears to us that the passage is true either way it reads, the “righteous remnant” alone being the portion of Zion that heard and obeyed God.

“Daughters of Judah” is Hebraic for the towns and villages surrounding Jerusalem.”(F10)

The big thought in this entire paragraph is the joy and happiness of those who follow the Lord. “The pursuit of happiness” is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence of the U.S.A.; and the major percentage of all human endeavor is directed toward the goal of achieving some measure of `happiness.’

Why is it true that only the righteous are happy? There is actually no mystery about this. “God destined us (all who ever lived) in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5 RSV). This simply means that all men were destined by God to be Christians; to live otherwise is to live contrary to one’s destiny; and that cannot ever achieve happiness for any creature God ever made, not even man. The tiger leaving bloody tracks on the stone floor of his prison in the zoo, the bird in its cage, the fish out of water - are such creatures happy? No indeed! Why? They were destined for another kind of existence. Sinful men find themselves in the same predicament. Men can live contrary to their destiny, all right, but the wretchedness of their lives is the price they pay for it. Man was so made by the Creator that his highest happiness, both in the present existence, and in the world to come are achieved by faithfulness to the will of God.

Let the intelligent ponder a simple question: “If you were Almighty God, would you create an intelligent being such as man in such a manner that he would be happier in the service of the devil, than in serving you?” To meditate upon that questions is to know the answer.

There are further words on this subject in Vol. 6 of our New Testament Commentaries (Romans), under 3:29.

“Thou art exalted far above all gods” This would include all idol-gods, and all self-esteemed `gods’ among the leaders of mankind, the latter being a reference sarcastically to humans endowed with some authority who presume to act like gods.

“Oh ye that love Jehovah, hate evil” As it stands, of course, this is indeed a valid and binding commandment upon all who love the Lord; however, we prefer the rendition in the RSV, which has it differently.

“The Lord loves those who hate evil” (RSV, Psalms 97:10). However, Kidner warned us that, “RSV’s rendition here makes a smoother sentence; but the textual support is scanty, and smoothness is not a criterion.”(F11)

The necessity for hating evil is obvious. God hates all evil, and those who are born again in the likeness of God invariably find it in their very nature to hate that which is evil. The current false view of God as a namby-pamby, easy-going old grandpa who is so good that he couldn’t ever really hate anybody no matter how scandalously wicked, is a very inadequate conception of the God of the Bible.

“Love for God necessarily implies hatred of evil, which is God’s antagonist, and which God also hates.”(F12)

“Light is sown for the righteous… gladness for the upright” This is one of those radical figures of speech encountered now and then in the Bible. Light is not actually “planted,” i.e., buried in the ground. Now what does this mean? Maclaren explained it.

“Darkness often wraps the righteous, and it is not true to experience to say that his way is always in the sunlight. But it is a consolation to know that light is sown, invisible and buried, as it were, but sure to germinate and bear fruit.”(F13)

Many a man, in the midst of sore trials, has suddenly seen the light sown in his heart long previously by those who taught him the Word of God.

“Be glad in Jehovah, ye righteous… and give thanks” Whereas the psalm began with a call for the whole earth to rejoice, it is here an invitation for the individual to rejoice, giving thanks to God.

Does this not say something about the personality of the righteous? Servants of the Lord should be happy people, and that happiness should be evident in their daily appearance to all men. The notion that a Christian is a sad, gloomy, and miserable person is a caricature of the truth. The old cartoon that showed a little girl with her arm around a donkey, saying, “You must be a Christian, you’ve got such a long face” presented a terrible misunderstanding of the truth.

The manifold obligations of Christians appear in this final paragraph. “Those who rejoice in the Coming of the King, must even in the present time: (1) love the Lord; (2) hate evil; (3) rejoice; and (4) give thanks.”(F14)

The repeated admonitions here concerning joy and rejoicing emphasize the fact that, in spite of our still being in our probationary existence, still subject to sin and temptation, we should make every effort to live out our lives in the glorious knowledge that the victory has already been won; we should live, and act, and think that we are doing “all things through Christ who strengthens us.”

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 97". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-97.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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