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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 97

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-12


This is another of the series of Psalms which celebrate the advent of Jehovah as King. There are seven in the series, the ninety-third being the first, and the hundredth the last. The ninety-fourth is not one of the series. We know neither the author by whom, nor the occasion on which, this Psalm was composed. The series may “have been composed with reference to the same occasion, and may have been designed to be used together. They are similar in their contents and structure; and they refer to the same thing—the sovereignty or the supremacy of God.” This one may be taken as presenting two themes for Homiletic treatment,—The Features and Effects of the King’s Advent, Psalms 97:1-9; and The Character, Privileges, and Duties of the King’s Subjects, Psalms 97:10-12.


(Psalms 97:1-9)

Let us notice—

I. The features of the King’s advent. The description of the coming of the King is full of poetic grandeur. It represents His advent as characterised by—

1. Awful Majesty. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him. A fire goeth before Him,” &c., Psalms 97:2-5. The images in these verses are suggested by the theophany at the giving of the law on Sinai. God is often represented in the Holy Word as coming with clouds and fire, and inspiring the world with awe and dread. Psalms 18:7-15; Psalms 1:1-6; Habakkuk 3:3-16. The object of these representations is to set forth the greatness, and sublimity, and glory of God. Moreover, the awful phenomena which accompanied the giving of the law were designed to deeply impress the people with the august and glorious presence of the Divine Lawgiver and Judge. So the coming of the Lord to reign and judge in the world will be with such majesty and glory, that the most exalted amongst men will be as nothing in His presence, and holy awe or unspeakable fear will fill men’s hearts.

2. Widest conspicuousness. “All the people see His glory.” The glory of the Lord here is the revelation of His being and character through His works of righteousness and grace. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

3. Perfect righteousness. “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.… The heavens declare His righteousness.” Righteousness is here represented

(1) As the basis of His government. It is the “establishment,” or “foundation of His throne.” This affords a guarantee of the stability and permanence of His rule. (See remarks on Psalms 89:14.)

(2) As clearly manifested. “The heavens declare” it. “It is as conspicuous and illustrious as the heavens themselves.” (See remarks on Psalms 50:6.) The advent of the King will be in righteousness, with the utmost conspicuousness, and with awful majesty.

“The Lord shall come! the earth shall quake;
The mountains to their centre shake;
And, withering from the vault of night,
The stars withdraw their feeble light.
The Lord shall come! a glorious form,
With wreath of flame and robe of storm,
On cherub wings, and wings of wind,
Appointed Judge of all mankind.”—Heber.

II. The effects of the King’s advent. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice,” &c. The effects of the reign of Jehovah differ in different classes of character.

1. It should occasion joy to all. “Let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of the isles be glad.” It should be a source of inexpressible gladness to all men that the world is not anarchic; that it is not ruled by Satan, or by heartless fate, or by blind physical forces and laws, but by the Lord. He rules all things in perfect righteousness and wisdom and goodness. Rejoice; for the Supremely Good is the Supreme King.

2. It does occasion

(1) Destruction to His foes. “A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about.” When He comes to judge and reign He will destroy all His foes. He will put down all opposition. Men must either bow to His sceptre, or be slain by His sword.

(2) Confusion to idolaters. “Confounded be all they that serve graven images,” &c. Perowne and Hengstenberg translate,—“Ashamed.” “It is a shame,” says the former, “arising from the discovery of the utter vanity and nothingness of the objects of their trust.” They boast in nonentities and serve mere images; and when the Lord cometh to judge and reign in the earth, they will discover to their shame and confusion the utter powerlessness and worthlessness of these idols. In that solemn day, many will find their gods—those things on which their hearts are set—to be mere idols, shams, and mockeries.

(3) Gladness to His people. “Zion heard, and was glad,” &c. The people of God rejoice, because of the utter abolition of idols, and the supremacy of Jehovah. Some expositors think that “the daughters of Judah” are introduced here, because of “a custom familiar in Judea, of forming choral bands of maidens after a victory or some happy circumstance.” (SeeExodus 15:20-21; Exodus 15:20-21; 1 Samuel 18:6-7.) But the designation seems to us to denote the smaller cities of Judah, that surrounded Jerusalem as the mother city. So that “Zion and the daughters of Judah” represent the whole of Judah. All the people of the Lord rejoice in His coming to reign. Two reasons are assigned for their joy. His judgments. “Rejoiced because of Thy judgments.” (See remarks on Psalms 48:11.) His supremacy. “For Thou, Lord, art high above all the earth,” &c. (See remarks on Psalms 95:3.)

CONCLUSION.—What to us will be the effect of the coming of the Lord as King and Judge?

“When Thou, my righteous Judge, shalt come,
To fetch Thy ransomed people home,

Shall I among them stand!”


Psalms 97:1. “The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice.”

The text calls us to consider—

I. The subjects of the Divine government. Everything that God has made is subject to His government. The universe of matter; and all the beings, rational and animal, which He has caused to inhabit it.… This great work of sustaining and directing all nature is called His natural government. By virtue of this government the powers of nature are made instruments in the conduct of His moral government, for the reward or punishment of His creatures.

The moral government of God is that which is principally contemplated in the text; and by this is meant the direction and control which He exercises over moral agents, over every rational being. The circumstances of trial in which He places them, the assistance He affords them, and the rewards or punishments He assigns them, are all comprehended in this. Angels are under this government.… The earth is the great theatre of their exertions, they are put under Christ, and are employed both in judgment and mercy. Devils are under the moral government of God. They are not finally judged, but suffered to mix with human kind. Heaven and hell struggle for the soul of man. Between these orders of beings is man, to whom the Divine government seems to stand in a special relation; and principally for this reason, that he is the subject of redemption. The earth is the great theatre chosen for the display of the Divine perfections in a course of moral government. Here the grand struggle of adverse powers and principles takes place, &c. The human race, as subject to the Divine government, are to be considered as distributed into nations, and as individuals. Nations are under a peculiar kind of government. They are considered as having a kind of unity as collective bodies. They have their rewards and punishments in this life. The sins of one generation are visited upon another. Yet nations are not governed by a rigid law of works; for Christ is an intercessor for them. The good pray and prevail in behalf of the wicked. Individuals are also under the Divine government. “Every man must give an account of himself to God.” Offers of mercy are made to him. Rules of conduct assigned. Retribution annexed to conduct. (Romans 2:6-11.) Men are under direction and influence, as well as control.

II. Certain characters which mark His administration.

1. It is sovereign and uncontrolled. Daniel 4:35; Daniel 5:21. This gives certainty to the Divine government, and makes it the hope and joy of good men.

2. It interferes not with human liberty. We are so free from constraint, that our actions are properly our own. We have the freedom of moral agents. We feel that we are free.

3. It is a mediatorial government. It is in the hands of Jesus, the Mediator between God and man; and it is exercised specially with reference to the great end of His mediatorial office, the redemption of man, and the reconciling of the world to Himself.

III. The demand which is made upon our grateful joy.

“Let the earth be glad.”

1. As Christians, we shall rejoice with holy joy, not with vain mirth. God will be sanctified in His worshippers.

2. We should rejoice, too, with trembling. Much is given to us, and much is required.

3. If we are individually interested in Him that reigneth, we may well rejoice; for all the perfections of the Godhead art engaged in our behalf.—R. Watson.—Abridged.


(Psalms 97:2)

Two propositions are contained in this text.

I. “Clouds and darkness are round about God.” The appearances of God to the saints in old times are the origin of the figure in the text. These appearances were all accompanied with clouds and darkness. Exodus 14:19-20; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 19:20; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17. Clouds are emblems of obscurity; darkness of distress. The works of God’s providence are often obscure and productive of distress to mankind, though “righteousness and judgment are,” &c. In the affairs of nations we see the interference of Divine Providence; yet it is surrounded with “clouds and darkness.” So it is also in instances of a smaller kind; it is thus in the removal of the most eminent, holy, and useful characters, that while we acknowledge the hand of God, we say “clouds and darkness are round about Him.” If we look into the book of history we shall perceive much disorder in earthly scenes, much confusion in the affairs of men; and was this to be expected from a God of order and wisdom? Again, look at Christianity. How little has been done by it compared with what might have been anticipated from its Divine principles, the character of its Author, and from the interest it possesses in the heart of God! Paganism yet strikes deep its roots in various lands. Even in Christendom, how little have the known and blessed effects of the Gospel been manifested! Where genuine Christianity is taught, how small, how slow, has been its progress; how few converted to God! &c And persons of real piety give way to prejudice and party zeal, which prevent, in a great measure, the operation and effect of pure Christianity. A great part of the world is no better than if Christ had never come to save mankind, and the Gospel had never been proclaimed. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him.”

II. Righteousness and Judgment are the habitation of His throne. Righteousness is an essential perfection of the Divine Being. If there had been no creatures for Him to govern, He would have had an unchangeable and invincible love of rectitude. Judgment is the application of the principle of righteousness in His government of His creatures and their actions; it is a development of His rectitude in the management of the affairs of His great empire. The throne of God is built and stands firm upon these principles; they are the place, the basis, and the foundation of His throne. Though much obscurity must necessarily envelope the government of an infinite mind, yet some considerations may be suggested, which will serve to quell all our anxieties, and afford us repose under all the darkness, beneath His protecting power, His all-directing wisdom, and His paternal goodness.

1. The dispensations of God towards man are regulated by the consideration of his being a fallen and disordered creature. This must be kept in view to account for the severities in the Divine dealings with him. Yet, notwithstanding the severities of God, there are mixtures of mercy which we have reason to admire.

2. The Divine Being was not bound in justice, either to prevent the disordered state of man, or to correct it when it had taken place. From what we know of the nature of God and of man, it may be safely affirmed that it cannot be required of the Divine Governor to secure the obedience of His creatures any further than the law, as a motive, is calculated to have an effect upon rational minds.

3. The whole of those evils that form clouds and darkness round about God, are either the penal or natural effect of moral evil.

4. Those that receive the grace of Jesus Christ are still in such a situation as renders a great part of their trials and miseries necessary. Many of the evils of a depraved nature still remain, and need to be subdued and removed. Besides, the virtues and excellencies must be perfected in the same way in which the Captain of our salvation was perfected: he must be conformed to Christ, and have fellowship with Him in His sufferings.

5. The moral evils of man, and the depravity of human nature, are often, in a great measure, corrected and subdued by the natural evils of life, which thus are made the means of conducting to repentance, reformation, and happiness. “Our light affliction” may work for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look,” &c. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

6. The light of prophecy dispels many of those clouds which would otherwise obscure, for the present, the government and the throne of the Deity.—R. Hall.—Abridged.


(Psalms 97:6-9)

From the Epistle to the Hebrews we find that this Psalm is a prophetical description of the Messiah; and from that application of it we deduce two important truths concerning the Christ; one, respecting the dignity of His person, “the first begotten;” the other, His glorious exaltation as Messiah. It is to this latter truth that we shall now confine our attention.

I. The interesting fact to which the prophecy refers.

The Psalm is introduced with a celebration of the government of Jehovah. “The Lord reigneth.” The Psalmist refers to the government of Him who is God manifest in the flesh, and who is received up into glory. His appearing in our world was a veiling of His glory.… His resurrection was a reappearing in glory; in His ascension He exhibited the dignity of His Godhead; and on entering heaven He sat down on the throne of His Father, to administer the affairs of that kingdom which He had now established, the duration of which is to have no end.

1. In the exaltation of Christ we have abundant proof of the acceptance of His sacrifice, and that it answered all the important purposes for which it was designed. His death was sacrificial; that sacrifice was expiatory in its nature, and was accepted by the Father. He is exalted, but it is as a sacrifice—as High Priest—as Mediator—as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins.

2. Christ by His exaltation is invested with mediatorial power and dominion. In Philippians 2:6-11, you have a proper view of the dominion of Christ. It is mediatorial dominion. All things are put under Him; there is not a creature in the whole range of being who does not yield a willing or an unwilling, a conscious or an unconscious, homage to Him. He employs all things to accomplish the purposes of His mercy. To the salvation of men He subordinates everything, human affairs, opposition of devils, ministry of angels, the whole universe!

II. The important events flowing from the accomplishment of this prophecy.

1. The Revelation of Messiah’s righteousness. The heavens literally attested Christ’s righteousness in the voice from heaven at His baptism, and when He appealed to His Father, saying, “Father, glorify Thy Son.” The Gospel, which is from heaven, displays the righteousness of Christ.

2. The manifestation of His glory, mercy and truth here meet together. To Christ belongs the glory of revealing the Father to the world; of opening a new way of access to God; of peopling heaven with new and holy inhabitants.

3. The conversion of idolaters. “Confounded be all they,” &c. This is not a malediction, but a prediction of the overthrow of idolatry by the Gospel. Let this light be diffused, and darkness cannot remain.

4. The presentation of universal homage. “Worship Him all ye gods.” The apostle quotes from the LXX., “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Christ shall receive the homage of adoring multitudes. Revelation 7:9-12.

5. The joyous exultation of the Church. “Zion heard, and was glad,” &c. The triumphs of Christ are the glory and the joy of the Church. When He shall have subdued the nations, then the whole host of the redeemed, with all the ranks of angels, will burst forth in one loud, prolonged, eternal song: “Hallelujah! the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”—L. Abridged fromSketches of Sermons.”


(Psalms 97:10-12)

The Poet here brings into view—

I. The Character of the King’s subjects.

1. They are sincere and upright. “The righteous, … the upright in heart.” “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” “There is none righteous,” The Psalmist clearly means the upright, the sincere and single-hearted. Not the upright in profession, but “the upright in heart.”

2. They are devout. “His saints.” The idea of the word is not holiness, but piety. “The pious, God-worshipping.” The subjects of the Lord add piety to sincerity. They are devout as well as true.

3. Theylove the Lord.” Love to God is with them not obedience to a command; but a holy privilege, a deep and divine joy. They are loyal-hearted subjects of Jehovah. They obey the King because they love Him. Are these features of character found in us?

II. The privileges of the King’s subjects.

1. Preservation from evil. “He preserveth the souls of His saints.” He guards their lives. They are immortal till their work be done, and His plan in their life be fully developed. He preserves them also from sin, from apostacy, and from despair even under the severest trials.

2. Deliverance from enemies. “He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.” The Lord frequently baffles the designs of evil men against His people. He will not allow their enemies to do them any real harm; and ultimately He will triumphantly deliver them out of their power.

3. Bestowal of gladness. “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” “Light” is synonymous with joy. “To be ‘sown’ is to be scattered abroad, the point of the comparison being only the richness of the gift.”—Hengstenberg. So Perowne takes “the verb ‘sown’ in the sense of ‘scattered,’ ‘diffused.’ ” And Venema: “Light is said to be scattered when the rising sun spreads his rays in every direction.”

“Now morn, her rosy steps in th’ eastern clime
Advancing, sow’d the earth with orient pearl.”—Milton.

“Sometimes through secular instruments,” says Beecher, “God makes us joyful, for He employs the whole world to work out His purposes; but sometimes, by simply breathing upon the spirit of His people, He makes them joyful. You cannot tell why you are so musical at times. On some days you are full of music. There are some hours that seem radiant above all other hours, when you are lifted up above the ordinary pattern of joy. And when these appear among God’s people, it is not an unfair thing to infer that they are signs and manifestations of Christ’s presence with them.” Again: “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then flee away.” Let us open hand and heart for the reception and enjoyment of our privileges.

III. The duty of the King’s subjects.

1. Tohate evil.” “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.” Love to God must be manifested in holiness of life and hatred of evil. Love to God and the love of sin, or even tolerance of sin, are incompatible. Sin is the “abominable thing which He hates.”

2. To thankfullyrejoice in the Lord.” “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous,” &c. We have here:

(1) Rejoicing in the Lord. Not in gaiety, riches, honours, &c.; but in the Lord,—in His grace, in His friendship, in His perfections, in Himself. He is the wisest, the holiest, the most generous of beings.

(2) Rejoicing thankfully. “Give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.” Hengstenberg: “Praise His holy memorial.” Perowne: “Give thanks to His holy name.” The holiness of the Divine Being should command our adoring and grateful praise.

(3) Rejoicing as a duty. Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4. “Joy in the Holy Ghost” is one of the “fruits of the Spirit.” By our rejoicing we honour God, and commend His religion to men. Let us regard this devout rejoicing as both our duty and our privilege.


(Psalms 97:10-11)

Walk through the Old Testament with the light of the New. This whole Psalm is a prophecy of Christ. The excellency and glory of His kingdom—the character and blessedness of His people.

I. The character or description of God’s people.

1. They arethe righteous.” A general term, a righteous God will have a righteous people. Equally true in the sense of perfection and sinlessness, that “there is none righteous, no, not one;” but as contrasted with the wicked, they are righteous, and to be thus distinguished.

2. They areHis saints.” His sanctified ones, set apart, dedicated to Him. A term of reproach in the world, to be “a saint” is to be a hypocrite, in the cant of fashion, but it is “the highest style of man.” “His saints,” His own chosen ones, “loved from the foundation of the world,” called, converted, &c. Made holy, sanctified by the Spirit, &c. “Saint” is a term not peculiar to the servants of God of the Old and New Testament, but a definition of every one who is in a state of salvation.

3. They areupright in heart.” Christian integrity, how excellent! The world affects it, talks much of honour, virtue, justice, high-mindedness—a shallow blustering spirit;—and one of their own has said, “Every man has his price.” But the Christian is “upright in heart,” in his inner man, simplicity, self-denying integrity, which seek’s not man’s applause, resisting temptation, strong in the grace of God.

4. Theylove the Lord.” Love, glowing, tender, pure, as the love of God—whence it springs—casting out fear, terror, and everything that separates from a loving Father, this is the love of believers. (Matthew 22:36-38; Romans 13:10.) They love God, and therefore love His people, His house, His Sabbath, His Word, and all His ordinances.

5. Theyhate evil.” This follows of moral necessity, they who love must hate; if they love God they must hate evil, because they cannot serve two masters so different from each other (Matthew 6:24). In proportion as they love the one they will hate the other (Romans 12:9). Sin is the enemy which disturbs their peace, stops their mouth in prayer (Psalms 66:18), separates from God; so they must ever hate it.

II. The blessed portion of such people. This is indicated by their very titles. But there are special blessings here.

1. “He preserveth the souls of His saints.” Not to the exclusion of their bodies, which are His care in this world, “the temples of His Spirit,” and in death they sleep in hope of His resurrection and final glory; but, because the soul is the nobler part, “He preserveth them.”

This implies danger, many perils here to the soul. It implies that they cannot preserve their own souls with all care, vigilance, prayer, faith, love—the soul is a helpless thing without God.

Many precious promises to this effect. (See Psalms 23:3; John 17:11; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:17-18; 1 Peter 1:5.)

2. “He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.” This implies that they are surrounded by the wicked, and as it were in their hands—and so they are. Satan, as a roaring lion, seeks to devour them, desires “to have them and sift them,” or he ensnares them with his “wiles” and “devices,” he puts evil into their hearts, and leads them astray. His people, too, “the children of the wicked one,” do his work on earth by persecuting His people, tempting them to sin, “putting the bottle to them,” and suggesting pollution, and then, if they succeed, they mock them as the devils do!

“He delivereth them out of their hands.” That is enough. God looks on, He sees all, He restrains the wrath of the wicked, He makes a way by which His people escape. (See Psalms 124:0)

3. Their final blessedness: “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Beautiful figure! this life is often a time of darkness, but it is the seed-time of light. When the believer is sowing dark tears, sighs, sorrows, trials, temptations, all is cheerless; but these are seeds of light. “Light is sown for him,” it will come up, it will shine forth by and by, it may be a long winter, and a backward spring, and even harvest time may be cheerless, but it will come at last! (See Psalms 30:5, and John 16:20-22.)

If you would have the believer’s “portion,” you must bear the believer’s “character.” Study these definitions of the people of the Lord, rest not until you can appropriate them, and then “all things are yours.”—F. Close, D. D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 97". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/psalms-97.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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