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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 97

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 97:0


The Lord's Power and DominionNo MT IntroA Song of Praise To the Sovereign LordHymn Celebrating God's KingshipGod the Supreme RulerThe Triumph of Yahweh
Psalms 97:1-6Psalms 97:1Psalms 97:1-5Psalms 97:1-6Psalms 97:1-2
Psalms 97:2-6
Psalms 97:3-4
Psalms 97:5-6
Psalms 97:6-9
Psalms 97:7-9Psalms 97:7-9 Psalms 97:7-9Psalms 97:7
Psalms 97:8
Psalms 97:9
Psalms 97:10-12Psalms 97:10-12Psalms 97:10-12Psalms 97:10-12Psalms 97:10
Psalms 97:11-12

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.


A. This Psalm, like Psalms 96:0, has a worldwide emphasis (eschatological).

1. the earth, Psalms 97:1 (see Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth)

2. the world, Psalms 97:4

3. the Lord (Adon) of the whole earth, Psalms 97:5b (cf. Joshua 3:13; Micah 4:13)

4. all the peoples, Psalms 97:6b

5. You are the Lord Most High over all the earth, Psalms 97:9a

6. You are exalted far above all gods (Elohim), Psalms 97:9b

B. The imagery could come from

1. Mt. Sinai, Exodus 19:0 (i.e., blessings, cf. Exodus 19:9; Deuteronomy 4:11)

Psalms 97:2. Psalms 18:7-15 (i.e., judgment)

YHWH's presence for blessing or judgment causes the physical creation to convulse (cf. Psalms 97:4-5).

C. The last strophe highlights the obedience aspect to covenant faith. I often say that A MATURE biblical faith is

1. a person to be welcomed

2. truths about that person to be believed

3. a life like that person to be lived

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 97:1-6 1The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad. 2Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. 3Fire goes before Him And burns up His adversaries round about. 4His lightnings lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled. 5The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 6The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory.

Psalms 97:1-6 See Contextual Insights A and B.

Psalms 97:1 “The Lord reigns” The verb is Qal perfect (BDB 573 II, KB 590, cf. 1 Chronicles 16:31; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1), which denotes completed action. In one sense YHWH has always reigned, is reigning and, will forever reign (i.e., He is God, cf. Exodus 15:18; Psalms 10:16; Psalms 29:10; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28), but the evidence of this is often missing in this fallen world. Faith sees and affirms but one day all will recognize and affirm.

The imperfect is used in Psalms 146:10 and the future reign is denoted in Isaiah 24:23; Ezekiel 20:23 and Micah 4:7. We know now from NT revelation that the Messiah's reign (cf. Zechariah 9:9) is included in the Father's reign (cf. Jeremiah 23:5; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Things may look bad but believers know, “Our God reigns!” (CF. Isaiah 52:7)

In light of YHWH's reign,

1. let the earth rejoice - BDB 162, KB 189, Qal jussive; this refers to

a. faithful followers in all nations

b. the conversion of the nations to faith in YHWH

2. let the many islands be glad - BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense; the “islands” (lit. “coastlands,” BDB 15) denotes a universal emphasis (cf. Psalms 96:0), often referring to the known world (i.e., those ports near and far visited by Phoenician commerce , i.e., Psalms 72:8-10). “The earth” of line 1 is parallel to “the many islands” of line 2.

Psalms 97:2 The imagery of Psalms 97:2a could come from two sources. See Contextual Insights, B. In this strophe it seems to reflect the God of revelation (i.e., a theophany), not judgment. His adversaries are defeated but the faithful of the whole earth rejoice at His “light” and presence!

“cloud” The use of “clouds” in both the OT and the NT is very interesting. I have included notes from Deuteronomy 4:11 and Revelation 1:7

Deuteronomy 4:11 “darkness, cloud and thick gloom” YHWH's physical presence can be understood in two ways:

1. volcanic activity - Exodus 19:18; Psalms 68:7-8; Psalms 77:18; Psalms 97:2-5; Judges 5:4-5; 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 29:6; Jeremiah 10:10

2. storm - Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19; Psalms 68:8; Psalms 77:18; Judges 5:4; Isaiah 29:6; Nahum 1:3

Therefore, the deep darkness (cf. 5:22; 2 Samuel 22:10; 1 Kings 8:12; 2 Chronicles 6:1) might be:

1. ash clouds

2. rain clouds

This covering was for Israel's protection (cf. Exodus 19:18). They thought that if humans looked upon God they would die (cf. Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 20:19; Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:22).


Revelation 1:7 “Behold, He is coming with the clouds” This verse may have been an exclamation by the angel of Revelation 1:1. It is an obvious reference to the Second Coming of Christ.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” “Throne” is an idiom for reign/kingship.

YHWH's reign has an ethical dimension, as does His creation (cf. Psalms 97:10-12).

This very phrase is used in Psalms 89:14. We must be careful not to separate justification from sanctification (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

Psalms 97:3 “Fire” See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

“and burns up His adversaries round about” AB suggests that the MT's last phrase in Hebrew can be revocalized to read “and blazes round His back” (p. 361). It suggests this best explains Psalms 50:3 and Joel 2:3. This fits the parallelism of Psalms 97:4 better.

Psalms 97:4 “the earth” Like so many other nouns in this Psalm, this is a personification, a common Hebrew poetic technique.

Psalms 97:6 This verse is theologically and lexically related to Psalms 19:1-6. The universal aspect of YHWH's revelation is revealed in creation/nature (i.e., natural revelation, cf. Romans 1:19-20; Romans 2:14-15). See notes at Psalms 19:1-6.

Verses 7-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 97:7-9 7Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, Who boast themselves of idols; Worship Him, all you gods. 8Zion heard this and was glad, And the daughters of Judah have rejoiced Because of Your judgments, O Lord. 9For You are the Lord Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.

Psalms 97:7-9 Three persons are addressed in this strophe.

1. idolaters, Psalms 97:7

a. let them be ashamed (BDB 101, KB 116, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense)

b. who boast (lit. “glory,” BDB 237, KB 248, Hithpael)

c. even their false gods must worship YHWH (BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel imperative, quoted in Hebrews 1:6 from LXX, cf. Deuteronomy 32:43 in LXX)

2. Judeans (or Israelites), Psalms 97:8

a. Zion was glad (BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal imperfect with waw, cf. Psalms 48:11)

b. daughters of Judah rejoiced (BDB 162, JKB 189, Qal imperfect with waw) because of YHWH's judgments

c. it is surely possible that #a above stands for Jerusalem and #b for the surrounding unwalled villages

3. Israel's Deity, Psalms 97:9

a. YHWH (BDB 217

b. Most High (Elyon, BDB 75, cf. Psalms 47:2)

c. exalted (BDB 748, KB 828, Niphal perfect) far above all gods (elohim, see note at Psalms 95:3)

Psalms 97:7 “graven images. . .idols” These are in a parallel poetic relationship.

1. graven images - BDB 820; the basic meaning is that which is hewn into a shape (cf. Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 4:16, Deuteronomy 4:23, Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 5:8; Deuteronomy 27:15; Judges 18:31; Isaiah 40:19, Isaiah 40:20; Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 44:9, Isaiah 44:10, Isaiah 44:17; Isaiah 45:20). It is found only here in the Psalter but a related root is in Psalms 78:58.

2. idols - BDB 47; the basic meaning is that which is weak, insufficient, worthless (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:26; Job 13:4; Psalms 96:5; Isaiah 2:8, Isaiah 2:18, Isaiah 2:20; Jeremiah 14:14). It is found only twice in the Psalter.

Verses 10-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 97:10-12 10Hate evil, you who love the Lord, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 11Light is sown like seed for the righteous And gladness for the upright in heart. 12Be glad in the Lord, you righteous ones, And give thanks to His holy name.

Psalms 97:10-12 This strophe describes the appropriate way to exalt YHWH. He is the One who

1. preserves the souls (nephesh, BDB 659, see note at Genesis 35:18 online) of His godly ones (BDB 339, see note at Psalms 31:23)

2. delivers them from the hand of the wicked

3. sows light for the righteous (cf. Psalms 97:4a)

4. sows gladness for the upright in heart

How then should His godly ones respond?

1. hate evil - BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal imperative

2. love YHWH - BDB 12, KB 17, Qal participle

3. be glad in the Lord - BDB 970, KB 1330, Qal imperative, cf. Psalms 32:11

4. give thanks to His holy name - BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperative, cf. Psalms 30:4

Psalms 97:11 “light is sown” The MT has “sown” (זרע, BDB 281, KB 282) but the LXX, Peshitta, and Vulgate have “dawn” (ורח, BDB 280), which seems to fit the imagery better (NRSV, TEV, REB, cf. Ps. 112:40).

The UBS Text Project (p. 371) gives “sown” a “C” rating (i.e., considerable doubt).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How is this Psalm related to the previous Psalm?

2. What is Psalms 97:2a describing?

3. How are Psalms 97:4a and 6 related to “Natural Revelation”?

4. Who are “the gods” of Psalms 97:9b?

5. What does YHWH tell His faithful followers to do in the last strophe?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 97". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-97.html. 2021.
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