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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 97

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Between Psalms 97, 98 there is a marked resemblance in tone, imagery, and allusions, which indicates a common occasion and authorship. A great victory, of some sort, had been obtained over the heathen nations. Wonderful displays of God’s power and presence, of his majesty and supremacy, had been made. A military air pervades the whole, and the peaceful worship in the sanctuary, through the willing offerings of converted nations, with which Psalms 96:0 abounds, gives place to the sterner phase of war and the shouts of conquest. Yet here, as there, the triumph of Jehovah over the gods of the nations is hailed as the greatest blessing of the world, over which the subdued peoples themselves should rejoice. The advance now gained upon the heathen is accepted as a fulfilment of divine promise to his covenant people, and as a harbinger of that universal theocracy which was the theme of Psalms 96:0. Although no direct evidence of authorship or occasion is given, yet the style of David is sufficiently marked, and the period of his foreign wars and victories, which established his kingdom and extended his eastern border to the Euphrates, best suits the intimations and spirit of the psalm. See 2 Samuel 8:0, and 1 Chronicles 18:0. The Septuagint, followed by the Vulgate, inscribes the psalm “To David when his land is established,” or restored, ( καθισταται ,) which confirms the view here taken, and there is no internal or historic reason for setting aside the authority of the title. That the psalm accords with the later prophecies of Isaiah is no proof that it was borrowed from, and hence later than, that prophet; and that it contains phrases and modes of expression which appear elsewhere in the Davidic psalms is no evidence that it is a later compilation by another hand, for David often borrowed from, or repeated, himself. And as to the high evangelic and theocratic ideas it contains, neither the later prophecies of Isaiah, nor the postexilic times, ever reached a higher degree of perfection than in the Davidic period. More detail and amplitude there are in Isaiah, but not a loftier reach nor a more incisive diction, as the quotations of the New Testament clearly show. The freshness of the joy, and the strongly indicated outline of recent events, (Psalms 97:4-5; Psalms 97:8,) point to some real historic occasion, and preclude the supposition that it is the product of reflective meditation, prompted by a general survey of the providential history of the nation. If Psalms 96:0 belongs pre-eminently to the spiritual sphere, this does no less to the civic-spiritual, and both to the prophetic. In Psalms 96:0 God is represented specially as Saviour and Sovereign; in this more particularly as Lawgiver and Judge.

Verse 1

1. The Lord reigneth See Psalms 96:10; Psalms 99:1. This is the keynote to the psalm.

Earth The word might signify land the land of Palestine, but, more probably, the nations generally.

Multitude of isles The foreign nations, particularly the maritime nations, sea coasts, or nations beyond seas, as to the Hebrews, or those of whom the Hebrews had no knowledge but by commerce. See Psalms 72:10; Psalms 45:12

Verse 2

2. Clouds and darkness The imagery is Sinaitic. Psalms 97:2-6. Comp. Exodus 19:16-20; Exodus 20:18. God appears as judge, wrapped in “clouds and darkness” as symbols of severity and as the robe of his judicial office.

Righteousness and judgment The former denoting the principle, and the latter the administration, of justice.

Habitation of his throne Foundation, or support, of his throne, according to the radical meaning of the word, and its use in Psalms 104:5; Psalms 89:14; Ezra 2:68; in which latter it is translated place. In those passages where it is translated dwellingplace, the idea is not always synonymous with “habitation,” but often denotes that whereon the “habitation” rests. See 2 Chronicles 6:2; Psalms 33:14. Support is the truest idea of the word here.

Verse 3

3. A fire goeth before him To herald his coming. If the word of God is one of mercy to those who love and obey him, it is also one of judgment and terror to those who despise him. The figures are still borrowed from the scenes of Sinai. (See Deuteronomy 4:11; compare Isaiah 66:15-16; Hebrews 12:29; Revelation 4:5.) God is represented in Psalms 97:2-6 as the universal ruler, passing through the nations of the earth, visiting judicial judgments on his enemies, and dispensing pardon and peace to his willing and submissive subjects. These rejoice, (Psalms 97:1,) those tremble, (Psalms 97:4. )

Verse 4

4. Earth saw, and trembled As an affrighted servant. Even Moses said: “I exceedingly fear and quake.” Hebrews 12:21

Verse 5

5. At the presence Literally, from before the face. See, in a humbler sense, the terror of countenance, Matthew 28:3-4

Verse 6

6. The heavens declare his righteousness “As far as the heavens extend, so far shall his righteousness be made known.” Tholuck. In the most public manner, before the universe, shall the rectitude of the Judge and Sovereign be proclaimed.

All the people see his glory So, in Psalms 97:4, the “earth saw, and trembled.” The “glory” of the Lord is not only the power and majesty which attend his appearance, but especially the purity and righteousness of all his acts, whether of law or grace, judgment or mercy. This the nations of the world shall see and confess, whether they obey or rebel.

Verse 7

7. Confounded Put to shame, or confusion. The word denotes that confusion or perplexity of mind which results from a misplaced confidence, or the consequences of a wicked course now at length arrested and brought to judgment.

Idols See on Psalms 96:5, where the same word occurs, but nowhere else in the Psalms.

Worship him, all ye gods “Gods,” here, is, in Hebrew, Eloheem, the name of the one living and true God, which generally occurs in the plural form. It is sometimes, as here, applied to kings and magistrates, on account of their office as representatives of God, (see note on Psalms 8:5,) and the psalmist calls on such to abandon their “idols” and worship Him who is “over all, God blessed for ever.” In Hebrews 1:6, (where see note,) the apostle quotes from the Septuagint, and applies to Christ, “And let all the angels of God worship him,” which is generally admitted to refer to these words of the psalmist. The Septuagint of Deuteronomy 32:43 has the same words: “Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him.” But these words are not in the Hebrew, and it is inadmissible to suppose the apostle would quote an interpolation of a version to support a fundamental doctrine. He refers obviously to Psalms 97:7, and it is the clearest instance in Scripture of the translation of eloheem by angels. Professor Stuart supposes there was “a usus loquendi among the Jews” which allowed it, though not clearly brought out in the Scriptures, which appears probable. This quotation of the apostle determines our psalm to be Messianic in a high degree, and ranks it with Psalms 2, 110

Verse 8

8. Zion heard, and was glad The form of the verbs (Kal preterit) in this verse, together with the historic facts alleged, namely, the “rejoicings,” and the “judgments,” clearly point us to some occasion of the signal interposition of God in behalf of the nation.

Daughters of Judah A poetical title for cities of Judah. See on Psalms 48:11

Verse 10

10. Ye that love the Lord, hate evil Learn to abhor it from this example of divine judgments against idolatry.

Verse 11

11. Light is sown Prosperity and hope are diffused. Psalms 1:6; Proverbs 2:8.

For the righteous And for none other. The discriminating qualification excludes the opposite character, and proves that for them there is no hope, while for the righteous there is assured blessedness. All such passages contain the germ of immortality and future judgment.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 97". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-97.html. 1874-1909.
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