Psalms 97


The reign of Jehovah, its nature and blessedness, 1, 2.

He is fearful to the wicked, 3-4.

Idolaters shall be destroyed, 7.

The blessedness of the righteous, 8-12.


This Psalm has no title either in the Hebrew or Chaldee; and

in fourteen of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS. it is written as

a part of the preceding. In the Vulgate it is thus entitled,

Psalmus David, quando terra ejus restituta est. "A Psalm of

David when his land was restored;" the meaning of which I suppose

to be, after he had obtained possession of the kingdom of Israel

and Judah, and became king over all the tribes; or perhaps, after

he had gained possession of all those countries which were

originally granted to the Israelites in the Divine promise. See

1Ch 18:1, 2. The

Septuagint is nearly to the same purpose, οτιηγηαυτου

καθισταται, "when his land was established:" so the AEthiopic and

Arabic. 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., to judgment.") The author of the Epistle to

the Hebrews, Heb 1:6, quotes a part of the

seventh verse of this Psalm, and applies it to Christ. Who the

author was is uncertain: it is much 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 the Babylonish captivity.

Verse 1. The Lord reigneth] 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.

But this supreme King is not only called YEHOVAH, which

signifies his infinite and eternal being, unlimited power, and

unerring wisdom; and, as Creator, his universal government; but he

is also ADONAI, the Director and Judge. He directs

human actions by his word, Spirit, and Providence. Hence are his

laws and revelation in general; for the governed should know

their governor, and should be acquainted with his laws, and the

reasons on which obedience is founded. As Adonai or Director, he

shows them the difference between good and evil; and their duty to

their God, their neighbours, and themselves: and he finally

becomes the Judge of their actions. But as his law is holy, and

his commandment holy, just, and good, and man is in a fallen,

sinful state; hence he reveals himself as; ELOHIM, God,

entering into a gracious covenant with mankind, to enlighten his

darkness, and help his infirmities; that he may see what is just,

and be able to do it. But as this will not cancel the sins already

committed, hence the necessity of a Saviour, an atonement; and

hence the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of our

Lord Jesus. This is the provision made by the great God for the

more effectual administration of his kingdom upon earth. Jehovah,

Adonai, Elohim reigneth; et his animadversis, and these points

considered, it is no wonder that the psalmist should add,

Let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad] The

earth, the terraqueous globe; especially, here, the vast

continents, over every part of which God's dominion extends. But

it is not confined to them; it takes in the islands of the sea;

all the multitude of those islands, even to the smallest inhabited

rock; which are as much the objects of his care, the number of

their inhabitants considered, as the vastest continents on which

are founded the mightiest empires. All this government springs

from his holiness, righteousness, and benignity; and is exercised

in what we call providence, from pro, for, before, and video, to

see, which word is well defined and applied by CICERO: Providentia

est, per quam futurism aliquid videtur, antequam factum sit.

"Providence is that by which any thing future is seen before it

takes place." De Invent. c. 53. And, in reference to a Divine

providence, he took up the general opinion, viz., Esse deos, et

eorum providentia mundum administrari. De Divinat. c. 51, ad

finem. "There are gods; and by their providence the affairs of

the world are administered."

This providence is not only general, taking in the earth and its

inhabitants, en masse; giving and establishing laws by which all

things shall be governed; but it is also particular; it takes in

the multitudes of the isles, as well as the vast continents; the

different species as well as the genera; the individual, as well

as the family. As every whole is composed of its parts, without

the smallest of which it could not be a whole; so all generals are

composed of particulars. And by the particular providence of God,

the general providence is formed; he takes care of each

individual; and, consequently, he takes care of the whole.

Therefore, on the particular providence of God, the general

providence is built; and the general providence could not exist

without the particular, any more than a whole could subsist

independently of its parts. It is by this particular providence

that God governs the multitude of the isles, notices the fall of a

sparrow, bottles the tears of the mourner, and numbers the hairs

of his followers. Now, as God is an infinitely wise and good

Being, and governs the world in wisdom and goodness, the earth

may well rejoice, and the multitude of the isles be glad.

Verse 2. Clouds and darkness are round about him] It is granted

that this is a subject which cannot be comprehended. And why?

Because God is infinite; he acts from his own counsels, which are

infinite; in reference to ends which are also infinite:

therefore, the reasons of his government cannot be comprehended by

the feeble, limited powers of man. There must be clouds and

darkness-an impenetrable obscurity, round about him; and we can no

more comprehend him in what is called aeternitas a parte ante-the

eternity that passed before time commenced, than we can in the

aeternitas a parte post-the eternity that is to come, when time

shall be no more. Yet such a Being cannot but see all things

clearly, and do all things well; therefore the psalmist properly


Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.]

Righteousness, tsedek, the principle that acts according to

justice and equity; that gives to all their due, and ever holds

in all things an even balance. And judgment, mishpat,

the principle that discerns, orders, directs, and determines every

thing according to truth and justice: these form the habitation of

his throne; that is, his government and management of the world

are according to these; and though we cannot see the springs, the

secret counsels, and the times, which this omniscient and

almighty FATHER must ever have in his own power, yet we may rest

assured that all his administration is wise, just, holy, good, and

kind. For, although his counsels be inscrutable, and the

dispensations of his providence be sometimes apparently unequal,

yet righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.

In this most sublime description, the psalmist, by the figure

termed prosopopoeia, or personification, gives vitality and

thought to all the subjects he employs; here, the very throne of

God is animated; righteousness and judgment are two intellectual

beings who support it. The fire, the lightnings, the earth,

the heavens themselves, are all intellectual beings, which either

accompany, go before him, or proclaim his majesty.

Verse 3. A fire goeth 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. But fire is generally

represented as an accompaniment of the appearances of the Supreme

Being. He appeared on Mount Sinai in the midst of fire, thunder,

and lightnings, Ex 19:16-18. Daniel, Da 7:9, 10, represents

the Sovereign Judge as being on a throne which was a fiery flame,

and the wheels of his chariot like burning fire; and a fiery

stream issuing from it, and coming forth from before him. St. Paul

tells us (2Th 1:8) that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from

heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire; and St. Peter,

(2Pe 3:7, 10, 11,) that when the Lord shall come to judgment

the heavens and the earth shall be destroyed by fire, the heavens

shall pass away with a great noise, the elements melt with fervent

heat, and the earth and its works be burnt up. Here then, will


"Our God in grandeur, and our world on fire."

Burneth up his enemies round about.] The fire is his pioneer

which destroys all the hinderances in his way, and makes him a

plain passage.

Verse 4. His lightnings enlightened the world] Though this be no

more than a majestic description of the coming of the Lord, to

confound his enemies and succour his followers, yet some

spiritualize the passage, and say, the lightnings signify the

apostles, who enlightened the world by their heavenly doctrine.

The earth saw, and trembled.] The earth is represented as a

sentient being. It saw the terrible majesty of God; and trembled

through terror, fearing it should be destroyed on account of the

wickedness of its inhabitants.

Verse 5. The hills melted like wax] The fire of God seized on

and liquefied them, so that they no longer opposed his march; and

the mountains before him became a plain.

The Lord of the whole earth.] adon col haarets,

the Director, Stay, and Support of the whole earth. The universal

Governor, whose jurisdiction is not confined to any one place; but

who, having created all, governs all that he has made.

Verse 6. The heavens declare his righteousness] They also, in

this poetic description, become intelligent beings, and proclaim

the majesty and the mercy of the Most High. Metaphorically, they

may be said to declare his glory. Their magnitude, number,

revolutions, order, influence, and harmony, proclaim the wondrous

skill, matchless wisdom, and unlimited power of the Sovereign of

the universe. See Clarke on Ps 19:1, &c.

And all the people see his glory.] Whatsoever God has made

proclaims his eternal power and Godhead; and who, from a

contemplation of the work of his hands, can be ignorant of his

being and providence?

Verse 7. Confounded be all they] Rather, They shall be

confounded that boast themselves in idols. There is a remarkable

play on the letters here, hammithhalelim, who move like

madmen; referring to the violent gestures practised in idolatrous


Of idols] baelilim, in vanities, emptinesses; who

"make much ado about nothing," and take a mad and painful pleasure

in ridiculous and unprofitable ceremonies of religion.

Worship him] WHO? JESUS: so says the apostle, Heb 1:6. Who will

dare to dispute his authority?

All ye gods.] οιαγγελοιαυτου, his angels: so the

Septuagint and the apostle: "Let all the angels of God worship

him:" and the words are most certainly applied to the Saviour of

the world by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews; see the

note there. The Chaldee says: "All nations who worship idols shall

adore him."

Verse 8. Zion heard, and was glad] All the land of Israel, long

desolated, heard of the judgments which God had shown among the

enemies of his people.

And the daughters of Judah] All the villages of the land-Zion as

the mother, and all the villages in the country as her daughters,

rejoice in the deliverance of God's people.

Verse 9. For thou, Lord, art high] Thou art infinitely exalted

above men and angels.

Verse 10. Ye that love the Lord hate evil] Because it is

inconsistent with his love to you, as well as your love to him.

He preserveth the souls of his saints] The saints,

chasidaiv, his merciful people: their souls-lives, are precious

in his sight. He preserves them; keeps them from every evil, and

every enemy.

Out of the hand of the wicked.] From his power and influence.

Verse 11. Light is sown for the righteous] The Divine light in

the soul of man is a seed which takes root, and springs up and

increases thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. Gladness is also a

seed: it is sown, and, if carefully improved and cultivated, will

also multiply itself into thousands. 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. But it is the

righteous only for whom the light is sown; and the upright in

heart alone for whom the gladness is sown.

The words may also signify that, however distressed or

persecuted the righteous and the upright may be, it shall not be

always so. As surely as the grain that is sown in the earth shall

vegetate, and bring forth its proper fruit in its season, so

surely shall light-prosperity, and gladness-comfort and peace, be

communicated to them. They also will spring up in due time.

Verse 12. Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous] It is your

privilege to be happy. Exult in him through whom ye have received

the atonement. Rejoice; but let it be in the Lord. All other joy

is the mirth of fools, which is as the crackling of thorns under a

pot-it is a luminous blaze for a moment, and leaves nothing but

smoke and ashes behind.

At the remembrance of his holiness.] But why should you give

thanks at the remembrance that God is holy? Because he has said,

Be ye holy; for I am holy: and in holiness alone true happiness

is to be found. As he, therefore, who hath called you is holy; so

be ye holy in all manner of conversation. False Christians hate

the doctrine of Christian holiness; they are willing to be holy in

another, but not holy in themselves. There is too much

cross-bearing and self-denial in the doctrine of holiness for

them. A perfect heart they neither expect nor wish.

The analysis considers the whole Psalm as relating to Jesus

Christ and the last judgment: so it was understood by several of

the ancient fathers. The reader may take it in either sense.


There are three parts in this Psalm, if we interpret it as

referring to our blessed Lord:-

I. A prophetical description of his power and glory, especially

at the day of judgment, Ps 97:1-6.

II. A manifest difference between the states of idolaters and

the people of God, Ps 97:7-9.

III. An exhortation to love God and hate evil; and the reason on

which it is founded: a two-fold gracious reward, Ps 97:10-12.

I. The psalmist begins with a solemn acclamation: "The Lord

reigneth." He is the supreme King; and he will use his kingly

power both now and in the day of judgment. 1. For the good of his

subjects. 2. For the confusion of his enemies.

1. For "clouds and darkness are round about him," as when he

gave the law on Mount Sinai. 2. "Righteousness and judgment are

the habitation of his throne;" and therefore a just sentence shall

come forth against his enemies, and in behalf of his friends,

Ps 97:2-5. 3. His appearance shall be very glorious; for the

"heavens shall declare it, and all people shall see it," Ps 97:6.

II. The difference between the state of idolaters and the people

of God.

1. Confusion and a curse shall fall upon the former: "They

shall be confounded," &c., Ps 97:7.

2. He exhorts all in power, men-magistrates, &c., and all who

excel in strength-angels, to worship him: "Worship him, all ye

gods," Ps 97:7. All confidence should be reposed in him.

3. God's people rejoice when they find that it is their own Lord

who is coming to judgment: "Zion heard, and was glad; the

daughters of Judah rejoiced," Ps 97:8.

4. And they rejoiced chiefly in knowing that their God "was high

above all the earth, and exalted far above all gods," Ps 97:9.

III. The expostulation, which gives us the character by which

God's people may be known. He exhorts them to love God, and to

hate evil. Hence we see that the true followers of God, 1. Love

him; 2. Haste evil, as the infallible consequence of loving him,

Ps 97:10.

He shows them the gracious reward which God promises.

1. "He preserveth the souls of his saints." Often their lives,

in an especial manner, are preserved by him; but always their

souls. The accuser of the brethren shall not hurt them.

2. "He delivereth them out of the hands of the wicked."

Sometimes out of their hand, that they fall not into it; and

sometimes out of their hand, when they are in it. This is their

first reward, Ps 97:10.

A second reward is in the next verse: that in their miseries

they shall be filled with spiritual happiness, when perhaps they

little expect it: "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness

for the upright in heart," Ps 97:11.

1. By light we may understand a peculiar manifestation of God's

favour; comfort, peace, and joy; or deliverance from their

spiritual and temporal oppressors.

2. This is sown as a seed. For the light of comfort, of peace of

conscience, and joy in the Holy Spirit, though it may be clouded

in times of heaviness, through manifold temptations, yet it will

spring forth again, like the corn, which, after it is sown, lies

hidden for some time, under the clods of the earth; yet all that

time it is vegetating and coming forth to public view. And

deliverance from their enemies, though slow, will come; though the

rod of the wicked come into the lot of the just, it shall not rest


3. From these premises the psalmist draws this conclusion: Since

God is preparing those blessings for you that fear and love him,

then, 1. "Rejoice in the Lord;" glory in him as the Fountain of

your blessedness. 2. "Give thanks at the remembrance of his

holiness." Remember the good he has done you, the grace he has

bestowed on you, and the holiness you may yet receive from him;

and rejoice in the encouragement, and give thanks. Rejoice that ye

may be holy, for in that your happiness consists.

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