New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 97:1

Yahweh reigns! Let the earth rejoice! Let the multitude of islands be glad!-
This begins with an appeal to the islands of the Gentiles to 'rejoice' and 'be glad', but the same two Hebrew words are used in Ps. 97:8 about how Zion- those in the very temple mount- likewise rejoice and are glad. The very "ends of the earth" who saw God's salvation of His people are invited to praise Him for it (Ps. 98:3,4)- the invitation to join in praise was effectively an invitation to join in worship, and thereby to become part of God's covenant people. The earth / eretz promised to Abraham was to rejoice along with the islands- the Gentiles. The Psalm appears to be an appeal to the exiles to rejoice at the prospect of restoration, which would include blessing upon the Gentile world.

Psa 97:2

Clouds and darkness are around Him, righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne-
The language of theophany, as seen at the Red Sea and Sinai. The restored throne of David would be based upon justice and righteousness, whereas the throne of David had become characterized by injustice and unrighteousness before it was overthrown. There was envisaged a dramatic theophany which would be associated with the fall of Babylon and the restoration of God's exiled people. The cherubim which Ezekiel had seen departing from Zion would return. But this isn't what happened; Judah in exile didn't really repent, and those relatively few who did return were clearly motivated by the hope of personal benefit rather than the glory of God. Babylon didn't dramatically fall as envisaged in the prophets, there was no theophany; so much potential was wasted. But these things are rescheduled and reapplied to the final restoration of God's people at the last day. 

Psa 97:3

A fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries on every side-
As noted on :3, this was part of the potential scenario envisaged; but it was precluded by the exiles refusing to repent, and not actually wanting a restoration of the type prophesied. Most of them remained in Babylon when they had the chance to return. The fire going before the exiles is the same phrase used of how the pillar of fire went before Israel in leading them out of Egypt and to the promised land (Ex. 13:21; Num. 14:14). But the exiles preferred to remain in exile.

Psa 97:4

His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees, and trembles-
Lightning, fire (:3), clouds and darkness (:2) are all the language of theophany, of the type seen by Ezekiel when the cherubim departed from Zion. This kind of theophany could have been seen again had the exiles truly wanted to participate in God's potential program. This also continues the allusion to what happened at the Red Sea, although the historical record doesn't much mention the thunder, lightning and theophany which was experienced, according to this and other later descriptions of what happened (e.g. Ps. 77:17,18; 97:4). The clouds pouring out water also recalls the flood; as if the judgment upon Egypt would likewise be seen upon Babylon. But Babylon fell only very slowly, and not in the dramatic, miraculous way envisaged in the prophecies of the fall of Babylon. This was again because the Divine potential wasn't realized because the exiles didn't repent and most actually chose to remain in Babylon.

Psa 97:5

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of Yahweh, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth-
This again continues the allusion to the exodus, which could have been repeated in essence at the restoration from Babylon. The mountains of opposing nations, not least Babylon, could have been burnt up; just as the Canaanite opposition to the redeemed Israel was potentially melted (Josh. 2:11). This is why the restoration prophecies of later Isaiah are full of allusion to the exodus and Red Sea deliverance. "The Lord of the whole earth" / land promised to Abraham is a phrase associated with the exodus and possession of Canaan (Josh. 3:11,13).

Psa 97:6

The heavens declare His righteousness; all the peoples have seen His glory-
The vision was of all the peoples in the eretz or land promised to Abraham seeing the restored shekinah glory in Zion, associated with the theophany envisaged in :2-4. The appeal was to be global and not just to Israel because David perceived that actually the truth of God is proclaimed by "the whole earth" and "heavens" (Ps. 97:5,6). Of course, the call is for the Gentile idolaters to "come" to Yahweh's sanctuary, and not for God's people to leave Yahweh and go to them. And they were to "bring an offering", to make a commitment to the God they were being invited to come close to (Ps. 96:8). See on Ps. 96:7.


Psa 97:7

Let all them be shamed who serve engraved images, who boast in their idols-
Yahweh's greatness above all other gods was what led David to appeal to "all you gods" [perhaps put by metonymy for the idol worshipping peoples] to come and worship before Yahweh (Ps. 97:7). See on Ps. 96:7. But Ezekiel demonstrates that idolatry was rife amongst the exiles. They would be shamed in condemnation.

Worship Him, all you gods!-
The gentile idols are not specifically stated to be non-existent. But the huge power of Yahweh was such that they were revealed as having no effective power compared to Him, and were therefore declared non-existent in any functional sense. And this is why the language of demons is used in the New Testament; but the Lord's miracles were of such magnitude that they were declared to thereby have no effective existence in practice.

Psa 97:8

Zion heard and was glad. The daughters of Judah rejoiced, because of Your judgments, Yahweh-
The daughter of Zion / Judah is a phrase used of the exiles. They were to rejoice in the prospect of what was possible for them. But instead most of them preferred to remain in Babylon, and persecuted the prophets like Ezekiel who told them this good news. This is the same reference for Zech. 9:9, which exhorts the exiled daughter of Zion to "rejoice" (s.w. "be glad") because her Messianic king was coming to restore her. This was sadly precluded at the time by the exiles' impenitence, and the failure of the potential Messianic figures such as Zerubbabel.

Psa 97:9

For You, Yahweh, are most high above all the earth. You are exalted far above all gods-
The gentile idols are not specifically stated to be non-existent. But the huge power of Yahweh was such that they were revealed as having no effective power compared to Him, and were therefore declared non-existent in any functional sense- see on :7. The exiles were intended to rejoice at the fall of Babylon because her idols would be brought down before Yahweh; but instead the exiles continued to worship those idols.

Psa 97:10

You who love Yahweh, hate evil. He preserves the souls of His saints. He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked-
This may have originated in David's thoughts about Saul, then reapplied to David's need for salvation from Absalom and Ahithophel, but, it becomes the intended appeal of the exiles for deliverance from Babylon, then Haman, and indeed from all their captors. "The hand of the wicked / unrighteous" is the term used for the Babylonians in Ez. 7:21.

Psa 97:11

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart-
David is seeing himself and the righteous as Job, and he here continues that connection, seeing that Job is described likewise as "upright in heart" (Job 1:8; 2:3). David sees this as characteristic of all God's people (s.w. Ps. 11:2; 19:8; 32:11; 36:10; 64:10; 94:15; 97:11). He sees the wicked as those who are not upright (Ps. 14:3; 51:1,3). But these words which David writes about the wicked are then reinterpreted as applying to all men, God's people included (Rom. 3:12). Like Job, David had to be taught that actually he was failing to see the seriousness of sin; righteousness and acceptability with God is imputed to men by grace through faith, because actually there are none who are upright in heart, apart from God's representative son.

In the context of the exiles, the idea is that if the exiles were indeed righteous and upright [which required their repentance], then they had the hope of light and gladness sown for them in this prophetic word of restoration.

Psa 97:12

Be glad in Yahweh, you righteous people! Give thanks to His holy Name-
The rejoicing of the daughter of Zion, the exiles, required that they be righteous through repentance; in order that the envisaged restoration could happen in their days. They would then be counted righteous, and be able to praise God for that grace.