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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 97

In Psalm 97, the last verse of the previous psalm is discussed at length, pointing to the coming of the Messiah (Psa 96:13). In the psalm we now have before us, the Messiah appears. This event and its consequences are sung about here. The message to Mary about the reign of the Son she will receive is prophetically presented (Lk 1:32).

Isaiah exclaims: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news … [and] “says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”” [or: “Your God is King”] (Isa 52:7; cf. Psa 93:1). Already in Psalm 96, this message was passed on by Zion to the world: “The LORD is King” (Psa 96:10). This is now further explored in Psalm 97 and Psalm 99. Accordingly, both psalms begin with the exclamation: “The LORD [Yahweh] reigns [or: is King]” (Psa 97:1; Psa 99:1; cf. Rev 19:6; Rev 11:15-17).

Verses 1-5

The LORD Reigns


The psalmist exclaims that “the LORD reigns” [literally, “Yahweh is King”] (Psa 97:1). He sits on the throne. The universe is not ruled by natural laws or the authority of an evil power. There is a sovereign Ruler, Who is wise, holy, just and sensible. Therefore: “Let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.” To do this they are called. The many islands are mentioned separately because they are far away (Jer 31:10). But they too may rejoice, for the blessing of the Messiah’s reign comes to them as well. The LORD is not only King over Israel, He is the King of kings, He rules over the whole earth.

The LORD, that is the Messiah, envelops Himself in “clouds and thick darkness” (Psa 97:2). These features indicate that what He does cannot be followed by humans. How could mortal men understand Him in His inimitable judicial acts? They will acknowledge them, without realizing their depth. This does not mean that in Him there is darkness. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1Jn 1:5; Psa 104:2; 1Tim 6:16). Creatures cannot fathom that light. To us humans, therefore, He is surrounded by dark clouds.

He rules in “righteousness and justice”. His rule is perfect. A judicial error does not occur, let alone a twisting of the law. “The foundation of His throne” consists precisely in the exercise of utter justice. His government will be salutary after all the corrupt governments of which the world has been full before His coming. His kingdom is not founded on arbitrariness, as is so often the case with governments today, but on righteousness and justice. Therefore, His reign endures forever (Pro 16:12; Pro 25:5).

He not only pronounces righteous judgments, but also executes them. We see this in the “fire” that “goes before Him” (Psa 97:3). Fire here represents the consuming judgment on sin (cf. Lev 10:1-2). God is a consuming fire, both in the Old Testament (Deu 4:24) and in the New Testament (Heb 12:29). His holiness does not tolerate sin in His presence (cf. 1Pet 1:16). That is what “His adversaries” will experience when He “burns up … round about” (cf. 2Thes 1:7-8; Psa 68:2).

In addition to the flame around Him that consumes everything that does not submit to His holiness, there are “His lightnings” (Psa 97:4). Lightning flashes also make a deep impression. They lit up the world and reveal everything in it. They are the sudden, inimitable deliverers of God’s judgments. “The earth saw and trembled”, for they are terrifying and irresistible. Such an outpouring of power the earth has never seen.

“The mountains”, symbols of stability and immobility, “melted like wax at the presence of the LORD” (Psa 97:5; cf. Mic 1:4). That consuming is His appearance. Nothing will stand when He appears and judges. This judgment belongs to Him because He is “the Lord of the whole earth”. He is Adonai, the sovereign Ruler of the universe Who shows His presence to the earth.

Verses 6-7

All Gods Worship Him


When the LORD appears, He comes from heaven, where everything is in accordance with “His righteousness” (Psa 97:6). He is Himself the declaration of heaven. “All the peoples” on earth will see “His glory” when He appears. When the LORD appears, He will come as “a righteous God and a Savior” [or “a Redeemer”, literal translation] (Isa 45:21). This means that the justice or righteousness of God will be seen in His acts of redemption.

His appearance also includes judgment on those “who serve graven images” and “boast themselves of idols” (Psa 97:7). It will bring shame on them. They, in their folly, have lowered themselves to idolatry and have boasted of their self-made idols. Those would help them, they thought.

In doing so, they have defied God and denied Him. When they come face to face with the true God, there is nothing left of their senseless reliance on their idols (Isa 2:20). “All … gods” to whom they have worshiped must worship the LORD. “Gods” are all kinds of authority figures, in the visible and the invisible world (cf. Dan 10:13; 20-21). Here angels are meant first and foremost, as is evident from the quotation of this phrase in the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:6).

Verses 8-9

The Most High


“Zion heard” of the Messiah’s expulsion of the rebels and idolaters “and was glad” (Psa 97:8). The same is true of “the daughters of Judah”, referring to the villages and towns in Judah. The judgments of the LORD cause joy to all who are associated with Him. They share in His feelings about evil and rejoice in the judgment He executes over it (cf. Rev 18:20). The judgments of God mean that the remnant will be delivered from their enemies; therefore they rejoice (Psa 48:11).

Now it is clear to everyone Who is “the LORD Most High over all the earth” (Psa 97:9). It is none other than the “LORD”. The name “God Most High” (Gen 14:18-22), El Elyon, is the title of God in the realm of peace. Here we see that the LORD, as the Most High, is exalted far above all gods.

The remnant and all who acknowledge Him in His dominion say to Him: “You are exalted far above all gods.” He is to be compared with none; He far exceeds all conceivable rulers. He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5), “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (1Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; Rev 19:16; cf. Deu 10:17). He is also higher than the angels (Heb 1:5-13).

Verses 10-12

Light Is Sown


In these verses, the word is addressed to the remnant. They are addressed as “you who love the LORD” (Psa 97:10). This characterizes them. Loving the LORD is not just an emotional thing, it is a choice of the heart. It is a choice to, with all that is in a person, love Him, be faithful to Him, and trust in His covenant. To that, “hate evil” is connected directly. It is a lie to say to love God and not at the same time hate all that is evil (cf. 1Jn 1:6). To love the LORD means to hate all that He hates (cf. Pro 8:13).

The prophet Amos also presented these two characteristics (Amos 5:14-15). Those who have both of these characteristics are “His godly ones”. They are in His favor because they are faithful to Him. Their souls, their lives, He preserves. Godly ones, Hebrew chasid, are those who are faithful to the covenant. “He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” He stands up for them and will not allow His adversaries to take final control of them.

The coming of the Messiah is like the sowing of light (Psa 97:11). After all, He is called “the sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). He makes known to “the righteous” the way to the realm of peace and goes before them on that way. It never gets dark on that way and in their heart. He irradiates that way with His light. That light is sown also means that it is intended to bring forth fruit, fruit that corresponds to the seed. That is seen in those who walk as children of light (cf. Pro 4:18; Eph 5:7-9).

The sowing of light also results in joy. There is no true joy without light, just as there is no light that does not produce joy. His coming means “gladness for the upright in heart”. All who have their heart set on Him are upright in heart. It is their desire that He be glorified. This can be seen in their lives as well, for they do His will.

The last verse is a call to all the “righteous ones” to “be glad in the LORD” (Psa 97:12). He has wondrously turned everything for the better for them with His power. Therefore, they are called to give thanks and to do so “to His holy name”, literally “for the memory of His holiness”.

The name LORD is in remembrance of the redemption from Egypt (Exo 3:15). We may celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. The remnant in the future will praise the LORD in remembrance of His holiness. Their prayer in the time of the great tribulation is: “Hallowed be Your name” (Mt 6:9). The holiness of the Name of the LORD is connected to the fate of His people (Eze 36:20-28). The exile was to the dishonor of the LORD’s holiness, while the redemption of Israel, both outwardly and inwardly, is to the honor of the holiness of His Name!

It is not His love for and mercy on them that cause them to praise Him, but His holiness. It is precisely His holiness that proves His complete reckoning with sin, by which any threat of a disturbance of the peace is nullified. They can enjoy the blessing of His reign undisturbed with praise and thanks and joy.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 97". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-97.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.