George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 97

1. Structure

The Shekinah Glory
Heathen gods
Heathen gods
The righteous

2. Theophany

See the detailed exposition of these same figures of speech (are they really “figures of speech”?) in the notes on Psalm 18:

The Lord reigneth: cp. Ezek. 1:26-28.
Clouds, darkness, his throne.
The presence of the Lord — this describes an earthquake (Isa. 6:4).

The Lord of the whole earth.
His glory.
For thou, Lord, art high above all the earth (Isa. 6:2,3). All these details are to be found in one or other of the cherubim visions: Ezekiel 1; Isaiah 6; Zechariah 6; Exodus 24; Habakkuk 3; and — as noted above — Psalm 18.

Note that every occurrence of “the Lord of all the earth” (as in v. 5 here) comes in a “Cherubim” context (Josh. 3:11,13; Zech. 4:14; 6:5; Mic. 4:13). The entire psalm is a majestic hymn of praise that will only find its final fulfillment when the Glory of the Lord will cover the whole earth (Num. 14:21; Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14), and God will truly be “All in All” (1 Cor. 15:28). Anything less is the merest “preview” of the “main event”!

3. Historical setting

Again, with little doubt, the setting is the times of Hezekiah.

The psalm refers especially to the great “Theophany” at Jerusalem which brought the destruction of Sennacherib’s army (Isa. 17:12-14; 29:5,6; 30:30-33; 31:8,9; 37:36).

Also, the brief but vigorous onslaught against the “gods” of the heathen (vv. 7,9) is an appropriate rejoinder to the scorn with which the Assyrian enemy derided the nation’s trust in the Lord (Isa. 36:7,15,18; 37:10-17).

Note also: A fire... burneth up his enemies round about (that is, round about Jerusalem) (v. 3).

And verse 8 is a straight quotation of Psalm 48:11, which is undoubtedly a Hezekiah/Sennacherib psalm.

Also, there are marked similarities with Psalm 96: e.g., the tirade against idols (96:4,5 = 97:7); the praise of the Lord (96:1,4-9 = 97:1,8,9,12); and the heavens “speaking” (96:11 = 97:6).

In 97:8, the daughters of Zion rejoice because of God’s judgments — naturally, for otherwise what would have happened to them?

4. The problem of verse 7

Hebrews 1:6 quotes: “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Is this from Psalm 97:7 (“Worship him, all ye elohim?”) ? Or from Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX) — “Let all the angels of God worship him”? (The AV and the modern Hebrew of this latter verse are markedly briefer than the LXX — which includes the phrase in question here.) That this longer reading of the LXX is based on the Hebrew original of Deuteronomy is now made clear by the discovery of a copy of this chapter of Deuteronomy at Qumran (F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, p. 144).

Furthermore, the context of Psalm 97 is not very encouraging, while the overall context of Deuteronomy 32 is far better. Also, in Deuteronomy the form of the verb “worship” is identical with Hebrews 1:6; but this is not so in Psalm 97.

5. Messianic fulfillment

The emphasis on Theophany is very strong.
The Lord reigneth means that His kingdom has come. And the psalm ends in righteousness and holiness — cp. also the beginning and ending of Psalms 93 and 99.
Lightnings. “For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day” (Luke 17:24).
Lord of the whole earth is thus no mere poetic flourish.
The heavens (i.e., angels) declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory. Compare, for example, Matt. 24:30:

“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols. Here is the abolition of all false “gods”, not just the ancient variety (which “died out” long ago in many countries), but also the profusion of modern “deities” — materialism, pleasure-seeking, science, communism, socialism, humanism, and the like.
Zion is the city of the great King; its people, saved from oppression, rejoice.
For thou, Lord, art high (Elyon, “Most High”: RV). In Psa. 89:27 this describes the Messiah, son of David: “My firstborn, higher (Elyon) than the kings of the earth”.

Thou art exalted far above all gods (elohim). This is Phil. 2:9; Eph. 4:10 and especially 1:21.
Ye that love the Lord (the saints in Christ), hate evil, as does Christ (Psa. 45:7). “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2); also compare Psa. 139:21,22.

He preserveth the souls of his saints. In this also, they will be “like him”.
Light is sown. An unusual phrase. Is this an allusion to the High Priest withdrawing Urim (lights) and Thummim (perfection) from his breastplate, the action being somewhat like that of a man sowing seed broadcast?

In Christ’s parable of the Sower, the seed represents the “word of the kingdom” — which is of course the “light” of truth (Matt. 13:19). The end result of its sowing is that, after the “harvest”, the fruit of that seed will be the righteous, who “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43).

The RSV has, by a slight change (favored by some texts): “Light dawns” — this is the dawn of a new morning after the great storm (vv. 2-5) has swept away all vestiges of wickedness. “Dawn” is also suggestive of resurrection (Psa. 110:3; Isa. 26:19).
Give thanks at the remembrance (mg.: to the memorial) of his holiness. In Psalms, every occurrence of remember and memorial is combined with the Covenant Name of God, His Memorial.

6. Other details

Multitude of isles = “many coastlands” (RSV). This is a favorite Isaiah term (24:15; 40:15; 41:5; 42:4; etc.).
These verses are description of a great storm, reminiscent of Psalm 29.
Clouds suggest the Shekinah Glory of the Almighty. In the Old Testament God consistently manifested Himself to Israel in the cloud and the fire (Exod. 13:21,22; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:16-19; 20:18; 24:15-19; 33:18-21 with 34:4-7; 40:34-38; Num. 10:34; 12:5,10; 14:9,10,14,21,22; Deut. 31:14,15; Psa. 104:3; 105:39; 1 Cor. 10:1,2). In such He appeared also to David (Psa. 18:6-15); Ezekiel (1:4; 10:4); Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13); Solomon (1 Kings 8:10,11); Job (38:1); and the apostles (Luke 9:34,35). The clouds of glory are associated with the judgments of God (Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15; Ezek. 30:3; Isa. 19:1; 25:5). As Jesus ascended in such clouds (Acts 1:9), so he will return in clouds (Acts 1:11; Luke 21:27; Matt. 26:64; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-16; Dan. 7:13).

Habitation (maqon) = “foundation” (RSV).
Gods. Elohim is used of human rulers in Exod. 7:1; 21:6; 22:8, 9,28; 23:20,21; 1 Sam. 2:25; 28:13; Psa. 82:1,6; 138:1.
The daughters of Judah (48:11). The smaller cities of Judah are called “daughters” because they are the satellites of the “mother” Jerusalem (this figure of speech is quote common: Psa. 87:2-6; Isa. 54:1-5; 66:7,8,13; Gal. 4:26). Psalm 9:14 refers to the “gates” of the “daughter” of Zion — clearly indicating a town of some sort (cp. Isa. 10:32; Josh. 15:45,47, etc. — where “towns” is literally “daughters”).

7. In clouds

SEE YON DARK CLOUD, that like a script unrolled
Doth to the sky a solemn aspect lend?
What may it now of hidden glory hold,
Or what of wrath its gloomy face portend?
THE CLOUDS OF GOD are symbols of His power,
The chariots He rides across the sky;
The fiery veil wherewith He drapes Himself
Lest men should see His Holiness — and die.
TWAS THROUGH A CLOUD that the Lord led Israel forth
And hid him from the wrath of Egypt’s might;
’Twas in a cloud He spake and gave command,
And filled their camps with beams of pillared light.
IN CLOUDS OF FIRE the Glory was revealed,
And Cherubim, above the sacred mount.
With dove-like cloud the Son of God was sealed,
When first he came and dipped in Jordan’s fount.
AS CLOUDS OF DEW the risen saints appear,
Each drop distilled by all pervading love;
While incense clouds are messengers of praise,
The perfumed wings that waft our prayers above.
’TWAS IN A CLOUD the Savior was withdrawn,
And gently screened before the watchers’ gaze;
With clouds of heaven he was by myriads borne
And brought before the Ancient One of Days.
IN CLOUDS HE COMES, and every eye shall see;
And they that pierced shall supplicate his grace.
In sudden clouds the saints are caught away,
To see the wrath or smiling of his face.

Harold Tennant
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