Psalm 97
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Though in a very great measure a compilation from earlier writings (see Notes passim), this psalm, by more than one fine touch, proves itself the product not only of a thoughtful, but of a truly poetic mind. (Notice especially Psalm 97:2; Psalm 97:10-11, and see Notes.) The rhythm is regular.

The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.
(1) The Lord reigneth.—For the thought and imagery comp. Psalm 96:10-11.

Multitude of the isles.—Literally, isles many. This wide glance to the westward embracing the isles and coasts of the Mediterranean (Psalm 72:10), possibly even more distant ones still, is characteristic of the literature of post-exile times. (Comp. Isaiah 42:10-11; Isaiah 51:15.)

Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
(2) Clouds and darkness.—Comp. Psalm 18:10-12. The imagery in the first instance is borrowed from the Theophany at Sinai. (Exodus 19:9; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:21; Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:22-23.)

Are the habitation.—Better, are the foundation, or pillars. (See margin.) This reappears from Psalm 89:14, but the connection with “clouds and darkness” is peculiar to this poet, and is striking. The immediate effect on the Hebrew mind, of the awful manifestation of the Divine power in nature, is not fear, but a sublime sense of safety in the established right and truth of God. They knew that it is one and the same power

“Which makes the darkness and the light,

And dwells not in the light alone,

But in the darkness and the cloud,

As over Sinai’s peaks of old,

While Israel made them gods of gold,

Although the trumpet blew so loud.”

TENNYSON: In Memoriam.

A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about.
(3) This is an echo of Psalm 1:3. (Comp. also Psalm 18:8; Habakkuk 3:4-5.)

His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled.
(4) See Psalm 77:17-18, from which this is taken.

The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
(5) The hills melted.—Comp. Psalm 68:8, Note: Micah 1:4.

The Lord of the whole earth.—An expression first met with exactly in Joshua 3:11-13, though Abraham speaks of God as judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25). (Comp. Micah 4:13; Zechariah 4:10; Zechariah 6:5.) Though Jehovah was the tribal God, yet in marked distinction to surrounding tribes Israel regarded Him as having universal dominion.

The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.
(6) All the people.—Rather, all the peoples. At length the world at large is convinced, by visible manifestations, of what Israel had recognised through the veil of darkness and cloud,—the eternal righteousness of which all the splendours of the storm have been a witness. (See Note, Psalm 89:6.)

Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods.
(7) Confoundedi.e., ashamed (Isaiah 42:17; Jeremiah 10:14). The same idea is conveyed by the very word “idols” in Hebrew—empty, worthless things, shaming those who worship them.

It is doubtful whether the verbs here are to be taken as imperatives. So LXX., Vulgate, and Authorised Version. Probably a fact is stated.

All ye gods.—Not “angels,” as in LXX. (See Note, Psalm 8:5.) Here, however, the term is directly intended to include among superhuman beings the agencies worshipped by heathen nations as deities. The quotation Hebrews 1:6 (see Note, New Testament Commentary) is made from the LXX. of Deuteronomy 32:43.

Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O LORD.
(8) Zion heard.—See Psalm 48:11, Note.

For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.
(9) For the first clause see Psalm 83:18; for the second Psalm 47:2-9.

Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.
(10) Ye that love the Lord.—Notwithstanding certain points of similarity between this verse and Psalm 34:10-20; Psalm 37:28, and between Psalm 97:12 and Psalm 32:11, the psalmist shows himself at the close more than a compiler—a true poet.

Hate evil.—It is better to point for the indicative, They who love Jehovah, hate evil, in order to avoid the awkward transition in the next clause. This practical test of true religion can never be obsolete. Love of God implies the hatred of all He hates. A heathen writer has expressed this in a striking way. Philosophy, holding a dialogue with Lucian, is made to say, “To love and to hate, they say, spring from the same source.” To which he replies, “That, O Philosophy, should be best known to you. My business is to hate the bad, and to love and commend the good, and that I stick to.”

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.
(11) Light is sowni.e., scattered. The metaphor must not be pressed so as to think of a harvest to come. The image is an obvious and common one.

“Sol etiam summo de vertice dissipat omnes

Ardorem in partes, et lumine consent arva.”


And Milton, while enriching its metaphor, doubless had the psalm in his mind:—

“Now morn, her rosy steps in the Eastern clime

Advancing, sow’d the earth with orient pearl.”

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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