Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Once more the Psalmist celebrates Jehovah’s recent manifestation of His sovereignty. In Psalms 96 the universality of His kingdom, here the judgement by which it has been manifested, is the prominent thought.
i. Earth is bidden to rejoice at the establishment of Jehovah’s kingdom. The awfulness of His Advent, the moral foundation of His rule, and the irresistibleness of His might are described (Psalm 97:1-3).
ii. But lately the earth has trembled at His Presence; His righteousness and His majesty have been openly proclaimed (Psalm 97:4-6).
iii. The idol-worshippers and their pretended gods are put to shame, while Zion rejoices in His triumph (Psalm 97:7-9).
iv. Let Israel respond to His call by dutiful obedience and glad thanksgiving (Psalm 97:10-12).
Thus the Psalm consists, like Psalms 96, of four equal stanzas. The first two describe the coming of Jehovah to judgement, in symbolic language borrowed from descriptions of the great Theophanies of old; the last two describe its consequences for Israel and for the nations.
The author of this Psalm was not an original poet, but he was a masterly hymn-writer. There is scarcely a phrase in the Psalm which is not borrowed; but he combines the language of earlier Psalmists and Prophets into a “costly mosaic” with a skill which is worthy of the occasion. He makes us feel that he has been deeply moved, and inspired to recognise the greatness of the crisis.
In the LXX the Psalm is entitled (A Psalm) of David, when his land was restored. The latter part of this title rightly points to the Restoration from Babylon as the occasion of the Psalm.
 For καθίσταται, Vulg. restituta est, cf. Isaiah 49:8, τοῦ καταστῆσαι τὴν γῆν
The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.1. The Lord reigneth] Jehovah hath proclaimed himself King. See note on Psalm 93:1. For the whole verse cp. Psalm 96:10-11; Isaiah 42:10-12; Isaiah 51:5.
the multitude of isles] Lit. many isles, or, coastlands; a favourite word in Isaiah 40-66; cp. Psalm 72:10. All the many islands and coastlands of the Mediterranean are meant, which have good cause to share Zion’s joy at the fall of the tyrant and the rise of the Divine kingdom of righteousness.
1–3. The proclamation of Jehovah’s kingdom of power and righteousness.
Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.2, 3. Though Jehovah shrouds himself in mystery, and comes with irresistible might, it is the consolation of His people to know that His kingdom is founded upon righteousness. Here, as elsewhere (Psalm 18:9; Psalm 18:11, &c.), the Theophany of Sinai supplies the symbolism. Cp. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:21; Deuteronomy 5:22.
righteousness &c.] Righteousness and judgement are the foundation of his throne (R.V.).
2 b is taken from Psalm 89:14 a: with Psalm 97:3 cp. Psalm 50:3; Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 42:25.
A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about.
His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled.4. His lightnings lightened the world, as of old when He brought Israel out of Egypt. From Psalm 77:18 b.
the earth &c.] Based upon Psalm 77:16; Psalm 77:18 : cp. Psalm 96:9 b.
4–6. The recent manifestation of Jehovah’s power, described in terms of the great Theophanies of old.
The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.5. From Micah 1:4; Micah 4:13; cp. Zechariah 4:14; Zechariah 6:5. The dissolution of the most solid and ancient parts of the earth is the expression of its terror and the measure of His power. Cp. Habakkuk 3:6.
The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.6. The heavens have declared his righteousness,
And all the peoples have seen his glory.
His faithfulness to His people and His sovereign justice in the punishment of evil have been openly and visibly manifested in the sight of all the world (Psalm 98:3). Cp. Psalm 50:6; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 66:18.
Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods.7. Ashamed shall be all that serve graven Images] Dismayed at the impotence of their gods. The Babylonians in particular are meant. Cp. Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 44:9; Jeremiah 10:14.
idols] Things of nought, as Psalm 96:5.
worship him, all ye gods] The A.V. follows the LXX and Jer. in rendering the verb as an imperative, but more probably the words are not an ironical challenge but an assertion, all gods worship him. It need not be supposed that the Psalmist regarded the gods of the heathen as having any real existence. The LXX rendering worship him all his angels (cp. LXX of Psalm 8:5) may however have been suggested by an unwillingness to seem to countenance such an idea; at the same time it may point to a wider meaning of the Psalmist’s words. All supernatural beings, whether really existing or existing only in the minds of their worshippers, must do homage to Jehovah. The quotation in Hebrews 1:6 may be taken from this passage or from the LXX expansion of Deuteronomy 32:43.
7–9. The impression produced by the judgement.
Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O LORD.8. From Psalm 48:11, but with a significant change. Then (Psalm 97:8) the deliverance was wrought in sight of the city; now Zion and the cities of Judah only hear the glad tidings brought from distant Babylon to Zion in her humiliation (Isaiah 52:7-8).
For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.9. For thou, Jehovah, art the Most High above all the earth,
Thou art exceedingly exalted above all gods.
From Psalm 83:18; Psalm 47:2; Psalm 47:9 : cp. Psalm 95:3.
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. There is no need to alter the text as some modern critics would do, and read, They that love Jehovah hate evil; or, Jehovah loveth those that hate evil. An exhortation to those who love Jehovah to prove themselves what they profess to be by positive abhorrence of all that is antagonistic to Him was not superfluous, in an age when many an Israelite might still be tempted to half-hearted service. It corresponds to the warning of Psalm 95:7 ff. For the language of the whole verse cp. Amos 5:15; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 34:20.
his saints] His beloved, or, his godly ones. See Appendix, Note I.
10–12. The duty and the confidence of Israel.
Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.11. Light is sown] The idea is rather that of the diffusion of light at the dawn than of a seed sown to bear fruit hereafter. For the metaphor cp. Lucr. ii. 211, “Sol lumine conserit arva”; and Verg. Aen. iv. 584, “Et iam prima novo spargebat lumine terras … Aurora.” But most of the Ancient Versions represent the reading, Light hath arisen for the righteous, as in Psalm 112:4 (cp. Psalm 104:22), and this is probably right. So the P.B.V. There is sprung up a light, from the LXX through the Vulg. For light as a metaphor for happiness and prosperity cp. Psalm 27:1; Psalm 36:9.
Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.12. Be glad in Jehovah, ye righteous;
And give thanks unto his holy name.
His holy name, lit. the memorial of his holiness. His name is that which brings to remembrance all that He is and does. See Exodus 3:15; Psalm 135:13.
The first line is from Psalm 32:11 a; the second from Psalm 30:4 b.