Psalm 97
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Breaking Through of the Kingdom of God, the Judge and Saviour

This Psalm, too, has the coming of Jahve, who enters upon His kingdom through judgment, as its theme, and the watchword "Jahve is King" as its key-note. The lxx inscribes it: τῷ Δαυίδ ὅτε ἡ γῆ αὐτοῦ καθίσταται (καθίστατο); Jerome: quando terra ejus restituta est. The τῷ Δαυίδ is worthless; the time of restoration, from which it takes its rise, is the post-exilic, for it is composed, as mosaic-work, out of the earlier original passages of Davidic and Asaphic Psalms and of the prophets, more especially of Isaiah, and is entirely an expression of the religious consciousness which resulted from the Exile.

The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.
We have here nothing but echoes of the older literature: Psalm 97:1, cf. Isaiah 42:10-12; Isaiah 51:5; Psalm 97:2, cf. Psalm 18:10, Psalm 18:12; Psalm 97:2 equals Psalm 89:15; Psalm 97:3, cf. Psalm 50:3; Psalm 18:9; Psalm 97:3, cf. Isaiah 42:25. Beginning with the visible coming of the kingdom of God in the present, with מלך ה the poet takes his stand upon the standpoint of the kingdom which is come. With it also comes rich material for universal joy. תּגל is indicative, as in Psalm 96:11 and frequently. רבּים are all, for all of them are in fact many (cf. Isaiah 52:15). The description of the theophany, for which the way is preparing in Psalm 97:2, also reminds one of Habakkuk 3. God's enshrouding Himself in darkness bears witness to His judicial earnestness. Because He comes as Judge, the basis of His royal throne and of His judgment-seat is also called to mind. His harbinger is fire, which consumes His adversaries on every side, as that which broke forth out of the pillar of cloud once consumed the Egyptians.

Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about.
His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled.
Again we have nothing but echoes of the older literature: Psalm 97:4 equals Psalm 77:19; Psalm 97:4, cf. Psalm 77:17; Psalm 97:5, cf. Micah 1:4; Psalm 97:5, cf. Micah 4:13; Psalm 97:6 equals Psalm 50:6; Psalm 97:6, cf. Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 66:18. The poet goes on to describe that which is future with historical certainty. That which Psalm 77:19 says of the manifestation of God in the earlier times he transfers to the revelation of God in the last time. The earth sees it, and begins to tremble in consequence of it. The reading ותּחל, according to Hitzig (cf. Ew. ֗232, b) traditional, is, however, only an error of pointing that has been propagated; the correct reading is the reading of Heidenheim and Baer, restored according to MSS, ותּחל (cf. 1 Samuel 31:3), like ותּבן, ותּקם, ותּרם, and ותּשׂם. The figure of the wax is found even in Psalm 68:3; and Jahve is also called "Lord of the whole earth" in Zechariah 4:14; Zechariah 6:5. The proclamation of the heavens is an expression of joy, Psalm 96:11. They proclaim the judicial strictness with which Jahve, in accordance with His promises, carries out His plan of salvation, the realization of which has reached its goal in the fact that all men see the glory of God.

The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.
Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods.
When the glory of Jahve becomes manifest, everything that is opposed to it will be punished and consumed by its light. Those who serve idols will become conscious of their delusion with shame and terror, Isaiah 42:17; Jeremiah 10:14. The superhuman powers (lxx ἄγγελοι), deified by the heathen, then bow down to Him who alone is Elohim in absolute personality. השׁתּחווּ is not imperative (lxx, Syriac), for as a command this clause would be abrupt and inconsequential, but the perfect of that which actually takes place. The quotation in Hebrews 1:6 is taken from Deuteronomy 32:43, lxx. In Psalm 97:8 (after Psalm 48:12) the survey of the poet again comes back to his own nation. When Zion hears that Jahve has appeared, and all the world and all the powers bow down to Him, she rejoices; for it is in fact her God whose kingship has come to the acknowledge. And all the daughter-churches of the Jewish land exult together with the mother-church over the salvation which dawns through judgments.

Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O LORD.
For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.
This distichic epiphonema (Psalm 97:9 equals Psalm 83:19; Psalm 97:9, cf. Psalm 47:3, 10) might close the Psalm; there follows still, however, a hortatory strophe (which was perhaps not added till later on).

Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.
It is true Psalm 97:12 is equals Psalm 32:11, Psalm 97:12 equals Psalm 30:5, and the promise in Psalm 97:10 is the same as in Psalm 37:28; Psalm 34:21; but as to the rest, particularly Psalm 97:11, this strophe is original. It is an encouraging admonition to fidelity in an age in which an effeminate spirit of looking longingly towards lit. ogling heathenism was rife, and stedfast adherence to Jahve was threatened with loss of life. Those who are faithful in their confession, as in the Maccabaean age (Ἀσιδαῖοι), are called חסדיו. The beautiful figure in Psalm 97:11 is misapprehended by the ancient versions, inasmuch as they read זרח (Psalm 112:4) instead of זרע. זרע does not here signify sown equals strewn into the earth, but strewn along his life's way, so that he, the righteous one, advances step by step in the light. Hitzig rightly compares ki'dnatai ski'dnatai, used of the dawn and of the sun. Of the former Virgil also says, Et jam prima novo spargebat lumine terras.

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

Bible Hub
Psalm 96
Top of Page
Top of Page