Recently, I read Psalms 94 through 99, and though each chapter was powerful in its own right, Psalms 97 in particular stood out to me. Perhaps it was the framework of the words poetically woven together, perhaps it was the moving figures of speech, perhaps it was the grandiose language the psalmist used to glorify God, or perhaps it was because – as it always is with Holy Scripture – it was exactly what I needed to hear. So I’ve decided to pen an in-depth study of it for you.
Psalms 97 is a short section of scripture that continues in the thematic attitude of the preceding psalms: glorifying God by bringing attention to His character, might, and works. It employs many a figures of speech to emphasize the awesomeness of His power. It also presents a number of settings wherein He interacts with His creation, which is done to help the reader identify with God’s care.
Psalms 97 Meaning
“The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.” (Psalms 97:1)
God, in the 97th Psalm is going to identify two distinct groups of people in the world. One group is “Zion,” His people; including the “daughters of Judah” (v8). The other group is “all they that serve graven images, and boast themselves of idols”, which are those that evidently claim no relationship with God (v7).
It’s exciting to see that though both of these divergent groups are written of as seeing the glory of God, they interact with Him in entirely different manners.
Zion: The people of God. In Psalm 97:6 it is written, “all the people see his [God’s] glory,” though it is only the people of Zion who rejoice in response to God’s glory. God’s people experience “gladness” and “light” (v11). “Light” is used in a variety of ways in the Bible; let’s not leave the interpretation of this usage up to guesswork.
This “light” is the fifth of seven usages in the King James Old Testament, and signifies “good fortune,” or as is conventionally said, “divine favor” (Gesenius). It is used before in the preceding book of the Bible: Job, which sheds more light on its particular significance in its 22nd chapter.
Job 22 is an area of scripture that has a lengthy background that needs to be considered in order to fully understand its meaning, so a future post may be published to further expound on it. To receive a notification when it is published, subscribe to Words To The Power by clicking on <Power Subscriber>!
In a few words, Job loses his wealth, he loses his health, and he loses almost his entire family some time between the flood of Noah and the establishment of the Law of Moses. He was once the greatest in the land, but became the lowest; Satan took almost everything from him.
This tragedy was not deserved, but it was allowed. These destructions were allowed in by Job’s fear, which led to broken fellowship with God: the heaping void in his spiritual defense (Job 3:25).
His three friends come by to mourn with him, but after some time they begin reproving him. Reproof is received as condemnation to the distraught. How would you like to be condemned when your world was just shattered and you’d lost almost everyone you loved? His friends became “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2).
During this admonishment, much truth is said by his three friends, but because they misdiagnosed the root cause of the tragedy as sin (rather than fear), this truth was misappropriated. We must be always careful to utilize the Holy Scripture not only truthfully, but also in appropriate direction.
We must be always careful to utilize the Holy Scripture not only truthfully, but also in appropriate direction.
Though the three friend’s words were misguided, there is truth inside their sayings. One truth, expressed in Job 22:28-30, is that when God’s light “shall shine upon thy ways” (on a person or people), it’s wondrous because He follows through with deliverance: He “shall save the humble person” and “deliver the island of the innocent” (22:29-30).
“Light” in this fifth usage has great meaning: it signifies divine favor, and carries with it an expectation of deliverance!
Revisiting God’s people in Psalms 97: because the word “light” is the same usage (the fifth of seven) as it is in Job 22:28, the same magnitude of divine favor and deliverance is enjoyed by the person or people referred to: Zion; God’s people. No wonder they rejoice in Psalms 97:8!
All they that serve graven images. The people who worship idols, however aren’t so overjoyed to experience the presence of God. These are the ones who claim no devotion to God or alliance with Him; by boasting “themselves of idols”, they become “confounded” by his righteousness (Psalms 97:7) – which means “ashamed” (Young).
A rational being would want to be in God’s camp!
As a musician, I absolutely adore verses 4 through 6 of Psalms 97, which I’ve re-rendered according to its natural psalmic structure:
His lightnings enlightened the world:
the earth saw, and trembled.
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.
The assonance of “lightening enlightened” beautifully sets the tone for the reader to be dazzled and edified for the remainder of the immediate context. The psalmist then goes on to use more literary devices such as anthropomorphism, imagery, simile, repetition, and of course euphony and descriptive style throughout. [Did I miss any? – Comment below!]
Of course, one or two of these literary devices such as assonance may or may not be present in the original Hebrew, but to me, that fact justifies a great appreciation for it in its present form. Psalms 97 is a lovely read in English!
There is so much more to Psalms 97, so I encourage you to delve into it further for yourself to extract even more knowledge and enjoyment. I hope this has impressed upon you a great appreciation for the authority of God’s Word, the care with which He authored it, and the style with which His inspired writers to deliver it.
Assonance. (n.d.). In Literary Devices. Retrieved from http://literary-devices.com/
BibleGateway.com (n.d). Scripture Directory. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Descriptive style. (n.d.). Literary Devices. Retrieved from http://literarydevices.net/style/
Gesenius, Wilhelm. (1857). Gensenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon. Retrieved from
Young, Robert, (1984). Young’s Analytical Concordance to The Bible. Peabody, MA:
Edited by: Leo V and Carolyn V
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