Psalm 97

In the Masoretic Text, this psalm has no superscription, but the Septuagint ascribes the composition to David and adds, “when his land is established.”

“YHWH reigns,” indicative of his revealing himself as the Supreme Sovereign through his activity with his people. For this reason, the “earth” or the inhabitants of the land should rejoice, as should the people residing on the many distant islands.

Evidently based on the manner in which YHWH revealed his presence at Mount Sinai, the psalmist referred to him as being surrounded by clouds and dense darkness. God’s “throne” or ruling authority rests on uprightness and justice, assuring all of impartial judgment.

In view of the earlier mention of clouds and darkness, the “fire” proceeding from before the Almighty may be understood to refer to lightning. This fire consumes his foes round about.

Lightning flashes lightened up the habitable land. The manifestation of YHWH’s great power caused the “earth” to tremble. In this case, the “earth” may be understood to mean the land itself, as the next verse refers to the mountains. When the earth “sees” the awesome display of power, it is thrown into a state of convulsion.

The melting of mountains like wax may be descriptive of developments during a fierce storm. Heavy rains cause mudslides, making it appear as if the mountains are melting. Before the face of YHWH or in his presence, this “melting” occurs. He is the Lord of all the earth or land.

The heavens testify to God’s righteousness. This could signify that the angelic hosts declare that his judgments are just. On earth, all the peoples see “his glory” or witness the activity that reveals him to be glorious, the grand God of saving acts.

Worshipers of images are put to shame, as the representations of their deities are revealed to be powerless unrealities. They may boast about their gods, but they are of no value. Before YHWH, all these gods are nothing and so are portrayed as having to bow down before him. According to the Septuagint, the imperative is directed to the angels, “Worship [Prostrate yourselves before] him, all [you] his angels.”

Zion, God’s representative place of dwelling, “heard” and was filled with joy. The “daughters of Judah” likely designates surrounding towns. These also rejoice. YHWH’s righteous judgments occasion the rejoicing, and hearing about the execution of divine justice brought joy to the inhabitants of Zion or Jerusalem.

YHWH is the highly exalted one over all the earth or the land. As the Most High, he is far above all the gods, which are mere nothings.

Being a just God, YHWH requires that his worshipers live upright lives. The psalmist therefore urges all lovers of YHWH to hate evil. The psalmist adds the assurance that YHWH will safeguard the “souls” or lives of “his holy ones” (those maintaining pure conduct), rescuing them from the “hand” or power of the wicked (“sinners,” LXX).

At times the upright face distressing circumstances comparable to finding themselves in darkness and unable to see any avenue of escape. Then, as the psalmist, expressed it, “light springs up for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.” God is the one who brings them into light, making it possible for them to see clearly and to rejoice in his favor and blessing.

The righteous are to rejoice in YHWH, finding joy in his guidance and protective care. To give thanks to God’s “holy memorial” (“the remembrance of his holiness,” LXX) would mean expressing appreciation to him, the one bearing the “holy name.” Like a memorial, the name itself recalls all the marvelous attributes and activity of the Most High.

Note: Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.