Treasury of David
SUBJECT. As the past Psalm sang the praises of the Lord in connection with the proclamation of the gospel among the Gentiles, so this appears to foreshadow the mighty working of the Holy Spirit in subduing the colossal systems of error, and casting down the idol gods. Across the sea to maritime regions a voice cries for rejoicing at the reign of Jesus (Psalm 97:1),
the sacred fire descends (Psalm 97:3),
like lightning the gospel flames forth (Psalm 97:4),
difficulties vanish (Psalm 97:5),
and all the nations see the glory of God (Psalm 97:6).
The idols are confounded (Psalm 97:7),
the church rejoices (Psalm 98:8),
the Lord is exalted (Psalm 98:9).
The Psalm closes with an exhortation to holy steadfastness under the persecution which would follow, and bids the saints rejoice that their path is bright, and their reward glorious and certain.
Modern critics, always intent upon ascribing the psalms to anybody rather than to David, count themselves successful in dating this song further on than the captivity, because it contains passages similar to those which occur in the later prophets; but we venture to assert that it is quite as probable that the prophets adopted the language of David as that some unknown writer borrowed from them. One psalm in this series is said to be "in David", and we believe that the rest are in the same place, and by the same author. The matter is not important, and we only mention it because it seems to be the pride of certain critics to set up new theories; and there are readers who imagine this to be a sure proof of prodigious learning. We do not believe that their theories are worth the paper they are written upon.
DIVISION. The psalm divides itself into four portions, each containing three verses.
The coming of the Lord is described (Psalm 97:1-3);
its effect upon the earth is declared (Psalm 97:4-6);
its influence upon the heathen and the people of God (Psalm 97:7-9).
The last part contains both exhortation and encouragement, urging to holiness and inculcating happiness (Psalm 97:10-12).
Verse 1. The Lord reigns!
This is the watchword of the psalm—Jehovah reigns! It is also the essence of the gospel proclamation, and the foundation of the gospel kingdom. Jesus has come, and all power is given unto him in Heaven and in earth, therefore men are bidden to yield him their obedient faith. Saints draw comfort from these words, and only rebels cavil at them.
Let the earth rejoice, for there is cause for joy.
Other reigns have produced injustice, oppression, bloodshed, terror; the reign of the infinitely gracious Jehovah is the hope of mankind, and when they all yield to it, the race will have its paradise restored. The very globe itself may well be glad that its Maker and Lord has come to his own, and the whole race of man may also be glad, since to every willing subject Jesus brings untold blessings.
Let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.
To the ancient Israelites all places beyond the seas were isles, and the phrase is equivalent to all distant shores which are reached by ships. It is remarkable, however, that upon actual islands some of the greatest victories of the Cross have been achieved. Our own favored land is a case in point, and not less so the islands of Polynesia and the kingdom of Madagascar.
Islands are very numerous; may they all become Holy Islands, and Isles of Saints, then will they all be Fortunate Islands. Many a land owes its peace to the sea; if it had not been isolated it would have been desolated, and therefore the inhabitants should praise the Lord who has moated them about, and given them a defense more unassailable than bars of brass. Jesus deserves to be Lord of the Isles, and to have his praises sounded along every sea beaten shore. Amen, so let it be.
Verse 2. Clouds and darkness are round about him.
So the Lord revealed himself at Sinai, so must he ever surround his essential Deity when he shows himself to the sons of men, or his excessive glory would destroy them. Every revelation of God must also be an obvelation; there must be a veiling of his infinite splendor if anything is to be seen by finite beings.
It is often thus with the Lord in providence; when working out designs of unmingled love he conceals the purpose of his grace that it may be the more clearly discovered at the end. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing."
Around the history of his church dark clouds of persecution hover, and an awful gloom at times settles down, still the Lord is there; and though men for a while see not the bright light in the clouds, it bursts forth in due season to the confusion of the adversaries of the gospel.
This passage should teach us the impertinence of attempting to pry into the essence of the Godhead, the vanity of all endeavors to understand the mystery of the Trinity in Unity, the arrogance of arraigning the Most High before the bar of human reason, the folly of dictating to the Eternal One the manner in which he should proceed. Wisdom veils her face and adores the mercy which conceals the divine purpose. Folly rushes in and perishes, blinded first, and by and by consumed by the blaze of glory.
Righteousness and justice are the habitation of His throne.
He abides on His throne, and he never departs from strict justice and righteousness. His throne is fixed upon the rock of eternal holiness. Righteousness is His immutable attribute, and justice marks his every act. What though we cannot see or understand what he does—yet we are sure that he will do no wrong to us or any of his creatures.
Is not this enough to make us rejoice in him and adore him? Divine sovereignty is never tyrannical. Jehovah is absolutely sovereign—but He is not a despot. Absolute power is safe in the hands of him who cannot err, or act unrighteously. When the scroll of the decrees, and the books of the divine providence shall be opened—no eye shall there discern one word that should be blotted out, one syllable of error, one line of injustice, one letter of unholiness!
Verse 3. A fire goes before him.
Like an advance guard clearing the way. So was it at Sinai, so must it be: the very Being of God is power, consuming all opposition; omnipotence is a devouring flame which burns up his enemies round about. God is longsuffering—but when he comes forth to judgment he will make short work with the unrighteous, they will be as chaff before the flame.
Reading this verse in reference to the coming of Jesus, and the descent of the Spirit, we are reminded of the tongues of fire, and of the power which attended the gospel, so that all opposition was speedily overcome. Even now where the gospel is preached in faith, and in the power of the Spirit, it burns its own way, irresistibly destroying falsehood, superstition, unbelief, sin, indifference, and hardness of heart. In it the Lord reigns, and because of it let the earth rejoice.
Verse 4. His lightnings enlightened the world.
In times of tempest the whole of nature is lighted up with a lurid glare, even the light of the sun itself seems dim compared with the blaze of lightning. If such are the common lights of nature, then what must be the glories of the Godhead itself?
When God draws aside the curtain for a moment how astonished are the nations, the light compels them to cover their eyes and bow their heads in solemn awe.
Jesus in the gospel lights up the earth with such a blaze of truth and grace as was never seen or even imagined before. In apostolic times the Word flashed from one end of the heavens to the other, no part of the civilized globe was left unilluminated.
The earth saw, and trembled.
In God's presence the solid earth quakes, astonished by his glory it is convulsed with fear.
To the advent of our Lord and the setting up of his kingdom among men these words are also most applicable; nothing ever caused such a shaking and commotion as the proclamation of the gospel, nothing was more majestic than its course. It turned the world upside down, leveled the mountains, and filled up the valleys. Jesus came, he saw, he conquered.
When the Holy Spirit rested upon his servants their course was like that of a mighty storm, the truth flashed with the force and speed of a thunderbolt, and philosophers and priests, princes and people were utterly confounded, and altogether powerless to withstand it. It shall be so again. Faith even now sets the world on fire and rocks the nations to and fro!
Verse 5. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD. Inanimate nature knows its Creator, and worships him in its own fashion. States and kingdoms which stand out upon the world like mountains, are utterly dissolved when he decrees their end. Systems as ancient and firmly rooted as the hills pass away when he does but look upon them. In the Pentecostal era, and its subsequent age, this was seen on all hands—heathenism yielded at the glance of Jehovah Jesus, and the tyrannies based upon it dissolved like melted wax.
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
His dominion is universal, and his power is everywhere felt. Men cannot move the hills, with difficulty do they climb them, with incredible toil do they pierce their way through them.
But it is not so with the Lord, his presence makes a clear pathway, obstacles disappear, a highway is made, and that not by his hand as though it cost him pains—but by his mere presence, for power goes forth from him with a word or a glance.
O for the presence of the Lord after this sort with his church at this hour! It is our one and only need. With it the mountains of difficulty would flee away, and all obstacles would disappear. O that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might flow down at your presence, O Lord.
In the little world of our nature the presence of Jesus in reigning power is as a fire to consume our lusts and melt our souls to obedience. Sometimes we doubt the presence of the Lord within, for he is concealed with clouds—but we are again assured that he is within us when his light shines in and fills us with holy fear, while at the same time the warmth of grace softens us to penitence, resignation and obedience, even as wax becomes soft in the presence of fire.
Verse 6. The heavens declare his righteousness.
It is as conspicuous as if written across the skies, both the celestial and the terrestrial globes shine in its light. It is the manner of the inspired poets to picture the whole creation as in sympathy with the glory of God, and indeed it is not mere poetry, for a great truth underlies it, the whole creation has been made to groan through man's sin, and it is yet to share in the joy of his restoration.
And all the people see his glory.
The glorious gospel became so well known and widely promulgated, that it seemed to be proclaimed by every star, and published by the very skies themselves. Therefore all races of men became acquainted with it, and were made to see the exceeding glory of the grace of God which is resplendent therein. May it come to pass before long that, by a revival of the old missionary ardor, the glad tidings may yet be carried to every tribe of Adam's race, and once again all flesh may see the glory of Jehovah. It must be so, therefore let us rejoice before the Lord.
Verse 7. Confounded be all those who serve graven images—who boast themselves of idols.
They shall be so; shame shall cover their faces, they shall blush to think of their former besotted boastings. When a man gravely worships what has been engraved by a man's hand, and puts his trust in a mere nothing and nonentity—he is indeed brutish; and when he is converted from such absurdity, he may well be ashamed. A man who worships an image is but the image of a man—his senses must have left him. He who boasts of an idol, makes an idle boast.
Worship him, all you gods.
Bow down yourselves, you imagined gods. Let Jove do homage to Jehovah, let Thor lay down his hammer at the foot of the cross, and Juggernaut remove his blood stained car out of the road of Immanuel.
If the false gods are thus bidden to worship the coming Lord, how much more shall they adore him who are godlike creatures in Heaven, even the angelic spirits? Paul quotes this passage as the voice of God to angels when he sent his Son into the world.
All powers are bound to recognize the chief power; since they derive their only rightful authority from the Lord, they should be careful to acknowledge his superiority at all times by the most reverent adoration.
Verse 8. Zion heard, and was glad.
While the heathen are confounded, the people of God are made to triumph, for they love to see their God exalted. The day shall come when the literal Zion, so long forsaken, shall joy in the common salvation. It did so at the first when the apostles dwelt at Jerusalem, and the good days will come back again.
And the daughters of Judah rejoiced.
Each individual believer is glad when he sees false systems broken up, and idol gods broken down; the judgments of the Lord afford unalloyed delight to those who worship the true God in spirit and in truth. In the first ages of Christianity the believing Israel rejoiced to see Christ's kingdom victorious among the heathen, and even yet, though for a while turning aside, the daughters of Judah will sympathize in the wide spread reign of Jehovah their God, through the gospel of his dear Son. As the women of Judah went forth to meet David in the dance, singing his victory over the Philistine—so shall they chant the triumphs of David's son and Lord.
Verse 9. For you, Lord, are high above all the earth.
And therefore do we rejoice to see the idols abolished and to see all mankind bending at your throne. There is but one God, there cannot be another, and he is and ever must be over all.
You are exalted far above all gods.
As much as ALL is exalted above nothing, and perfection above folly. Jehovah is not alone high over Judea—but over all the earth; nor is he exalted over men only—but over everything that can be called God. The days are on their way when all men shall discern this truth, and shall render unto the Lord the glory which is due alone to him.
Verse 10. You that love the Lord, hate evil.
For He hates it, his fire consumes it, his lightnings blast it, his presence shakes it out of its place, and his glory confounds all the lovers of it. We cannot love God, without hating that which he hates. We are not only to avoid evil, and to refuse to countenance it—but we must be in arms against it, and bear towards it a hearty indignation.
He preserves the souls of his saints.
Therefore they need not be afraid of proclaiming war with the party which favors sin. The saints are the safe ones—they have been saved and shall be saved. God keeps those who keep his law. Those who love the Lord shall see his love manifested to them in their preservation from their enemies, and as they keep far from evil so shall evil be kept far from them.
He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
It is not consistent with the glory of his name to give over to the power of his foes those whom his grace has made his friends. He may leave the bodies of his persecuted saints in the hand of the wicked—but not their souls; these are very dear to him, and he preserves them safe in his bosom. This foretells for the church a season of battling with the powers of darkness—but the Lord will preserve it and bring it forth to the light.
Verse 11. Light is sown for the righteous.
All along their pathway light is strewn. Their night is almost over, their day is coming, the morning already advancing with rosy steps, is sowing the earth with orient pearls. The full harvest of delight is not yet ours—but it is sown for us; it is springing, it will yet appear in fullness. This is only for those who are light before the Lord in his own righteousness, for all others the blackness of darkness is reserved.
And gladness for the upright in heart.
Gladness is not only for one righteous man in the singular—but for the whole company of the upright, even as the apostle, after speaking of the crown of life laid up for himself, immediately amended his speech by adding, "and not for me only—but also for all those who love his appearing."
The upright ought to be glad, they have cause to be glad, yes and they shall be glad. Those who are right-hearted shall also be glad-hearted. Right leads to light. In the furrows of integrity lie the seeds of happiness, which shall develop into a harvest of bliss. God has lightning for sinners, and light for saints. The gospel of Jesus, wherever it goes, sows the whole earth with joy for believers, for these are the men who are righteous before the Lord.
Verse 12. Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous.
The psalmist had bidden the earth rejoice, and here he turns to the excellent of the earth and bids them lead the song. If all others fail to praise the Lord, the godly must not. To them God is specially revealed, by them he should be specially adored.
And give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
Which is the harmony of all his attributes, the superlative wholeness of his character. This is a terror to the wicked—but a cause of thankfulness to the gracious. To remember that Jehovah is holy is befitting in those who dwell in his courts, to give thanks in consequence of that remembrance is the sure index of their fitness to abide in his presence.
In reference to the triumphs of the gospel, this text teaches us to rejoice greatly in its purifying effect. The gospel is the death of sin, and the life of virtue. An unholy gospel is no gospel. The holiness of the religion of Jesus is its glory, it is that which makes it glad tidings, since while man is left in his sins no bliss can be his portion. Salvation from sin is the priceless gift of our thrice holy God, therefore let us magnify him forever and ever. He will fill the world with holiness, and so with happiness, therefore let us glory in his holy name, world without end. Amen.