Psalm 97 begins with the declaration that the Lord reigns. The rest of the psalm tells everyone why it matters that the Lord reigns. What should it mean for how we live our lives when we understand that the Lord reigns? Sometimes people will flippantly make statements about the reign of the Lord, not realizing the impact this is supposed to make. For example, for a long time I have heard people say that they did not need to study the book of Revelation because the message is simply, “God wins.” While I do not agree that this is the only message of the book, we must recognize that the message, “God wins,” is supposed to mean something to us and change how we live. If God wins and God reigns, then what does that look like in the earth and what does that look like in our lives? Psalm 97 helps us understand this.
The Appearing of the Lord (97:1-6)
The reigning of the Lord means that the whole earth is supposed to rejoice. Even the farthest reaches of the earth, like the coastlands, are to be glad and rejoice over the reign of the Lord. The reign of the Lord is everything and this is why we are to rejoice. The reign of the Lord is why we worship. God is sovereign and he rules over the earth. The knowledge that the Lord reigns should cause joy to all people in the world. Joy is supposed to characterize the lives of God’s people on earth. We read the apostle Paul commanding the Philippian Christians and the Thessalonians Christians to “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). Paul even said it of himself that he was treat as sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). But how can we rejoice always when the hand of the wicked seems to be everywhere? Even in verse 10 the psalmist observes that God’s saints are in the hand of the wicked. We see violence and shootings in our nation. We see around the globe organizations that are beheading those who claim to have faith in Jesus, like ISIS. How can we rejoice? How can there be joy? How shall we rejoice always? Verse 1 is the answer. The Lord reigns! Our strength and comfort amid the storms of life are given to us in the knowledge that the Lord reigns. This is why we can have joy, for we know that God rules. God is in charge.
Verses 2-5 picture the arrival of the Lord. The imagery is what we read in other Old Testament scriptures when the Lord arrives (cf. Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:22; 2 Samuel 22:10; 1 Kings 8:12; Job 22:13; Jeremiah 13:16). Verse 2 tells us the basis of the Lord’s rule and the Lord’s appearing. The foundation of his reign is righteousness and justice. That is the basis of the Lord’s actions. Verse 3 tells us that the reign of the Lord means the judgment of his enemies. The images reveal the Lord as a divine warrior coming to establish right order by removing all who stand opposed to him and that order. His appearance is to right the wrongs and administer justice.
Nothing will be able to stand before the coming of the Divine Warrior. The earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord. All that is stable and enduring cannot be stable or endure before the Lord of all the earth. The Lord is going to do something. He does not reign but do nothing. All peoples are going to see his glory and the heavens declare the righteousness of our God. He will respond because he reigns.
Human Reactions To The Lord’s Appearing (97:7-12)
Therefore, the world must worship the Lord, not idols. Persisting in idolatry will only put the idolator to shame. Our idols and our gods are nothing before the true God. The typical Christian life has irony in it when it comes to false gods. The psalmist tells us that we need to worship the Lord, not gods and idols. All must worship the Lord. We recognize that there are no other gods. But we worship things like they were gods, and this is the irony. We know there are no other gods but we give worldly things the weight of being gods and treat them like gods. How we boast in worthless idols! How we trust in our jobs, money, health, possessions, families, and the like! Please notice that the psalmist pictures that people are either boasting in idols or worshiping God. Those who are trusting in idols are going to be judged. They are going to lose. They are going to be counted as the adversaries of the Lord.
The judgments of the Lord are not to be feared. Rather, God’s people hear and are glad. Verse 11 says that there is joy in the upright in heart. God’s people rejoice at the news of God’s judgments. Think about how this reaction always happens in the scriptures when God comes in judgment.
7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7–12 ESV)
There is joy at the judgments of God. Notice that when God judges, he is exercising his rule and reign. Consider how these two ideas are tied together in Revelation.
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (Revelation 11:15–18 ESV)
Notice God’s judgment causes his people to thank God and recognize that God is reigning. Notice the same idea later in the book of Revelation.
21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; 22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, 23 and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”
1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.”
6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 18:21–19:8 ESV)
God brings judgment because the nation had killed the prophets and saints (18:24). The next thing heard after this judgment is rejoicing. What are they saying as the multitude rejoice? “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just” (19:1-2). The cry of praise to the Lord (this is what “hallelujah” means) happens again (19:3) and a voice from the throne praises God. Everyone is rejoicing because God is judging. God is exercising his rule over the earth and God’s people are to take joy in that. Notice in the Revelation context that God’s people are delivered. The same point is declared in Psalm 97:10. God delivers and our hope is in him. Judgment is not to be feared because we love the Lord and hate evil. The psalmist expressed this hope earlier in this collection.
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4 ESV)
God reigns. Therefore we have nothing to fear. Hold fast to the Lord and hate evil. God’s reign is the basis for our continued righteous living. We do not look at the idolators and evildoers, desiring to live like them. We know that God reigns. Judgment is coming and we rejoice in the knowledge that God will judge.
Notice that this is our hope and the hope Isaiah gave regarding the coming of Christ. Why is the coming of Christ good news? Listen to Isaiah.
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7–10 ESV)
Remember that the suffering servant prophecy begins in verse 13 of Isaiah 52. The good news is that our God reigns. But it does not look like that God reigns! How do we know that God reigns? Isaiah’s answer is the suffering servant. The cross is how we know that God reigns and will judge with righteousness and justice. The New Testament makes the same point.
5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5–9 ESV)
We do not see God ruling. We do not see our ruling over the earth that God had given to humanity (cf. Genesis 1:28. But there is something that we do see. To be more precise, there is someone that we see. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death on the cross. The resurrection of Jesus is how we know God reigns. The apostle Paul made the point that Jesus is on the throne and reigning right now.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:23–26 ESV)
Our God reigns. Though the Jewish nation was persecuting the Christians in the first century, the book of Revelation showed that God was reigning. God would deliver his people and judge the adversaries (Revelation 11). Though the Roman Empire was persecuting the Christians for more than three centuries, the book of Revelation showed that God was reigning. God would deliver his people and judge the adversaries (Revelation 17-19). The book of Revelation shows Satan afflicting and attacking people. But God reigns and Satan is condemned to be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20).
When you watch the news and you feel discouraged or dismayed, tell yourself, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice!” When you suffer difficulty and tragedy, tell yourself, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice!” When evildoers afflict you at work, God reigns. The foundation of God’s reign is righteousness and justice. This is where you hope lies. This knowledge of our reigning Lord changes our lives because I do not have to be troubled by injustice, inequity, and unrighteousness. God is ruling and he has promised to vindicate. God repeatedly did so in the past and he will do it again. We see the cross of Jesus and we know he is ruling and he will deliver his people. Let us end with the command of verse 12.
“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!”