Psalm 97:6-8

6. The heavens have declared his righteousness, and all the people have seen his glory. 7. Confounded be all those who serve graven images, who glory in their inventions; 1 let all the gods worship before him. 8. Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah 2 rejoiced because of thy judgments, O Jehovah!


6. The heavens have declared his righteousness. Here he states that there would be such an illustrious display of the righteousness of God, that the heavens themselves would herald it. The meaning is not the same as in the beginning of the nineteenth psalm, "The heavens declare the glory of God," etc. In that psalm David means no more than that the wisdom and power of God are as conspicuous in the fabric of the heavens, as if God should assert them with an audible voice. The meaning of the passage before us is, that the spiritual righteousness of God should be so signally manifested under the reign of Christ as to fill both heaven and earth. There is much force in this personification, in which the heavens, as if even they were penetrated with a sense of the righteousness of God, are represented as speaking of it. It is equally probable, however, that the heavens signify here the angels, who are contained in heaven, by the figure of metonomy or synecdoche, while, in the corresponding clause, instead of the earth being mentioned, he speaks of the peoples who dwell upon it. The angels may very properly be said to announce and celebrate the Divine glory.

7. Confounded be all those who serve graven images. The Psalmist draws a broad distinction here, as in the psalm next to this, between the true God and the false gods which men form for themselves. This he does that the praise which he had ascribed might not be applied to any but the true God. Men are all ready to admit that they ought to celebrate the praises of God, but, naturally prone as they are to superstition, few indeed will be bound down to worship God in the manner which is right. No sooner have they to do with God than they deviate into the most baseless delusions. Each fashions a god for himself, and all choose what suits them best in the medley of inventions. This is the reason why the sacred writers, under the apprehension that men may turn to false gods, are careful in giving exhortations to the worship of God, to state at the same time who the true God is. The order observed by the Psalmist suggests the remark, that corrupt superstitions will never be removed until the true religion obtains. Prevented from coming to the true God by the slowness of their spiritual apprehension, men cannot fail to wander in vanities of their own; and it is the knowledge of the true God which dispels these, as the sun disperses the darkness. All have naturally a something of religion born with them, 3 but owing to the blindness and stupidity, as well as the weakness of our minds, the apprehension which we conceive of God is immediately depraved. Religion is thus the beginning of all superstitions, not in its own nature, but through the darkness which has settled down upon the minds of men, and which prevents them from distinguishing between idols and the true God. The truth of God is effectual when revealed in dispelling and dissipating superstitions. Does the sun absorb the vapors which intervene in the air, and shall not the presence of God himself be effectual much more? We need not wonder then that the Psalmist, in predicting the Kingdom of God, triumphs over the ungodly nations, which boasted in graven images, as when Isaiah, speaking of the rise of the Gospel, adds,

"Then all the idols of Egypt shall fall," (Isaiah 19:50)

Since the knowledge of God has been hid from the view of men, we are taught also that there is no reason to be surprised at the host of superstitions which have overspread the world. We have an exemplification of the same truth in our own day. The knowledge of the true doctrine is extinguished amongst the Turks, the Jews, and Papists, and, as a necessary consequence, they lie immersed in error; for they cannot possibly return to a sound mind, or repent of their errors, when they are ignorant of the true God. When the Psalmist speaks of their being confounded, he means that the time was come when those who were given to idolatry should repent, and return to the worship of the true God. Not that all without exception would be brought to genuine repentance, -- for experience has taught us in these our own times how atheistical men 4 will cast off superstition, and yet assume the most shameless effrontery, but that this is one of those consequences which the knowledge of God should effect, the turning of men from their errors unto God. Some there are who obstinately resist God, of which we have many examples in the Papacy; but we have every reason to believe that they are secretly prostrated by that which they affect to despise, and confounded notwithstanding their opposition. What the Psalmist says a little after, Let all the gods 5 worship before him, properly applies to the angels, in whom there shines forth some small portion of divinity, yet it may, though less appropriately, be extended to fictitious gods; as if he had said, Whatever is accounted or held as a god must quit its place and renounce its claims, that God alone may be exalted. Hence it may be gathered that the true definition of piety is, when the true God is perfectly served, and when he alone is so exalted, that no creature obscures his divinity; and, accordingly, if we would not have true piety entirely destroyed amongst us, we must hold by this principle, That no creature whatever be exalted by us beyond measure,

8. Zion heard, and was glad. In the former part of the psalm he had spoken of that joy which should be common to all the world. Now he makes special mention of God's chosen nation; and this partly, because they were to enjoy the first-fruits of this joy, and partly, because he would remove all occasion for rivalry or envy. Accordingly, having said that the Gentile nations should be brought to equal privileges with the posterity of Abraham, he adds, that the Jews would not suffer any diminution of honor by this co-partnership of privilege, but might rather reasonably rejoice in being chosen of God to be the fountain out of which the world was to be watered and refreshed. Those of whom the Psalmist speaks were the true children of Abraham and them only. They had a double reason for rejoicing, when God extended his government and glory from the rising to the setting sun; for, while he exhibited to them in Christ the complete fulfillment of that redemption which was promised, they, at the same time, saw the glory of God diffused from the narrow limits of Judea to all parts of the world. When the nations were blessed in the seed of Abraham, agreeably to the prediction which had gone before, this was no inconsiderable confirmation of their faith, as also, when they saw a religion which had been hated and despised universally embraced. But why, it may be asked, does he speak of those things being heard, rather than seen? Two reasons may be given for this. First, he would have God's believing people anticipate the blessing by hope, ere the consummation of it arrived; and, again, the language intimates, that the glory of the Gospel would be spread to such distant quarters, that the Jews would rather hear of it by report, than witness it with their own eyes.

1 "Ou, idoles." Fr. marg. "Or, idols." The original word here is Mylyla elilim. See note 2, page 50.

2 "Judah's daughters, the inferior towns and villages of Judea, so called with reference to the metropolis, or mother city. This is a very elegant kind of personification, by which the subject, adjunct, accident, effect, or the like, of any thing or place is called the son, or, as in this instance, the daughter of that thing or place. Hence the Hebrew poets often introduce, as it were, on the stage, nations, countries, or kingdoms, clothed in the dress of women, and performing all the functions suited to such a character. The practice is familiar to our minds; but probably it is so rendered by our habitual acquaintance with the Hebrew idiom, to which it appears to owe its origin." -- Mant on Psalms 48:11.

3 "Les hommes ont naturellement quelque religion," etc. -- Fr.

4 "Lucianici homines." -- Lat. "Disciples de Lucian et Atheistes." -- Fr.

5 With the exception of the Chaldee, which, instead of "gods," has "people," all the ancient versions translate angels -- all his angels, as if the Hebrew reading had originally been wykalm lk, and not as in our present copies Myhla lk. It has indeed been questioned whether Myhla, elohim, can be correctly translated angels. The most of modern lexicographers and critics reject this sense of the word. "But usage, after all," says Moses Stuart, "pleads in favor of it. The Septuagint render la (God) by a]ggelov, in Job 20:15; and Myhla by a]ggeloi, in Psalm 8:6; 96:7; 137:1. Paul follows them by quoting Psalm 8:6 in Hebrews 2:7; and also by quoting Psalm 97:7 in Hebrews 1:6; i.e., supposing that he does actually quote it. Is not this sufficient evidence that there was a usus loquendi among the Jews, which applied the word Myhla occasionally to designate angels? It is admitted that kings and magistrates are called elohim, because of their rank or dignity. Is there any thing improbable in the supposition that angels may be also called Myhla, who at present are elevated above men, Hebrews 2:7?"

Stuart, in the above remarks, speaks as if it were doubtful whether Paul in Hebrews 1:6, "And again, when he bringeth the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him," quotes from the 7th verse of the 97th Psalm. Commentators are divided in opinion on this point, some maintaining that the quotation is from Psalm 97, and others that it is from Deuteronomy 32:43, in the Septuagint version, where the very words are found which appear in Hebrews 1:6, although only in that version; the Hebrew and all the ancient versions being without them. One difficulty attending the supposition of his quoting from Deuteronomy 32:43 is, that the subject connected with this command to the angels (if we admit the clause in the Septuagint to be a part of the sacred text) has no relation to the Messiah. The context celebrates the victory over the enemies of Israel, which God will achieve. After saying that 'his arms should be drunk with blood, and that his sword should devour flesh with the blood of the slain and of captives, from the time when he begins to take vengeance on the enemy,' the Septuagint (not the Hebrew) immediately inserts, eujfra>nqhte oujranoi< a[ma aujtw~| kai< prokunhsa>twsan aujtw~| pa>ntev a]ggeloi qeou~. This in the place where it stands must mean, "Let the inhabitants of the heavenly world rejoice in the victory of God over the enemies of his people, and let them pay their adoration to him." But the Messiah does not seem to be at all alluded to any where in the context, much less described as being introduced into the world. It is not therefore very likely that this is the passage quoted, unless we suppose that Paul borrowed the words merely as fitted to express the idea which he intended to convey, without any reference to their original meaning. The probability is in favor of a quotation from the text before us; which in the Septuagint runs thus: proskunh>sate aujtw~| pa>ntev a]ggeloi aujtou~. Paul's words are, kai proskunhsa>tw>san aujtw|~ pantev a]ggeloi Qeou~. Here the variation from the Septuagint is so very inconsiderable, making no change upon the sense of the passage, that the discrepancy, especially when it is considered that very few of the quotations from the Old Testament in the New agree verbatim either with the Hebrew or Septuagint, is no argument against the supposition of the Apostle's quoting this text from that version which was in general use among the Jews. And this psalm admits of an easy application to the coming and kingdom of the Messiah, whose advent was to destroy idolatry, and be the source of rejoicing and happiness to all the righteous, which the passage in Deuteronomy referred to does not. -- See Stuart's Commentary on Hebrews 1:6, and Excursus 6.


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