Theme: The Comfort of God’s Sovereignty
From this psalm, we are reminded that because God is sovereign and righteous, we are to hate sin and rejoice in him.
Scripture: Psalm 97:1-12
Psalm 97 begins with two sentences from Psalm 96: “The LORD reigns” (from verse 10) and “let the earth be glad” (from verse 11). It is a way of reminding us that these two psalms, as well as Psalms 93-100, belong together and that their theme is the kingly rule of God. The words “Jehovah reigns” (or “Jehovah is king”) are found in nearly all of them.
But the psalms have different emphases. Or, to put it differently, they develop complementary aspects of God’s kingship. Psalms 96, 97 and 98 each hail God’s coming as the world’s king. But Psalms 96 and 98 soar with delight at what is in store for the world when God returns, while in Psalm 97 the frightening, awesome side of God’s kingly rule is emphasized. God’s rule is still something to be joyful about, but we are to be under no illusions as to what is involved. God’s rule will mean the confounding of all evil and the rule of perfect righteousness.
It is surprising how differently the psalm has been outlined. Marvin Tate divides it into two sections: verses 1-9 and 10-12. Derek Kidner has three sections: verses 1-5, 6-9 and 10-12. H. C. Leupold and J. J. Stewart Perowne each have four: verses 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Franz Delitzsch has five: verses 1-3, 4–6, 7-8, 9 and 10-12. The New International Version also has five divisions, but they are different: verses 1, 2-6, 7, 8-9 and 10-12. I will be following the New International Version in this study.
One reason I am following the NIV is that I think it is right in setting the first verse off by itself as a sort of theme statement for the psalm. It could be a theme verse for the entire block of kingly psalms: “The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.”
When we are talking about God’s “reign” what we are actually talking about is his sovereignty. It means that he has absolute authority and rule over his creation, and it is an attribute of deity without which God could not be God. Sovereignty involves other attributes, too. In order to be sovereign, God must also be all-knowing, all-powerful and absolutely free. If he were limited in any one of these areas, he would not be completely sovereign. If he did not know what was going on, he would be constantly taken by surprise. If he were not omnipotent, he would not be able to control events. If he were not absolutely free, his actions would be predetermined by some other will or by unavoidable circumstances. Yet the sovereignty of God is greater than any of the attributes it contains.
A little thought will show why this is so. We might think of love as being a greater attribute than sovereignty. But if God were not sovereign, he might love, but circumstances would arise to thwart his love, making it useless to us. It is the same with matters involving justice. If God were not sovereign, justice would be frustrated and injustice would prevail.
This means that God’s rule gives substances to all the other doctrines. It is, as Arthur W. Pink wrote, “the foundation of Christian theology… the center of gravity in the system of Christian truth—the sun around which all the lesser orbs are grouped.”1 It is also, as Psalm 97 is going to show, the believer’s strength and comfort amid the storms of this life.
1Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 263.
What aspect of God’s reign is brought out in this psalm?
What attribute of God is involved in sovereignty? Why is sovereignty necessary to other attributes?
What would happen if God were not sovereign? Why?
Read Psalms 96 and 98, then reread Psalm 97. How do the two psalms differ while addressing the same theme?
Application: How have you experienced the blessings of God’s sovereignty in your own life—through both good times and difficult ones?
For Further Study: Sometimes we do not understand God’s sovereignty, and why he chooses to act the way he does. For more on God’s dealings with us, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Amazing Ways of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)