Theme: Worship the Lord Only
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
The translators of the New International Version are the only scholars I know who have set verse 7 apart by itself. But I think they are right in this, just as they are also right in setting verse 1 apart. The point of verse 7 is that if Jehovah really is as the previous stanza has described him, then he is unique in these qualities and is in fact the only true God. There is a problem with verse 7, however, and it is this: How can the psalmist call upon the gods of the heathen, the idols presumably, to worship God (“Worship him, all you gods!”)? Mere idols are nothing; they cannot worship. Even if the psalmist is thinking of the demon gods and goddesses that stood behind the pagan idols, how can he suppose that they, the demons, would ever praise the God against whom they have rebelled? This question is discussed at length by the great Puritan theologian John Owen.1 He suggests three options.
First, the appeal could be to the nations that worship idols with the meaning, “Worship him, all you who serve idols. Turn from these false gods to the true God.” This is the meaning given to verse 7 by the rabbis, whose thoughts are preserved in the Jewish Targums. They understood that the gods of the heathen were nothing and therefore reinterpreted the psalm to have a missionary meaning.
Second, the appeal could be to the magistrates or rulers of the people, for the word elohim that occurs here (translated “gods”) sometimes has that meaning in other places. This was the way Jesus interpreted elohim when he was accused of blasphemy because he had called himself the Son of God. He referred his accusers to Psalm 82:6, saying, “If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:35, 36).
The third possibility, which Owen preferred and the New International Version probably also favors by its straightforward translation, is that “gods” refers to angels. This makes good sense, and it may even be the case that this is the verse referred to by Hebrews 1:6, which says, “When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” However, that verse is usually assumed by scholars to be a citation of Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) version, which speaks of angels, although the Hebrew and English texts do not.
The angels do worship God, of course. At least the holy angels do. They praise God without ceasing. The problem is not there. The problem is with us who worship idols, even though we know they are “nothing at all in the world” (1 Cor. 8:4) and that there is only one true God. What are our idols? They are idols of self, power, fame, sex and money. The people of the world sell their souls to these idols constantly.
Christians sometimes appear to serve them too. Why is that? Why do we appear to serve these “lesser gods”? Probably it is because we know so little of the true God! And the reason we know so little of the true God is that we spend so little time with him. How foolish for us who have the Word of God, the Bible, and who possess the Holy Spirit who has been given to us to help us understand the Bible and obey it. Psalm 119 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (v. 11). And again, “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (v. 104).
1For a short summary of his study see Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), pp. 204, 205.
Why is verse 7 set apart?
What are three explanations for how to understand verse 7?
Why might a Christian appear to serve a lesser god?
Observation: Sometimes it is instructive to compare various translations of Scripture.
Reflection: Do you do battle with idols? What are they? Why do they appeal to you?
Application: Resolve to spend time with the Lord the next time you feel tempted.