God’s power – Psalm 97

The 4th book of Psalms

In the novel Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, Om, the great god, visits the Discworld*, only to find he is in the form of a small tortoise, he has none of his godly powers. Om has no power because the power of gods depends on the number of believers, and Om has only one true believer. The book parodies state religion and the influence of religion on government.

*The Discworld is a fantasy flat world in a long series of novels by Pratchett

A black and white picture of hands raised in worship.
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.

The layout is like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all round him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
    and burns up his adversaries all round.
His lightnings light up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    and all the peoples see his glory.

All worshippers of images are put to shame,
    who make their boast in worthless idols;
    worship him, all you gods!
Zion hears and is glad,
    and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
    because of your judgements, O Lord.
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
    you are exalted far above all gods.

10 O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
    He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
    and give thanks to his holy name!

Psalm 97 ESV UK

You would think that a psalmist would not agree with Pratchett’s hypothesis that a god only has power if people believe in the power of that god. That is true, says the psalmist,of the handcrafted gods. If someone believes that a god has power to zap them if they do some things, or do not do other things then that god has power over them,even if that god has no power at all. Even so in a large religion there are people who will enforce the rules. Scaring people to be part of your religion is not something I want any part in.

The glory of God is revealed

But this rule that the power of a god depends on how many people believe does not apply to God the god of Israel.

The first six verses are a coronation song. The king is not a human king over a nation, but God is king of all the nations, the many coastlands are invited to join the celebration. God is king for all, there is no one excluded. This psalm is believed by some scholars as a companion to Psalm 96 by the same author, but where Psalm 96 looks back at what God has done Psalm 97 looks to the future, though the imagery of God returning in cloud fire and lightning are drawn from the giving of the law on Mount Sinai during the Exodus.

Like Psalm 96 we have God’s righteousness and justice placed together. God will be fair with everyone when God judges on behalf of all people.He will set everything right and it will be glorious.

Responding to God’s glory

Verses 7 to 9 are about other gods. Nature responds to God but the peoples do not.The nations around Israel worshipped idols made of wood,stone and metal which have no power if no one believes in them. God, in contrast is greater than them not only by being more powerful and majestic, but that even if no one believes in God, it will not diminish his power. The plea goes out for everyone to follow God. Sing your hearts out all you who believe in the God of the universe, the God of all creation.

This is a happy song. Even among other people who disbelieve God’s people are joyful. We respond to God’s glory by rejoicing. Be happy.

Living in a world where people do not respond to God

There is no mention here of preaching about God. This is not a song of teaching but of proclamation,sing of what God can do. The psalm begins by calling God righteous because there is no fault in him,he is pure and holy. But the psalm ends with God’s people being called righteous,not because all their actions are pure but because God makes them righteous by forgiving them.

The context of this set of psalms in the restoration of the people to their homeland after two or three generations have been brought up in exile. Even in a foreign land God was with them and now back in their own land they are to hate the things that bad people do. Hate the bad deeds but not the people. This song never mentions hating people,it says that God is over all people and we have to proclaim the greatness of God among the people. We are not proclaiming a God who hates people but a God who loves them. Praise be to God.

< Psalm 96 | Psalm 97 | Psalm 98 >

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