Beckett: Rejoice in God, O You His Saints

Psalm 97
Yahweh reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before Yahweh, before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory.
All worshipers 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 Yahweh.
For You, O Yahweh, are most high over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.
O you who love Yahweh, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in Yahweh, O you righteous, and give thanks to His holy name!

At the beginning of this psalm, the psalter is describing how God appears when He shows Himself on earth, using the imagery from the Torah when God showed up on Mt. Sinai. “These words Yahweh spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice” (Deuteronomy 5:22).

This is why it makes no sense that evangelicals, with their mystical contemporary music, wish for God to show them His glory. If God showed shows you His glory, you’ll die. For His glory is as it appeared on Mt. Sinai: clouds and thick darkness, a massive fire, shooting lightning, which melts mountains like a fire melts the wax of a candle. The people of Israel were smart enough to know God’s appearance would kill them, which is why they asked Moses to speak to them rather than God lest they, too, melt like wax before Yahweh (Exodus 20:19).

Israel saw God’s glory on the mountain, which is why the psalter can say, “all the peoples see His glory” (v. 6). They saw His glory and they were terrified. God could have protected Israel from annihilation just as He protected when He spoke to him on the mountain, yet Israel was so terrified that they hadn’t even considered this. This theophany of God the psalter recalls is a testament to God’s omnipotence. Since His mere appearance can destroy living creatures and melt the mountains like wax, it logically stands that He is “most high over all the earth” (v. 9), for no one else is like this.

What does all this have to do with you and me? After all, we were not there at Mt. Sinai; and we are not Jews, so this particular theophany of God cannot mean much for us. Well, the last three verses is what this psalm has to do with us:

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

vv. 10-12

Here, the psalter is speaking to God’s saints—the righteous and upright in heart. This is us; indeed, the universal Church throughout all of time.

This psalm doesn’t seem to have a logical progression. It begins with the call to rejoice in a single verse (v. 1), then it moves to the theophany (vv. 2-5), God’s omnipotence (vv. 6-9), and then it ends with the psalter’s call to God’s saints to hate evil and rejoice in God (vv. 10-12). This is not a very logical progression, for what does each stanza have to do with the other? Almost nothing.

This shouldn’t be so surprising because this is a poem, and poems don’t ordinarily follow a logical progression like an essay, sermon, or epistle does. This is why themes and repetition are key to reading the Psalms.

For example, in this psalm, the psalter begins and ends with the call to rejoice, though there is a difference in both calls. In the first call, the psalter calls the earth to rejoice and subsequently moves to God’s theophany in the midst of creation to show His omnipotence over creation. Then he calls on God’s saints to rejoice in Him, which comes right after God’s omnipotence over the false gods that people worship.

What ought we to conclude from this psalm, then? In this psalm, we have a display of God’s almighty glory—a thing to be utterly feared by all things in the earth, creatures and human creatures alike. While God’s glory is certainly to be feared, the proper response the psalter calls the reader to is to rejoice in God. That is, rejoice, for this Almighty God is our God. God reigns not only over you, but also for you.

Because God reigns for you, He promises to deliver you from the wicked. This was ultimately accomplished in God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, who was delivered over to death for our iniquities, who through faith bestows upon us His life, light, and joy.

Therefore, rejoice, O ye His saints! For God has delivered us from our sins and shall deliver us from all evil upon Christ’s imminent return!

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