What was to be said among the heathen in the foregoing psalm (Ps. 96:10) is here said again (Ps. 97:1) and is made the subject of this psalm, and of Ps. 99:1-9. The Lord reigns; that is the great truth here laid down. The Lord Jehovah reigns, he that made the world governs it; he that gave being gives motion and power, gives law and commission, gives success and event. Every man’s judgment proceeds from the Lord, from his counsel and providence, and in all affairs, both public and private, he performs the thing which he himself has appointed. The Lord Jesus reigns; the providential kingdom is twisted in with the mediatorial and the administration of both is in the hand of Christ, who therefore is both the head of the church and head over all things to the church. The kingdom of Christ is so constituted that,
I. It may be matter of joy to all; and it will be so if it be not their own fault. Let the earth rejoice, for hereby it is established (Ps. 96:10); it is honoured and enriched, and, in part, rescued from the vanity which by sin it is made subject to. Not only let the people of Israel rejoice in him as King of the Jews, and the daughter of Zion as her King, but let all the earth rejoice in his elevation; for the kingdoms of the world shall, more or less, sooner or later, become his kingdoms: Let the multitude of isles, the many or great isles, be glad thereof. This is applicable to our country, which is a great isle, and has many belonging to it; at least, it speaks comfort in general to the Gentiles, whose countries are called the isles of the Gentiles, Gen. 10:5. There is enough in Christ for the multitude of the isles to rejoice in; for, though many have been made happy in him, yet still there is room. All have reason to rejoice in Christ’s government. 1. In the equity of it. There is an incontestable justice in all the acts of his government, both legislative and judicial. Sometimes indeed clouds and darkness are round about him; his dispensations are altogether unaccountable; his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters. We are not aware of what he designs, what he drives at; nor is it fit that we should be let into the secrets of his government. There is a depth in his counsels, which we must not pretend to fathom. But still righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne; a golden thread of justice runs through the whole web of his administration. In this he resides, for it is his habitation. In this he rules, for it is the habitation of his throne. His commandments are, and will be, all righteous. Righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne (so Dr. Hammond); for therefore his throne is for ever and ever, because his sceptre is a right sceptre, Ps. 45:6. The throne is established in righteousness. Even the heavens declare his righteousness (Ps. 97:6); it is as conspicuous and as illustrious as the heavens themselves. The angels of heaven will declare it, who are employed as messengers in the administration of his government and therefore know more of it than any of his creatures. His righteousness is incontestable; for who can contradict or dispute what the heavens declare? Ps. 50:6. 2. In the extent of it in the upper and lower world. (1.) All the men on earth are under his government; either he is served by them or he serves himself by them. All the people see his glory, or may see it. The glory of God, in the face of Christ, was made to shine in distant countries, among many people, more or less among all people; the gospel was preached, for aught we know, in all languages, Acts 2:5, 11. Miracles were wrought in all nations, and so all the people saw his glory. Have they not heard? Rom. 10:18. (2.) All the angels in heaven are so. Perhaps we should not have found this truth in those words (Ps. 97:7), Worship him, all you gods, if we had not been directed to it by the inspired apostle, who, from the Septuagint version of those words, makes the Messiah to be introduced into the upper world at the ascension with this charge (Heb. 1:6), Let all the angels of God worship him, which helps us to a key to this whole psalm, and shows us that it must be applied to the exalted Redeemer, who has gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God, which intimates that all power is given him both in heaven and earth, angels, authorities, and powers, being made subject unto him, 1 Pet. 3:22. This speaks the honour of Christ, that he has such worshippers, and the honour of all good Christians, that they have such fellow-worshippers.
II. Christ’s government, though it may be matter of joy to all, will yet be matter of terror to some, and it is their own fault that it is so, Ps. 97:3-5, 7. Observe,
1. When the kingdom of Christ was to be set up in the world, after his ascension, it would meet with many enemies, and much opposition would be given to it. He that reigns, to the joy of the whole earth, yet, as he has his subjects, so he has his enemies (Ps. 97:3), that not only will not have him to reign over them, but would not have him to reign at all, that not only will not enter into the kingdom of heaven themselves, but do all they can to hinder those that are entering, Matt. 23:13. This was fulfilled in the enmity of the unbelieving Jews to the gospel of Christ, and the violent persecution which in all places they stirred up against the preachers and professors of it. These enemies are here called hills (Ps. 97:5), for their height, and strength, and immovable obstinacy. It was the princes of this world that crucified the Lord of glory, 1 Cor. 2:8; Ps. 2:2.
2. The opposition which the Jews gave to the setting up of Christ’s kingdom turned to their own ruin. Their persecuting the apostles, and forbidding them to speak to the Gentiles, filled up their sin, and brought wrath upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thess. 2:15, 16. That wrath is here compared, (1.) To consuming fire, which goes before him, and burns up his enemies, that have made themselves like chaff and stubble, and have set the briers and thorns before him in battle, Isa. 27:4. This fire of divine wrath will not only burn the rubbish upon the hills, but will even melt the hills themselves like wax, Ps. 97:5. When our God appears as a consuming fire even rocks will be wax before him. The most resolute and daring opposition will be baffled at the presence of the Lord. His very presence is enough to shame and sink it, for he is the Lord of the whole earth, by whom all the children of men are manageable and to whom they are accountable. Men hate and persecute God’s people, because they think him absent, that the Lord has forsaken the earth; but, when he manifests his presence, they melt. (2.) To amazing lightnings (Ps. 97:4), which strike a terror upon many. The judgments God brought upon the enemies of Christ’s kingdom were such as all the world took notice of with terror: The earth saw and trembled, and the ears of all that heard were made to tingle. This was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation by the Romans, about forty years after Christ’s resurrection, which, like fire, wholly destroyed that people, and, like lightning, astonished all their neighbours (Deut. 29:24); but the heavens declare God’s righteousness in it, and all the people, to this day, see his glory, in those lasting monuments of his justice, the scattered Jews.
3. Idolaters also would be put to confusion by the setting up of Christ’s kingdom (Ps. 97:7): Confounded be all those who serve graven images, the Gentile world, who did service to those that by nature are no gods (Gal. 4:8), who boasted themselves of idols as their protectors and benefactors. Did those that served idols boast of them, and shall the servants of the living God distrust him, or be ashamed of him? Let those be ashamed that serve graven images. (1.) This is a prayer for the conversion of the Gentiles, that those who have been so long serving dumb idols may be convinced of their error, ashamed of their folly, and may, by the power of Christ’s gospel, be brought to serve the only living and true God, and may be as much ashamed of their idols as ever they were proud of them. See Isa. 2:20, 21. (2.) This is a prophecy of the ruin of those that would not be reformed and reclaimed from their idolatry; they shall be confounded by the destruction of Paganism in the Roman empire, which was fulfilled about 300 years after Christ, so much to the terror of idolaters that some think it was the revolution under Constantine that made even the mighty men say to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us, Rev. 6:15, 16. This prayer and prophecy are still in force against antichristian idolaters, who may here read their doom: Confounded be all those that worship graven images, Ps. 97:7. See Jer. 48:13.