Psalm 97 Some Thoughts on Structure

Psalm 97 is in the midst of the Enthronement Psalms (93-99). At the beginning (93:1) middle (96:10; 97:1) and end (99:1) of the unit is the declaration, “The Lord reigns.” His throne is an eternal throne (93:2). He is the judge of the earth (94:2). He is the great King above all gods (95:3; 97:9) who is greatly to be praised (96:4). His sanctuary is one of splendor and majesty (96:6) where he is worshipped as King with trumpets and horns (98:6).

The simplest way to divide Psalm 97 is right in half.[1] Artur Weiser sees verses 1-6 describing the theophany of the Lord while verses 7-12 describe the results of that theophany. Such a division is true to the text and I would only make the very modest revision of identifying verses 1 and 12 as prescript and postscript enjoining praise to the appearing Lord.

More commentators see three divisions in the text. W. Stewart McCollough and James L. Mays identify 1-5; 6-9; 10-12 as sections while Mitchell Dahood follows the same but includes verse 6 with the first instead of second section.

Willem VanGemeren goes a step further and sees a four-part chiastic structure of:

A: The revelation of YHWH’s glory (1-6)

B: Exhortation to worship (7)

B’: Zion’s Worship (8-9)

A’: The effects of  YHWH’s glorious rule (10-12)

As far as the over-all structure I think Weiser’s fits best with what is going on the text. Yet seeing the evident symmetry of verses 1 and 12 I pursued the possibility of a more developed chiastic structure and arrived at the following:

1  The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!

2  Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

3  Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.

4  His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
5  The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.

6  The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

7  All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

8  Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice,  because of your judgments, O LORD.

9  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!

Some brief notes concerning the pairings:

Verses 1+12 A call to rejoice in the Lord

Verses 2+11 Contrast of light and darkness; righteousness is foundation of Lord’s throne and light and joy are given to the righteous

Verses 3+10 The Lord destroys his adversaries and protects his saints

Verses 4,5+9 All the earth trembles before the Lord who is exalted over all the earth

Verses 6+8 Heaven proclaims and the righteous hear

Verse 7 Worship the true Lord

 Some issues with this structure:

The pairing of verses 4 and 5. I kept these two verses together because of the shared themes of “the world,” “the earth,” “all the earth;” and the similar ideas of “trembling” and “melt like wax.”

It is very tempting to make verses 7 and 8 as the joint-center since they contrast the response of the wicked and the righteous to the appearing of the Lord.


[1] Marvin Tate also sees two divisions, but identifies them as 1-9 and 10-12.

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How do I know if I am being led by the Holy Spirit? Counsel from Wilhelmus á Brakel

At the conclusion of volume 2 of The Christian’s Reasonable Service Wilhelmus á Brakel appends a lengthy treatment entitled “A Warning Against a Natural and Spiritless Religion.” á Brakel confronts the reader with the hard truth that men can live morally and rightly yet still be cut off from eternal life. In the midst of that discussion he offers six indications of the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer:

1)      Man has his own spirit; there are many seducing spirits, and the evil spirit can transform himself into an angel of light. He, with the intent to deceive, can give thoughts which are essentially good, but stir man up to use them in an erroneous manner. We must therefore give heed and know by which spirit we are being moved.[1]

2)      The Holy Spirit convinces man of sin and causes him to grieve, be perplexed, and in many ways be troubled about his sin.[2]

3)      The man who is conquered by the Holy Spirit will be regenerated and translated from darkness to light, from death to life, and from being earthly minded to being heavenly minded.[3]

4)      The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of faith who brings God’s children to Christ, causing them to receive Jesus by a true faith as their ransom and righteousness.[4]

5)      The Holy Spirit unites His children and keeps them united to the church, for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13).[5]

6)      The Holy Spirit leads believers in all things according to the Word of God; He leads them into all truth. The Word of God is truth, however, and the only rule by which we shall not err. By that Word he regenerates, sanctifies, leads, and comforts them.[6]

Know then with certainty that where these matters are not found, there God’s Spirit is not present. Be assured that whatever is deemed to be spiritual but which does not harmonize with the above, is nothing but illusory and are seductions of a man’s own spirit.

As you consider these words you will hopefully come to realize one thing a person being led by the Holy Spirit will not speak much about: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gets the credit for many a foolish and sinful act. Who is to argue against, “I just felt led by the Spirit….”? You are to argue against, for the very reasons listed above.

There are powerful and mysterious forces at work in all men, but this is not necessarily the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes your sin large in your eyes. If you do not have a growing awareness of your own sin, the Spirit is not at work. The Spirit reveals sin to you in order to show Christ as even greater. If your love for Christ and his work is not increasing, the Spirit is not at work. By making Christ great in your eyes you will be led to a greater desire for fellowship with Christ’s body: the church. If you are not seeking increasing fellowship and participation in a local church, the Spirit is not at work. The Spirit does all this work with, through, and toward the Word of God. He is the Spirit of truth, not the Spirit of hunch. If you are not growing in your study, knowledge, and application of Scripture, the Spirit is not at work.


[1] [Note: all footnoted Scripture references are added by me] Prov. 16:25; Ps. 36:1-2; Jer. 17:9; Luke 18:9-11; 1 John 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:14

[2] John 16:8-11; 2 Cor. 7:10

[3] 1 Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:4-7

[4] John 16:13-15; 2 Cor. 3:17-18; 1 John 5:6

[5] Eph. 2:18-22; 4:1-6

[6] John 14:26; 16:13; 17:17; 1 Cor. 2:9-12; Eph. 5:26; 1 John 2:22-27

Wisdom from my fathers: Cyprian On the Mortality

It disturbs some that this mortality is common to us with others; and yet what is there in this world which is not common to us with others, so long as this flesh of ours still remains, according to the law of our first birth, common to us with them? So long as we are here in the world, we are associated with the human race in fleshly equality, but are separated in spirit. Therefore until this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal receive immortality, and the Spirit lead us to God the Father, whatsoever are the disadvantages of the flesh are common to us with the human race. Thus, when the earth is barren with an unproductive harvest, famine makes no distinction; thus, when with the invasion of an enemy any city is taken, captivity at once desolates all; and when the serene clouds withhold the rain, the drought is alike to all; and when the jagged rocks rend the ship, the shipwreck is common without exception to all that sail in her; and the disease of the eyes, and the attack of fevers, and the feebleness of all the limbs is common to us with others, so long as this common flesh of ours is borne by us in the world.

Unless the battle has preceded, there cannot be a victory: when there shall have been, in the onset of battle, the victory, then also the crown is given to the victors. For the helmsman is recognized in the tempest; in the warfare the soldier is proved. It is a wanton display when there is no danger. Struggle in adversity is the trial of the truth.

Why, then, do we pray and ask that the kingdom of heaven may come, if the captivity of earth delights us.

There is no advantage in setting forth virtue by our words, and destroying the truth by our deeds.

We regard paradise as our country—we already begin to consider the patriarchs as our parents: why do we not hasten and run, that we may behold our country, that we may greet our parents?

The preceding words are all from the treatise On the Mortality by Cyprian of Carthage. The occasion of the treatise was an outbreak of a plague. The treatise offers good medicine to one of the ills of the Western church: the idea that God wants you to be, and even promises you will be, healthy and prosperous. Cyprian demonstrates the Scriptural, theological, and logical reasons such thinking must be abandoned.

John Calvin on Creation and the Problem of Evolution

Although we are convinced that our wit is so weak that it is pitiful, we will not give up the foolish opinion that we are wise. But when we are brought before God we are driven to know that we are nothing and that we must not deceive ourselves by our own self-worth. See how Job sets God before us here. So we would know the wisdom that is in him alone he also sets the creation of the world before our eyes. Are men so sharp-witted as to comprehend all God’s secrets? To know how he disposes the order of nature and how he has, as it were, weighed the winds and waters and other things? It is true, as I have said, that philosophers have well-conceived the reason of things that are seen in this world. But when men come to the creation, it is so wonderful a thing that they must be brought low and reverence the infinite wisdom of God and confess themselves unable to comprehend it.

John Calvin, First Sermon on Job 28:10-28

 

While obviously not addressing it, Calvin here lays his finger on the greatest problem of all evolutionary interpretations of Genesis 1-2. The normal, traditional, historical, interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (and passages like Ex. 20:9-11; Job 38; Ps. 33:6,9; 148; Is. 45:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5; Rev. 4:11) is that God made all things in moments of time over the course of six 24-hour days. The more one studies the universe and all that is in it, the more one is amazed at such an assertion; and the more one is utterly confounded at such a God. Which is precisely the point of Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

This is the point that Calvin makes in commenting on Job 28, and it is the point that God himself makes in Job 38. Special creation, literal interpretation, Creation science, young-earth interpretation- whatever term you wish to use- has an exalted view of God for a foundation. Such a method of interpretation lifts man’s eyes up to God only to result in man being brought low in worshipful wonder.

Theistic evolution, whether known as day-age, analogical days, literary framework, gap theory, all do just the opposite. They bring God down to man and tell him, “See, he works just like us. He just makes bigger stuff.”

We are told that Genesis 1-2 is not meant to teach ­how God created the universe, but only that he did. Yeah, because without Genesis 1-2 we would have absolutely NO idea where the world came from.

1Chronicles 16:26  For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Nehemiah 9:6  “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Job 38:4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

Psalm 8:3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

Psalm 89:11-12  The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.  12  The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.

Psalm 96:5  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Psalm 102:25  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Psalm 104:24  O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 115:15  May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8  Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134:3  May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 136:3-9  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;  4  to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Psalm 146:5-6  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;

Pro 3:19  The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens;

Isaiah 37:16  “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Isaiah 40:26  Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Isaiah 40:28  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 42:5  Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:

Isaiah 44:24  Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Jeremiah 10:12  It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Jeremiah 32:17  ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

Jeremiah 51:15  “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Zechariah 12:1  The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:

Acts 4:24  And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,

Acts 14:15  “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 17:24  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,

Ephesians 3:9  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Colossians 1:16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.

Hebrews 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Revelation 10:6  and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay,

Revelation 14:7  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Yes, obviously without Genesis 1-2 we would certainly be in the dark about where all things came. No, I think that Genesis 1-2 might want to teach us a little more than the simple fact that God created all things.

Then we are told that such “non-literal” interpretations do believe in a wondrous God. We are told that they look at the billions of years such an evolutionary process took and can be amazed at such wonderful care and patient providence of a God so meticulously guiding processes of change.

So we are at a theological impasse. I believe in a big powerful God who created all things in mere moments with just the word of his mouth. You believe in a wonderfully meticulous artisan God who guides all things. Who is to say which of us has a “better” view of God?

But it is a false dichotomy. Everything they believe about God, I do too: except for the billions of years.

Because “My help comes from the LORD, who patiently guided billions of millennia of death and mutation” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

In some things there is great joy in being a dimwit.