Psalm 97

The Glory of the Lord

When you think of heaven, what images come to mind?

Heaven, a place of clouds and angels with harps. St. Peter stands at the gates overlooking the Book of Life as he interviews the recently deceased. While these popular images of the hereafter might bring amusement and some comfort, do they really portray heaven as the Bible does?

A Scriptural image of heaven would center on the throne of God. From the writings of Daniel, though the Psalms, into the New Testament and Revelations, biblical writers saw heaven as God's royal court that surrounded his throne. In any kingdom, the throne was the center of power, for, with the king on his throne, he became the nation's executive, legislator, and supreme judge. The image of God on his throne would be natural for these ancient writers, for God created, controlled, and redeemed the cosmos.

1 YHWH reigns!
Let the earth rejoice!
Let the multitude of islands be glad!
2 Clouds and darkness are around him.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 A fire goes before him,
and burns up his adversaries on every side.
4 His lightning lights up the world.
The earth sees, and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of YHWH,
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
6 The heavens declare his righteousness.
All the peoples have seen his glory.

World English Bible

Psalm 97 began with praise from creation and ended from the righteous. The earth praised God for his glory and the righteous praised him for his justice. Notice the ideas of creation and justice are linked. Think of the revelation at Mt. Sinai. YHWH demonstrated his power through the natural phenomena of lighting, thunder, and earthquakes; he also demonstrated his power through the gift of his Law and covenant. Psalm 97:2-6 wove these concepts together; God's throne was built on justice and righteousness (97:2b), the heavens proclaimed his justice.

7 Let all them be shamed who serve engraved images,
who boast in their idols.
Worship him, all you gods!
8 Zion heard and was glad.
The daughters of Judah rejoiced,
because of your judgments, YHWH.
9 For you, YHWH, are most high above all the earth.
You are exalted far above all gods.
10 You who love YHWH, hate evil.
He preserves the souls of his saints.
He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
and gladness for the upright in heart.
12 Be glad in YHWH, you righteous people!
Give thanks to his holy Name.

97:7-11 compared the lives of the righteous vs. the evil. God's justice (found in his Law) created the conditions for right living; implicitly, the psalmist used the wisdom of the Law as a reason to declare God "above all other gods," for his righteous judgements were so above that any other deities. Idolaters were shamed by the glory of God because "their gods bowed before the Lord." The nation rejoiced; the faithful would be preserved because of God's judgements.

For the Jew, the glory of God was the demonstration of his activity through nature, throughout their history, and through his Law. One cannot separate God's creative power from his justice. Both are part of his revelation.

The popular view of heaven might be clouds, angels, and the Pearly Gates, but at the center of that view is life with God. That is a life where God's omnipotence and his justice are one and the same. His power and his justice are his true glory.

Reflect on a life in the hereafter. How would you approach the presence of God? What images come to mind?