Psalm 97:2

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 2. Clouds and darkness are round about him. So the Lord revealed himself at Sinai, so must he ever surround his essential Deity when he shows himself to the sons of men, or his excessive glory would destroy them. Every revelation of God must also be an obvelation; there must be a veiling of his infinite splendour if anything is to be seen by finite beings. It is often thus with the Lord in providence; when working out designs of unmingled love he conceals the purpose of his grace that it may be the more clearly discovered at the end. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing." Around the history of his church dark clouds of persecution hover, and an awful gloom at times settles down, still the Lord is there; and though men for a while see not the bright light in the clouds, it bursts forth in due season to the confusion of the adversaries of the gospel. This passage should teach us the impertinence of attempting to pry into the essence of the Godhead, the vanity of all endeavours to understand the mystery of the Trinity in Unity, the arrogance of arraigning the Most High before the bar of human reason, the folly of dictating to the Eternal One the manner in which he should proceed. Wisdom veils her face and adores the mercy which conceals the divine purpose; folly rushes in and perishes, blinded first, and by and by consumed by the blaze of glory.

Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. There he abides, he never departs from strict justice and right: his throne is fixed upon the rock of eternal holiness. Righteousness is His immutable attribute, and judgment marks his every act. What though we cannot see or understand what he doeth, yet we are sure that he will do no wrong to us or any of his creatures. Is not this enough to make us rejoice in him and adore him? Divine sovereignty is never tyrannical. Jehovah is an autocrat, but not a despot. Absolute power is safe in the hands of him who cannot err, or act unrighteously. When the roll of the decrees, and the books of the divine providence shall be opened, no eye shall there discern one word that should be blotted out, one syllable of error, one line of injustice, one letter of unholiness. Of none but the Lord of all can this be said.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 2. Clouds and darkness are round about him. The figurative language in the poetical parts of the Old Testament is frequently taken from the historical books, and refers to the facts therein recorded: thus the appearances of God to the saints and patriarchs in old times is the origin of the figure in our text. If you look at the history of these appearances, you will find they were all accompanied with clouds and darkness. The cloud of the Lord went before the children of Israel when they departed from the land of bondage. This cloud had a dark and bright side, and was a symbol of the divine presence. Thus it preceded the people in all their marches, as a pillar of fire by night, and of a cloud by day. When Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the house, and the priest could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the house. When God descended upon Mount Sinai, "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, upon the top of the mount" ( Exodus 19:16 Exodus 19:18 Exodus 19:20 ). When our Saviour was transfigured before three of his disciples, "a bright cloud overshadowed them", from which proceeded the voice of the Father, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." And Peter, who was present there, afterwards referring to the fact, says that the voice proceeded "from the excellent glory." Thus, in all the symbols of the divine presence, there was a mixture of splendour with darkness and obscurity. So it is in the operations of Providence: in a moral and figurative sense, we may say that clouds and darkness surround all the operations of divine power and wisdom.

Clouds are emblems of obscurity; darkness, of distress. The works of God's providence are often obscure and productive of distress to mankind, though righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. --Robert Hall.

Verse 2. Clouds and darkness are round about him. God doth govern the world mysteriously. As there are mysteries in the word, so in the works of God; dusnohta, "things hard to be understood", ( 2 Peter 3:16 ), many riddles which nonplus and puzzle men of the largest and most piercing intellectuals: "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take." Job 23:8-10 . God knoweth our ways, and counteth our steps; but the wisest of men do not know all God's ways. His way is frequently in the sea, and his chariots in the clouds; so that he is invisible, not only in his essence, but also in the design and tendence of his operations. Those that behold him with an eye of faith, do not yet see him with an eye of understanding, so as to discern his way, and whither he is going. Paul assures us, "His judgments are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out." Romans 11:33 . Some of them, indeed, are obvious, plain, and easy; we may upon the first view give a satisfactory account of them; we may read righteousness, equity, mercy, goodness, love, in them, because written in capital letters, and with such beams of light as he that runs may read them. But others of God's ways are dark and obscure, so that they are out of our reach and above our sight. He that goes about in them to trace God, may quickly lose himself. They are like that hand writing upon the wall, which none of Belshazzar's wise men could read or give the interpretation of ( Daniel 5:8 ). There are arcana imperii, "secrets of state and government", which are not fit to be made common. But this may be our comfort: -- though God doth not now give any account of his matters, nor is he obliged thereunto, yet he can give a very good and satisfactory account; and one day his people shall be led into the mystery; and, though many things which God doeth they know not now, yet they shall know them afterward; and when they know, they shall approve and admire both the things, and the reason, and the end. They shall then be perfectly reconciled to all providence, and see that all were worthy of God, and that in all he acted qeoprepwj, "as did highly become himself." --Samuel Slater (1704) in "The Morning Exercises."

Verse 2. How despicable soever Christ's kingdom may seem to the world, yet it is full of heavenly majesty: clouds and darkness are round about him. The glory of Christ's kingdom is unsearchable, and hid from the eyes of the world, who cannot take up the things of God, except he reveal himself to them, and do open the eyes of the understanding: "clouds and darkness are round about him." --David Dickson.

Verse 2. Darkness. This and the four following verses have a striking resemblance to the awful pomp of the march of God, as described Psalms 18:8-9 Psalms 68:8 . All the dread phenomena and meteoric array of nature are in attendance; thunder and lightning, and earthquakes and volcanoes, with streams of melting lava, like streams of melting wax. Yet all is justice and equity, joy, exultation, and glory; and the wicked alone -- the adversaries of Jehovah -- feel his judgments -- the host of idols and their brutish worshippers. -- John Mason Good.

Verse 2. Righteousness and judgment. Righteousness is the essential perfection of the Divine Being. It is his nature: if there had been no creatures for him to govern, he would have had an unchangeable and invincible love

of rectitude. Judgment is the application of the principle of righteousness in his government of his creatures and their actions; it is a development of his rectitude in the management of the affairs of his great empire; it is that super intendance over all, whereby the operations of all things are directed, to some vast and important end. Judgment implies measure and equity, in opposition to what is done without rule and consideration. All the divine conduct is equitable, regulated by rectitude, and everything is directed by a judgment that cannot err. --Robert Hall.

Verse 2. Righteousness and judgment, etc. When the mercy and grace of our heavenly King are to be described, he is likened to the sun shining in a clear firmament, and gladdening universal nature with his beneficent ray. But when we are to conceive an idea of him, as going forth, in justice and judgment, to discomfit and punish his adversaries, the imagery is then borrowed from a troubled sky; he is pictured as surrounded by clouds and darkness; from whence issue lightnings and thunders, storms and tempests, fear and confounding the wicked and the impenitent. --Samuel Burder.

Verse 2. The Lord manages his kingdom and government with perfect equity. Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. Righteousness, whereby he preserves, saves, and rewards the good; judgment, whereby he punishes, confounds, and destroys the wicked: these are the habitation of his throne, his tribunal, his seat of judicature. These are the basis or foundation, which give unto his throne rectitudinem et stabilitatem, "rectitude and establishment." His throne is established in righteousness, and "the sceptre of his kingdom is a right sceptre:" though there be clouds, yet no blemishes; though darkness, yet no deformities: Psalms 92:15 . Ever since the creation, all things have been done with that unreproveable exactness, that if the world were to begin again, and the affairs of it to be acted over again, there should not be an alteration in a tittle. All hath been so well, that nothing can be mended. Those dark and obscure passages of Providence, at which good men are startled, and by which all men are posed, are most excellent and curious strokes, and as so many well placed shades, which commend the work and admirably set off the beauty of Providence. --Samuel Slater.

Verse 2.

Jove's firm decree, tho' wrapped in night,
Beams midst the gloom a constant light;
Man's fate obscure in darkness lies,
Not to be pierced by mortal eyes:
The just resolves of his high mind
A glorious consummation find;
Though in majestic state enthroned
Thick clouds and dark enclose him round,
As from the tower of heaven his eye
Surveys man's bold impiety;
Till his ripe wrath on vengeance bent,
He arms each god for punishment,
And from his high and holy throne
Sends all his awful judgments down. --Aeschylus (R. Potter's translation, 1808.)