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It is written:
Psalm 97:7-Let all be put to shame who serve carved images, Who boast of idols. Worship Him, all you gods.
Psalm 97 is a Psalm which describes the one true and eternal God (Yahweh) and His beauty and transcendence over the Creation. In verse 7, we learn some amazing things about God and His relationship to the “gods.”
First, the text identifies the “God” of the passage as the One Who made the Earth and the Heavens , and Who brings judgments of righteousness upon the Creation (Psalm 97:1-6). This God is set in contrast to the “gods.” It is similar to other passages in the Psalms where God is set in contrast to the “gods.”
Psalm 82:1-God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.
Psalm 86:8-Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works.
Psalm 95:3-For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods.
Psalm 96:4-5-For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens.
Psalm 97:9-For You, LORD, are most high above all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.
Psalm 135:5-For I know that the LORD is great, And our Lord is above all gods.
Psalm 136:2-Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever.
Psalm 138:1-A Psalm Of David. I will praise You with my whole heart; Before the gods I will sing praises to You.
In all of these passages, we see a clear distinction between “God” and the “gods.” The main difference is seen in that Yahweh is the eternal God (the fully self-sufficient God Who always has existed, is existing, and Who always will exist-see Exodus 3:14) while the other “gods” are not eternal but were created.
Second, notice the association between these “gods” and idols. An idol in the Bible was seen as a sort of abiding place of evil spirits. It is a mistake to think of an “idol” as simply a lifeless statue that the people of the Old Testament times bowed down to. No, it was understood that an idol was a sort of gateway to the spirit world (cf. Psalm 106:37-38).
Heiser has noted:
“This imaginary line is one that the LXX crosses quite transparently. 29 Recall that our earlier table indicated that the LXX translates benê ʾelōhı̂m (“sons of God”) in Deuteronomy 32:8 as angelōn theou (“angels of God”), but uses plural forms of theos elsewhere when the gods allotted to the nations are mentioned (Deut 17:3; 29:26; Ps 82:1, 6). 30 In Deuteronomy 32:17 these gods ( ʾelōhı̂m ) are described as šēdı̂m , guardian spirits. The LXX chooses to translate šēdı̂m of Deuteronomy 32:17 with daimonion but also refers to these same beings as gods ( theoi ): They sacrificed to demons ( daimoniois ) and not to God, to gods ( theois ) whom they had not known ( LES ). The vocabulary is neither inconsistent nor confused. There is no effort on the part of the translators to deny the reality of the divine beings allotted to the nations, or perhaps make them less than gods by calling them daimonion . LXX Deuteronomy 32:17 shows the flaw in such thinking. The following instances of daimonion are instructive in this regard. The ʾelōhı̂m/šēdı̂m allotted to the nations are daimoniois (“demons”) in Deuteronomy 32:17. The LXX translator made the same translation choice in the only other Old Testament passage where we find šēdı̂m (Ps 106:37; LXX Ps 105:37). LXX Psalm 95:5 (Heb. 96:5) reads, “For all the gods ( theoi ; Heb. ʾelōhı̂m ) of the nations are demons ( daimonia ), but the Lord made the heavens” ( LES ). Here the LXX chose to translate Hebrew ʾelōhı̂m literally, but the ensuing term is not šēdı̂m but ʾĕlı̂lı̂m (“idols”). The Hebrew Bible here draws a close association between the spirit beings and the objects of worship they were believed to inhabit. In ancient Near Eastern thought, the two were not the same, though closely associated. Construing this as meaning that the biblical writers thought the gods of the nations were merely handmade objects does not reflect the reality of ancient beliefs about idols. Michael Dick, whose research focuses on idolatry in the ancient Near East, cites ancient texts that reveal the idol maker using deity language for the idol that he made with his own hands while still maintaining a conceptual distinction between the image he made and the deity it represented. The deity would come to reside in the statue, but it was distinct from the statue. Dick notes one occasion where “the destruction of the statue of Shamash of Sippar was not regarded as the death of Shamash. Indeed, Shamash could still be worshiped.” 31 Gay Robins, another scholar of ancient cult objects and idolatry, explains the conceptual distinction between deity and image maintained in the ancient Near Eastern worldview: When a non-physical being manifested in a statue, this anchored the being in a controlled location where living human beings could interact with it through ritual performance.… In order for human beings to interact with deities and to persuade them to create, renew, and maintain the universe, these beings had to be brought down to earth.… This interaction had to be strictly controlled in order to avoid both the potential dangers of unrestricted divine power and the pollution of the divine by the impurity of the human world. While the ability of deities to act in the visible, human realm was brought about through their manifestation in a physical body, manifestation in one body did not in any sense restrict a deity, for the non-corporeal essence of a deity was unlimited by time and space, and could manifest in all its “bodies,” in all locations, all at one time. 32 The point is that, for ancient people—including Israelites—gods and their idols were closely related but not identical. This is important because Paul cites Deuteronomy 32:17 in 1 Corinthians 10:21–22 to warn the Corinthians about fellowshipping with demons. Paul obviously believed daimonia were real. Paul would not be contradicting the supernatural worldview of his Bible.” (Michael S. Heiser, Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness, 1068-1100 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added M.T.): Bellingham, WA; Lexham Press)
Indeed, when we look carefully at the grammar of this text, we see that the gods themselves in Psalm 97:7 are identified as real beings:
“Interestingly, using a wordplay on idols (’ ĕlîlîm) and gods (’ ĕlōhîm), the psalmist calls on the gods themselves to worship the true God. The gods represented by the idols do not deserve praise; they should worship the true God. In this conception, the gods are real (see also Pss 82; 95: 3), but they are spiritual beings (angels and demons) created by the true God.” (Tremper Longman, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 344 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press, USA)
Third, we see that the “gods”of this passage who are instructed to worship Yahweh are angels (created beings/messengers)! We see this clearly because the Greek Old Testament (LXX) of this verse is quoted in Hebrews chapter one, where the Hebrew phrase elohim (gods) is rendered as angelos (angels).
Hebrews 1:6-But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.”
Angels are sometimes identified as “gods” (elohim) in the Bible. The word “elohim” did not always have reference to a personal Name for Yahweh; instead, it could have several different meanings (depending on context).
Fourth, there is something interesting about the translation of this passage in Psalms that the Jewish rabbis noted. John Gill has this fascinating note on the Rabbinic interpretations of this Psalm:
“So Aben Ezra on the place observes, that there are some (meaning their doctors) who say, that ‘all the gods are the angels’; and Kimchi says, that the words are not imperative, but are in the past tense, instead of the future, all the angels have worshipped him; that is, they shall worship him; as they have done, so they will do.” (John Gill, Commentary On Hebrews 1:6).
So, some of the Jewish rabbis taught that Psalm 97:7 was speaking of how the “angels” had worshipped God in the past, and would do so again. Yet what is fascinating is this: in Psalm 97:6-7, reference seems to be made not only to the faithful angels of God, but to the fallen angels (i.e., the ones that are associated with those who worship idols and false gods) as well! So we come to consider this interesting translation of the passage:
Psalm 97:7 (The Passion Translation)-Shame covers all who boast in other gods, for they worship idols. For all the supernatural powers once worshiped the true and living God.
Notice the Passion Translation rendering, “for all the supernatural powers once worshipped the true and living God.” The Jewish rabbis who well knew the Hebrew language seem to throw their support towards the “powers” worshiping and extolling Yahweh in the past (before they rebelled against Him). Thus we see another powerful evidence not only of the existence of these “supernatural powers,” but also the fact that they at one time acknowledged Yahweh as their Creator and God.
Fifth, it should not be lost on us that this passage is seen in the Apostle Paul’s quotation (Hebrews 1:6) to be a Messianic prophecy. This is a reminder to us that not only the angels of God (both faithful and fallen) have in times past recognized Jesus as Creator and Lord, but that they will one Day bow before Him either in repentance or judgement. Indeed, Paul makes this plain throughout his inspired Writings (cf. Colossians 1:15-20).
Finally, this passage in the 97th Psalm is a prayer that the inspired Psalmist prays on behalf of those who are enslaved to these fallen angels and demonic forces. He is praying that their eyes will be opened to see their need to turn to the one true eternal Lord God of Creation.
“That is, the Gentile world, who did service to them who by nature were no gods, Galatians 4: 8 . Let them be ashamed of their former folly herein, and be thereby brought to detest and forsake their idols. Thus interpreted, the words are a prayer for the conversion of the Gentiles, that those who had been so long serving dumb idols might be convinced of their error, ashamed of their folly, and might be brought, by the power of Christ’s gospel, to serve the only living and true God, and be as much ashamed of their idols as ever they were proud of them, Isaiah 2: 20-21” (Joseph Benson, Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, 4293 (Kindle Edition); Omaha, NE; Patristic Publishing)
As such, we should also be praying for those ensnared by the evil one and work towards sharing the Good News of Jesus with them.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
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