Psalm 97: Light for the upright

‘Light dawns for the upright, joy for the truehearted.’ (11)

The poet here uses fiery image to proclaim God’s sovereignty, taking on a feisty tone to declare the enmity of false gods and carved images. The psalmist calls for The Force to awaken against this dark side. Other Lectionary readings sometimes linked with this psalm contain an amount of thundering of force fields:

  • Paul and Silas in prison are shaken by an earthquake, showing both them and their jailer their ways to freedom. (Acts 16)
  • In the Psalm, fire, lightning, trembling mountains — and light dawns.
  • ‘See I am coming … Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift’ (Rev. 22)
  • Jesus as the conduit to understanding and grace (John 17)

In the first section of the song, the ruckus seems to be about:

  • a call to praise a creator who mysteriously (‘clouds and darkness’) established goodness and justice as foundational elements of the universal blueprint (vs 1, 2)
  • celebrating the escape from Egypt, with pillars of fire and such theatrical effects (vs 3-6)
  • and more generally an awareness of the power of the elements.

A second section laments the habit during the exodus of turning to graven images for inspiration and guidance. These days, the traps are just as pernicious as we tend to be fascinated by images, youth, beauty, public profile or power. Appreciation of meaningful activity, art and beauty are important; but so is balance.

Then comes the promise quoted above, admittedly a broad instruction – what is ‘true-hearted? Broad instruction allows people in many different situations to consider, discern and apply. The call is yet to strive to be ‘true hearted’.(11) In the context of the Christmas readings, Psalm 97 sits in the middle of a bracket of three psalms, 96 to 98, that (like the song of Meshach and his friends in 148) call for the creation to unify by singing that ‘new song’.


Those who wish to sing a new refrain might care to write their own new tune, such as this simple song using verses 11 and 12 for the refrain:

Psalm 97 refrain by the author

Cantor: Let us be glad.
Response: Light has sprung up for the faithful; give thanks to the holy name.

Here is the version by Australian band the Sons of Korah: