Psalm for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (ABC)

Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 9

The responsorial psalm today’s feast comes from Psalm 97, an enthronement psalm that praises God as king over all creation.

We use this psalm on the feast of the Transfiguration because it coincides with the vision of the future kingdom seen by the apostles on Mount Tabor.

The LORD is king; 

The psalm opens with the traditional enthronement declaration: “The LORD is king!” Behind this exclamation is the theme of divine kingship.

There are echoes of ancient mythology here. The ancients believed the gods were always vying with each other for power and status. The god that could be victorious over this chaotic situation, if only for a time, was enthroned as king over all.

The psalmist asserts that the god who rules is the LORD, the God of Israel.

let the earth rejoice; let the many isles be glad.

God’s rule calls for celebration, a celebration that extends beyond the confines of Israel to many isles (also translated as “many coastlands”), an image denoting the furthest parts of the world.

Clouds and darkness are round about him, justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.

Unlike other regimes built merely on brute force or military victory, both of which might fail and result in the dethronement of the former victor, God’s rule is constructed in the permanence of justice (sedeq) and judgment (mishpāt). 

Not only is it impregnable, it is also immutable. It stands secure, enabling God to govern undisturbed by any threat and assuring reliable protection to all those under God’s jurisdiction.

The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth.

A proclamation of God’s power. Even the mighty mountains, made of rock, melt like wax in the presence of God.

The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory. Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth, exalted far above all gods.

The passage ends with three phrases that declare the sovereignty of the Lord:

  • First, the reference to the heavens includes all the celestial beings, which were once thought to be gods themselves. There is no longer any vying among them; instead, they are all intent on praising God’s justice.
  • Second, not only Israel but all people see God’s glory (kābôd), the splendor that shines from God’s holiness and that is usually a characteristic of divine theophany or manifestation.
  • Third, all other gods are prostrate before the Lord in an attitude of utter subservience. Actually, the verb (bôsh) means to put to shame or to lose face before the other. In a society where honor and shame play such important roles, this is a significant point. There universal kingship of the LORD is beyond question.

God, exalted above both heaven and earth, has no rivals. There is no threat of future upheaval or rebellion. The divine king has been enthroned, and the rule of this God will last forever.

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