Psalm 99
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Jehovah’s fresh proclamation of His sovereignty is once more the initial watchword, as in Psalms 93, 97 (cp. Psalm 96:10), and doubtless this Psalm belongs to the same period. Its distinctive idea is expressed in the threefold refrain [Psalm 99:3; Psalm 99:5; Psalm 99:9). It is a call to all nations, and especially to His own people, to worship Jehovah as the thrice Holy God. The unceasing adoration which is evoked in heaven by the contemplation of the absolute moral perfection of God (Isaiah 6:3) should find an echo upon earth.

The Psalm consists of three stanzas: the refrain in Psalm 99:3; Psalm 99:5; Psalm 99:9 may possibly have been intended to be sung as a liturgical response.

The universal sovereignty of Jehovah who has established His throne in Zion (Psalm 99:1-3); the righteous character of His rule in Israel (Psalm 99:4-5); and His faithfulness in His dealings with His people manifested in their history (Psalm 99:6-9), are successively celebrated; and each stanza ends with a call to worship and extol Him as the Holy God; the first (Psalm 99:3) addressed to the nations, the second and third (Psalm 99:5; Psalm 99:9) to Israel.

The LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.
1. Jehovah hath proclaimed himself King; the peoples tremble:

Even he that sitteth enthroned upon the cherubim; the earth shaketh.

When Jehovah manifests His sovereignty the nations must needs tremble with awe (Isaiah 64:2), and all the earth must confess His majesty (Psalm 77:18). The title he that sitteth enthroned upon the cherubim (Psalm 80:1) suggests the thought that He Who is supremely exalted in heaven has yet in time past condescended to dwell among His people on earth (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15).

1–3. Jehovah has proclaimed Himself King in Zion: let all the earth worship this Holy God.

The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people.
2. Jehovah is great in Zion;

And he is high above all the peoples.

Zion is the seat of His universal sovereignty on earth. Cp. Psalm 48:1; Isaiah 57:15.

Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy.
3. thy great and terrible name] Cp. Psalm 47:2; Psalm 111:9; Deuteronomy 7:21.

for it is holy] A possible rendering; cp. Isaiah 57:15; but the parallels of Psalm 99:5; Psalm 99:9 point rather to the rendering of R.V., Holy is he. His highest claim to adoration is His absolute moral perfection. Cp. Psalm 22:3 note.

The king's strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity, thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob.
4. The king’s strength also loveth judgment] The construction of this clause is doubtful, but this is the simplest way of taking it. The objection that strength cannot properly be said to love is prosaic. The rendering, And the strength of a king who loveth judgement hast thou established in equity, is possible but cumbrous. The king is Jehovah Himself (cp. Isaiah 61:8). Thou is emphatic: it is He Himself Who has established a kingdom of righteousness, fulfilling the ideal of the Davidic kingdom (Isaiah 16:5): and by the recent deliverance of Israel He has given proof of its character.

4, 5. The righteous character of Jehovah’s kingdom.

Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.
5. his footstool] In 1 Chronicles 28:2 the Ark is called Jehovah’s footstool, and so too probably in Psalm 132:7; but as there was no Ark in the Second Temple, the Temple itself must be meant here, or possibly (cp. Psalm 99:9) Zion. Cp. Lamentations 2:1; Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 66:1 (of the earth).

for he is holy] Holy is he.

Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.
6. A Moses and an Aaron are among his priests,

And a Samuel among those that call upon his name:

When they call unto Jehovah, HE answereth them.

6. It was the office of the priests to intercede and mediate between God and man. This priestly function was exercised by Moses when Israel was fighting with Amalek (Exodus 17:11 ff.), when they sinned by worshipping the calf (Exodus 32:30 ff.; Deuteronomy 9:18 ff.), and when they murmured on the return of the spies (Numbers 14:13 ff.). It is to such occasions as these that the Psalmist refers, rather than to his exercise of priestly functions in the ratification of the covenant at Sinai (Exodus 24:6 f.), or in the dedication of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:22 ff.), or in the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 8). For an example of Aaron’s mediation see Numbers 16:46 ff. Samuel too was famous for the prevailing efficacy of his prayers. See 1 Samuel 7:8-9; 1 Samuel 12:16 ff.; and cp. Sir 46:16. In the clause when they call &c. all true Israelites seem to be included.

6–9. The holiness of Jehovah demonstrated by His dealings with Israel.

Two interpretations of these verses deserve consideration. (1) They may be understood, as in the A.V., as a historical retrospect, offered for the encouragement and warning of Israel of the restoration. Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, were prevailing intercessors in past time. God revealed Himself to His people, answering their prayers, but punishing while He pardoned, in order to demonstrate His holiness. That history, it is implied, will be repeated. God will still answer prayer, and reveal Himself to Israel; but when Israel sins and forgets that Jehovah is a Holy God, He must needs punish even when He pardons.

(2) They may however be taken to refer to the present, thus:

He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them.
7. In the pillar of cloud he speaketh unto them,

When they keep his testimonies, and the statute which he hath given them.

7. He reveals Himself once more as He spoke to His people of old by the mediation of Moses. See Exodus 33:7 ff. The second line virtually expresses the condition of prevailing prayer—obedience to the revealed will of God.

Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.
8. Jehovah our God, THOU hast answered them:

A pardoning God hast thou proved thyself unto them,

But an avenger of their doings withal.

Before the captivity Jehovah had said (Jeremiah 15:1), “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people.” But now He has relented. Intercessors like those of old have been found among His faithful servants: He has still continued to reveal Himself to Israel as He did of old in the wilderness. And now he has answered their prayers by the deliverance of His people from Babylon. They have been forgiven, though they have had to bear the punishment of their sins.

The general purport of the verses is the same, whichever view is adopted; but the second interpretation appears to be preferable, as bringing them into a closer relation to the occasion of the Psalm.

The notion that Moses Aaron and Samuel are spoken of as still interceding in heaven, like Onias and Jeremiah in 2Ma 15:12 ff., is wholly improbable.

8. A pardoning God &c.] The reference here must be to the whole nation. This is the lesson which its history has taught it concerning God’s character. If He pardons in answer to prayer, He must still vindicate His holiness by chastisement, lest men should imagine that He makes light of sin. See Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:20 ff.; and the prophet’s touching identification of himself with the guilty people in Micah 7:9 ff.

Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.
9. A final call to worship the God of Israel in Zion, in His holy mountain (Psalm 2:6; Isaiah 66:20), for holy is Jehovah our God.

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