Psalm 99
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
He sitteth between the cherubim. Jennings and Lowe render, "Jehovah has become King, the peoples tremble; (even) he that sits upon the cherubim, the earth shakes." There is a designed contrast. The peoples tremble, the king is established firm; the earth shakes, the throne of the king is steady and unmoved. The figure of God as sitting on the cherubim is difficult, because we cannot be quite sure of the ideas Israelites had of the position and relations of the fire symbol of God in the holy of holies. In Psalm 80:1 God is presented as sitting, throned above the cherubim;" and the idea here is probably "above the cherubim" rather than "on the cherubim." Then we get a clear meaning. The cherubim represent all created beings superior to man, all superseusual beings; and God is to be thought of as beyond and above even them, as superior to them as to the people of this earth, and as unaffected by conceivable changes in them as he is unaffected by the commotions of earth. The more usual way of explaining the figure is given by Spurgeon, thus: "In grandeur of sublime glory, yet in nearness of mediatorial condescension, Jehovah revealed himself above the mercy seat, whereon stood the likeness of those flaming ones who gaze upon his glory, and forever cry, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.'"

I. GOD'S REIGN ESTABLISHED. Keep the associations of the restored exiles. They set up again the theocratic kingdom, and conceived of Jehovah as coming again to reign. So they naturally recalled the old sign of his presence and rule, the Shechinah-light which shone above the mercy seat, which the cherubic figures guarded. The sign of the lapse of the nation from Jehovah was the fading or removing of that light.]Now the restored exiles rejoiced in the resumption of Jehovah's reign, and in figure presented it as God taking his seat again above the cherubim. God takes the throne only when hearts are willing to receive him.

II. GOD'S REIGN CONFIRMED. The satisfaction of the psalmist evidently is in the fact that God means to stay enthroned. He is conceived of as unaffected by the trembling of the people or the shaking of the earth. There is even a more striking poetical figure. If even the cherubim were to tremble, or shake, or fail, God's reign is too confirmed to be affected by it. We may think of him as "above the cherubim." Absolute reliance on him may find expression in loyal and loving service of him. - R.T.

I. BECAUSE OF HIS UNIVERSAL SUPREMACY. (Vers. 1-3.) His power exercised for the ends of goodness. "He is great in Zion," the most beneficent institution.

II. BECAUSE HE RULES FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHT AND TRUTH. (Vers. 4, 5.) He is setting up throughout the world righteous order, establishing the dominion of right and justice.

III. BECAUSE HE HEARS AND ANSWERS THOSE WHO PRAY TO HIM. (Vers. 6, 7.) Grants them their need; speaks to their minds; reveals his Law and his will to them; still guides as he guided his ancient people.

IV. BECAUSE HE IS MERCIFUL TO THE PENITENT. (Ver. 8.) "Thou wast a God that forgavest them."

V. BECAUSE HE PUNISHES THE IMPENITENT. (Ver. 8.) This is as great a necessity of his nature and rule as that he should pardon the penitent. He is holy. - S.

Revised Version, "Holy is he." The refrain of the psalm is found in these words. Possibly it was given as a response by the congregation. What is prominent here, however, is not the purity that is in holiness, as the majesty that is in it, the severity that is in it. The psalmist is full of the "greatness" and the "terribleness" of the Divine Name, and this makes him say it is reverend, it is awe inspiring. It is one of the serious evils of our day, that the more august and solemnizing views of God seem to be lost. There is so little now of the "submission of holy awe." Even in acts of homage and worship we have to fear the encroachments of an undue familiarity. Hebrews may let reverence pass into superstition when they refuse to pronounce the Divine name, but it is to run to the opposite and even more dangerous extreme when we, at the lightest provocation, take the holy Name upon our lips. Today we need to put deeper and more searching and more awe inspiring meaning than ever into the "great and terrible Name" of the All-holy One. It is not "holiness" as a Divine attribute, but "holiness" as making a Divine claim, which we have here to consider.


1. Take "holiness" as ideal, absolute perfection, the sublimest idea of being that man can possibly reach. Wherever man finds that, in whomsoever he finds that, he is bound to worship. Show that man can think a holiness which neither he nor any other has ever, or can ever, reach. God is presented as the perfect realization of that thought, so for God man has the highest reverence.

2. Take "holiness" as finding expression in righteousness and faithfulness. Then every review of the Divine dealings wakens in us the spirit of worship. There is so much to thank God for, to trust God for, to honour God for.

II. THE DIVINE HOLINESS AS DECIDING THE CHARACTER OF WORSHIP. There is a tone of familiarity and lightness in much that is called "worship," which, though not wrong, is unbecoming and unworthy. We need say no evil of those who put noise and excitement in place of reverence, but we may urge that an atmosphere of quietness, solemnity, awe, are becoming to God's house. Reverence, humility, self-restraints, submissive awe, are befitting his worship of whom it is said, "Holy is he." - R.T.

This is the last of the series of royal psalms, of psalms which celebrate the coming of Jehovah as King. The first of the series is Psalm 93. This opens with the announcement that 'Jehovah is King;' passes on to tell that his throne has been from everlasting, that he made the world, and that he rules it - rules the raging of the elements and the convulsions of political strife, of which that is the figure - and then concludes with one brief glance at his revelation of himself to his people, and the distinguishing glory of the house in which he deigns to dwell, 'Holiness becometh thine house forever' (Perowne). Three times over in this psalm is this declaration made of the Lord's holiness: After the setting forth of his great and terrible Name (ver. 3); then after telling of his equity, judgment, and righteousness (ver 5); and after the naming of the great saints of God who called on his Name, and to whom a gracious answer was vouchsafed (ver. 9). Consider -

I. THE MEANING OF THIS REPEATED WORD, "The Lord our God is holy."

1. It tells of his own personal nature and character. That he is of too pure eyes to behold iniquity; that not, as is the case oftentimes with men, holy deeds may hide an unholy heart, but that in all his thoughts, purposes, and in his inmost being, he is holy.

2. Of the constant character of his actions. For the trial of his people's faith he may at times seem to favour the ungodly and to cause the unrighteous to prosper, yet this is never because he is really on their side, but for quite other reasons; the main stream of his providential dealing is and has ever been clear on the side of righteousness and holiness, and hence men have learned that the Lord is holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works.

3. Of his sympathies. Men have believed and been confident that, however dark their circumstances, the love and favour of God, the shining of his countenance, have been towards his people, and that they knew it (cf. Psalm 4:6, 7).

II. ITS TRUTH. This is shown:

1. By his acts and ways. The review of God's dealings with men - his tender mercies to them that fear him, and his fierce wrath against evil doers, all have proved this sure truth.

2. By those whom he has chosen to be his chief and most honoured servants. (See ver. 6.) Not the evil, the worldly, the impure, but such as these saints of God here told of.

3. The ritual of the Law. This also taught the same truth. The gods of the heathen made no pretensions to holiness or demand for it, but the Lord demanded it always and everywhere, and above all things else. Hence, that this may be impressed and indelibly engraved upon the minds of Israel, the whole ritual and manner of worship of the Law was arranged.

4. By his revealed Word and will. Holy Scripture makes clear the mind of God in this matter.

5. By the operations of his Spirit in their hearts. That inward witness for God ever sought to lead men to holiness. They could be in no doubt as to the Divine will, and, therefore, as to the Divine character.

III. ITS UNSPEAKABLE IMPORTANCE. Such great stress and emphasis was laid upon it for many reasons.

1. It kept up a perpetual protest against sin. Before this truth wickedness could not stand.

2. It furnished a standard by which to judge of all other religions. Did they or did they not lead to holiness?

3. It implied a constant inspiration towards the pursuit of holiness. It encouraged such pursuit, for it revealed the fact that God loved holiness, since he himself was holy.

4. It was the essential preparation for the kingdom of God.


1. To exalt the Lord God. In their hearts' worship and adoration; in their open confession of his Name; in their faithful obedience to his will.

2. Worship at his footstool. Such worship was his due. It aided the realization of God's presence, deepened the conviction of his holy and perfect nature, roused the affections of the heart, strengthened the resolves of the will, and helped mightily towards the attainment of like holy character in themselves. - S.C.

And worship at his footstool; "Worship at his holy hill;" "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?" (Isaiah 66:1). To understand this figure two things must be considered:

(1) the peculiarity of Eastern thrones;

(2) the peculiarity of Eastern salutations.

Eastern thrones were high erections, so that the king, seated in his place, might be exalted (see expression in psalm) high above the people. The seat was reached by a series of steps; the bottom step was known as the "king's footstool," and the suppliant for the king's mercy, or the man who brought presents as signs of loyalty, showed his humility and reverence by venturing no further than the footstool. Solomon had made a throne of ivory, overlaid with gold, which had six steps, with six lions on each side. Salutations in the East were very elaborate, and approaches to a superior, especially when a request had to be made, involved bending right to the ground.

I. KEEPING AT A DISTANCE AS A SIGN OF HUMILITY AND AWE. Illustrated by Moses turning aside to see the bush that was burning, but was not being consumed. He heard a Divine voice saying, "Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." When the people were facing the Mount Sinai, whereon God was manifesting his glory, extreme care was taken to keep the people at a becoming distance. "Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death." The symbol of the Divine presence was placed in the dark chamber known as the holy of holies, and no one dared go near, save the high priest once a year, and then not without incense and blood. These are picture teachings of the humility in worship we must cherish, which will be our "spiritual distance-keeping."

II. KEEPING ON THE BOTTOM STEP AS A SIGN OF OUR GODLY FEAR. It is the suppliant's proper place; but it is more especially the place for that suppliant who knows his sin, asks for forgiveness, yet justly fears the king's indignation. Until the king reaches out his golden sceptre to be touched, a sinful suppliant dare venture no further than the bottom step. And that is our fitting place, because we never can go into the Divine presence without the sense of our sin filling us with godly fear. - R.T.

The reason for recalling these three worshippers belonging to the olden times, and these three only, does not immediately appear. And it is singular to find both Moses and Aaron classed as priests. Probably, before the appointment of the Levitical priesthood, Moses had been the priest as well as leader of the people. The thought appears to be that men may now call upon and worship God with the assured confidence that he receives worship and answers prayers even as he has always done. As specimens of God's ways with his people who seek him, Moses and Aaron are brought as types of those who offer worship; and Samuel is brought as a type of those who present supplications. So the two sides of worship are presented, praise and prayer.

I. MOSES AND AARON THE MODELS OF WORSHIP AS PRAISE. This is the Godward side of worship. It is knowing God, offering God his due, recognizing the Divine mercies and judgments, making offerings due unto his Name. And Moses and Aaron represent worship as presented in God's own appointed way, in the line of his own arrangements. This brings in the element of obedience, and every true act of worship is an act of obedience, and an expression of the spirit of obedience. Worship may be wholly praise, and God says, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me." From the worship system of Moses and Aaron, show what are the essential elements of all acceptable worship, such as adoration, thanksgiving, confessions, and expressions of dependence. Symbolic rites only belong to particular times and people, but the spirit which the rites symbolize is required in every age and of every people. The underlying spirit of Mosaism is the spirit of all true and acceptable worship today.

II. SAMUEL THE MODEL OF WORSHIP AS PRAYER. Probably Samuel is chosen because prayer was recognized as the most marked peculiarity of his life. He would spend nights in prayer. He seems to have had a peculiar cry, or scream, in prayer. Now, prayer is not essential to all worship; but prayer is true worship, because the act and expression of dependence on God is one of our best ways of doing honour to his Name. So the model worship is a holy blending of praise and prayer. - R.T.

This is a strange statement, but it is what this verse and numerous others and many facts beside clearly declare. Therefore, that we may the better understand this apparent contradiction, consider -


1. "Thou answeredst them." That is, answered their prayers for forgiveness of the people. Moses, Aaron, Samuel, had each this in common - that once and again they were intercessors with God on behalf of Israel who had sinned (Numbers 14:13, etc.; Numbers 16:47; 1 Samuel 12:19, etc.). And their intercession was effectual. Nevertheless, vengeance followed.

2. "Thou forgavest them. What is God's forgiveness? It is not the mere letting off of punishment. That may be done, often is done, but there is no forgiveness. And it is distinctly said here that God did forgive, though he did not forego punishment. It is true that the word though" in this verse should rather be rendered "and;" but this alteration does not really alter the sense, the two seemingly incompatible ideas of forgiveness and vengeance are linked together all the same. But they are not incompatible ideas if we consider what God's forgiveness really is. What is a father's forgiveness of his child? "Let us remember our own childhood, our children, if we have any, and how we do with them. What makes the little face fall, and the tears come to the eyes? Is it your taking down the rod from behind the door, or the grave disapprobation in your face, and the trouble and rebuke in your eyes? It is not only the buffet from the father's hand that makes the punishment, but still more the disturbance and the displeasure of the father's heart that makes the child's punishment. And forgiveness is not complete when the father says, 'Well, go away; I will not hurt you,' but when he says, 'Well, come, I am not angry with you; I love you still.' The taking the child to the father's heart is the forgiveness" (Maclaren). And such is God's forgiveness - the taking back of his sinful child to his heart again. If that were not done, no mere remission of penalty could ever make the soul blessed. The soul of man is so constituted that it would say over and over again, "Never mind the penalty; I can bear that if only I have the love." Forgiveness, therefore, is the putting away of anger from the heart of God towards the sinner.

3. "Vengeance." This does not mean revenge. The punishment of a criminal by the state is not an act of revenge, but the due maintenance of righteous law - a maintenance necessary for the preservation of society, and oftentimes for the reformation of the criminal himself. And so when God allows and, indeed, causes the consequences of the sinner's crime to dog his footsteps, and darken his life, and cause him sore sorrow, he may, he does, do that for reasons altogether consistent with the love which has already led him to forgive the sin and to receive the sinner back into his heart's love again.

II. THE TRUTH THE TEXT DECLARES. That prayers may be answered and forgiveness bestowed, and yet vengeance taken.

1. This is so. See ease of Moses and Aaron; they were forgiven men, beloved of the Lord, yet their penalty - exclusion from Canaan - was never removed. David (2 Samuel 12:10) was forgiven, but the penalty was exacted. All his afterlife testified to the truth here declared. Israel: they were forgiven, but for their unbelief none of them entered into their rest. And it is so still. How many a forgiven child of God is yet bearing in weakened health, in tarnished reputation, in stern poverty, in enfeebled will, in recurring fierce temptation, in shortened and saddened life, the consequences of former sin! But there is no doubt Shut they are forgiven and true children of God; and yet And it probably will be so. Until the ends and purposes for which these penalties are exacted are fulfilled, how can they come to an end? They are inflicted in love, not wrath, and love must hold us down to the endurance of them until that which is desired is attained. Hence:

2. Such retribution is consistent with forgiveness. For though the outward penalty be continued, its character is changed. It is now not a token of anger, but a means of blessing. For such sufferings deepen our hatred of sin, drive us to God in prayer, keep us lowly before God and man in humility, make us ever watchful and compassionate to other tempted ones, enable us to glorify God amid all, maintain the truth of God's holy law of retribution. If along with forgiveness there came at once remission of all penalty, we should think that God did not care much for sin, and certainly we should not. But they will cease when their purpose is accomplished.


1. Hate sin.

2. Rob it of its sting by turning to Christ in repentance, by submission to his will, by careful obedience in the future, and by daily, hourly trust in his grace.

3. Fight against it in others.

4. Exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, who makes us more than conquerors over it. - S.C.

Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God. It is prayer as worship which is here more especially dealt with. God responds to man's homage. The context brings the following points before us.

I. GOD MADE KNOWN HIS CLAIM TO HOMAGE AND WORSHIP. See ver. 7, "He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar." The cloudy pillar being regarded as the emblem of God's miraculous interpositions and various revelations, God declared himself to be their God, and demanded their entire reverence and obedience. He gave them his testimonies, and set his ordinances plainly before them. So we must feel that, the full revelations of God having come to us, we know distinctly what our service should be.

II. THEY RESPONDED TO GOD'S CLAIM BY WORSHIPFUL OBEDIENCE. Observe the blending of two things: "They kept the testimonies, or laws, and the ordinances, or religious regulations, that he gave them." Note that of this obedience and worship Moses and Aaron are made types in one age, and Samuel in another; but the response of the people Israel is assumed as represented by the types. It is not enough that we know God's testimonies and ordinances; our proper response is the fixed habit of worshipful obedience.

III. GOD RECOGNIZES AND REWARDS SUCH OBEDIENT RESPONSE. That is the "answering" which is here referred to.

1. We may always be sure of the Divine recognition of sincere worship, let its form be prayer or praise.

2. We may have good hope of its acceptance.

3. We are sure of a first answer in the blessing that worship brings to our own hearts.

4. We may even think our loyalty brings the blessing to others of an inspiring example.

5. And beyond all our imagination, God is wont to give direct answers to prayer, and gracious, comforting acknowledgments and rewards to worshipping souls. - R.T.

The "inventions" here are simply "doings;" but the word seems to imply "self-willed doings." So we read, "God made man upright; but he has sought out many inventions." There is no allusion to "scientific discoveries." When we read the passages in which Divine forgiveness seems so absolutely assured, it is necessary that we bear in mind how the Divine forgiveness may be absolute in the Divine purpose, yet must be limited in Divine application. We can at once think of two limitations.

1. The exigencies of God's universal rule.

2. The moral condition of those whom God would forgive.

I. FORGIVENESS LIMITED BY THE EXIGENCIES OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL RULE. That demands the, recognition, and the adequate punishment, of all acts of wilful sin. God has ordered the relation of things in nature so that suffering certainly attends sin, and calls attention to the character of sin. In the interests of the race, that relation must be maintained; it must never for one moment even seem to be doubtful. Even in God's chosen people wilful wrong doing must be duly punished; and so even when God forgives the wilfulness, he does not interfere with the punishments. Of this Moses and Aaron present striking instances. They sadly failed in the matter of the smitten rock. They were forgiven, but the penalty of their sin came on them. They died on this side Jordan, with their life hope unrealized.

II. FORGIVENESS LIMITED BY THE MORAL CONDITION OF THOSE WHOM GOD WOULD FORGAVE. We do not sufficiently realize that God would have his forgiveness prove the best possible moral blessing to those whom he forgives. Forgiveness only blesses those who are in a mood to receive forgiveness. And so we see that punishment, along with forgiveness, may be necessary in order to get the forgiven into proper soul moods. Christ taught that his disciples could not be forgiven unless they were forgiving. They must be in right mood to receive. So there are holy limitations even to the Divine free forgiveness. - R.T.

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