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This psalm is closely linked in its general character and design with those which have gone before Ps. 95–98, and with the one following Psalms 100:1-5 - forming a connected group or series. The general subject is the kingship of Yahweh, or the foundations of praise derived from the fact that he reigns, or is king. As the foundation of praise on this account, reference is made in this group of psalms to his attributes; to what he has done in the works of creation; to what he has done for his people; and to the certainty that he will come ultimately to rule over all the earth, and to exercise just judgment among people.
This psalm consists of the following parts:
I. A statement of the fact that Yahweh reigns, and that this should make a deep impression on the world; that the people should tremble; that the earth should be moved, Psalms 99:1.
II. Reasons for this, or reasons why he should be reverenced and adored by mankind, Psalms 99:2-9. These reasons are two:
(1) The first is derived from the fact that he is a holy and a righteous God, and is therefore worthy of universal adoration, Psalms 99:2-5.
(2) The second is derived from what he has done for his people: for his merciful interposition in times of trouble, when Moses, and Aaron, and Samuel called upon his name; and from the fact that he answered his people when they cried unto him; and from the manner in which it was done, Psalms 99:6-9. He had shown himself ready to hear their protection in the cloudy pillar, he had answered their supplications, and had forgiven them. He had not swept them wholly away, or cut them off, but had spared them, and had shown mercy to them.
The Lord reigneth - The Lord, Yahweh, is king. See Psalms 93:1.
Let the people tremble - The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, “Let the people rage” - or, be angry: as if the idea were that God reigned, although the people were enraged, and were opposed to him. The true meaning of the word used here, however, is “tremble,” properly signifying to be moved, disturbed, disquieted, thrown into commotion; and then it may mean to be moved with anger, Proverbs 29:9; Isaiah 28:21; or with grief, 2 Samuel 18:33 : or with fear, Psalms 4:4; or with joy, Jeremiah 33:9. Hence, it means to be agitated or moved with fear or reverence; and it refers here to the reverence or awe which one has in the conscious presence of God.
He sitteth between the cherubims - See the notes at Psalms 80:1.
Let the earth be moved - Margin, “stagger.” The word means to move or quake. It occurs nowhere else. Compare the notes at Psalms 18:7. See also Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:10.
The Lord is great in Zion - Compare Psalms 95:3. The meaning here is, not that God is “absolutely” great - which is indeed true - but that there is a sense in which he has shown himself great “in Zion;” that is, in his manifestations toward his own people. He has evinced power in their behalf; he has interposed for them in times of danger; he has so discomfited their enemies as to show that he is a great God - a God worthy to be adored.
And he is high above all the people - Above all the nations. He has them under his control. He rules over all. The God who rules in Zion also rules all the nations of the earth; and his people, therefore, have special occasion to praise him.
Let them praise thy great and terrible name - The word rendered “terrible” means “to be feared or reverenced;” that is, his name - his being - he himself - is suited to inspire awe and reverence. The word “them” here refers to the nations over whom God reigns. It is a call on them to praise their king and their God.
For it is holy - See the notes at Isaiah 6:3; notes at Revelation 4:8. The fact that God “is” holy - that he is pure and righteous - that he cannot look upon sin but with abhorrence - is a just foundation for universal praise. Who could worship or honor a God who was not pure and holy?
The king’s strength - The word king here undoubtedly refers to God as a king, Psalms 99:1. The word rendered “strength,” means power, force; and the reference here is to what constitutes the main strength or power of his character and government. It is rendered in the Septuagint, τιμή timē - “honor.” So in the Latin Vulgate - ”honor.” DeWette renders it, “The praise of the king who loves judgment.” So Rosenmuller, “Let them praise the strength - the power - of the king who loves judgment.” But perhaps our common version best expresses the sense, that whatever there is in the character of the “king,” that is God, which constitutes strength, or gives power to his administration, is favorable to justice, or will be exerted in the cause of right. God’s essential character; all the acts of his power; all the demonstrations of his authority, will be in favor of justice, and may be relied on as sustaining the righteous cause. It is not the “mere” exertion of power - it is power that is always exercised in favor of right; and this lays the foundation of praise. We could not praise a being of “mere” power, or one who was merely “almighty,” without respect to his moral character. It is only when the character is such that power will be exerted in favor of that which is right and just that it becomes the proper subject of praise.
Loveth judgment - Is always on the side of justice and right. He so loves justice that his power will be put forth only in behalf of that which is right. God shows this by his law, and by all the acts of his administration.
Thou dost establish equity - That which is equal and just; alike by thy law, and by thine interpositions. All that thou doest, and all that thou dost appoint, is in favor of that which is equal and just.
Thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob - That which is just; that which ought to be done. Thou doest this among thy people; thou doest it in their relation to the surrounding nations. All the acts of thy administration tend to the establishment of that which is right.
Exalt ye the Lord our God - See the notes at Psalms 30:1. The meaning is, Let his name be, as it were, lifted up on high, so as to be conspicuous or seen from afar. Let it be done with a lofty voice; let it be with ascriptions of praise.
And worship at his footstool - By humble prostration at his feet. The footstool is that on which the feet rest when one is sitting, and the reference here is to the footstool on which the feet of a king rested when he sat on his throne or chair of state. To worship at his footstool - compare 1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalms 132:7 - denotes the deepest humility and the profoundest prostration and reverence. It is as if we could not look on his face, or on his throne, or on his gorgeous and magnificent robes, but bowed our heads in lowly reverence, and deemed it sufficient honor to lie low before that on which his feet rested. To show the dignity and majesty of God, the earth itself is represented as being merely his footstool; as being, in comparison with the heaven - the place of his seat - his “throne,” only as the footstool is as compared with the splendid chair of state. Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:34-35.
For he is holy - See Psalms 99:3. Margin, “it is holy.” The translation in the text best expresses the sense. The fact that God is “holy” is a reason for lowly and profound prostration before him.
Moses and Aaron among his priests - Among the ministers of religion; or, as officiating in the service of God. Let them come as representatives of their order - as representing those who conduct the public worship of God, and join in his praise. The idea is, that all mankind should join in his praise, and those mentioned here as among the most eminent of those who were engaged in directing the public worship of God. Moses could be called a “priest” only in the most general sense of the term, as having been employed in directing and arranging for public worship, and as being of the original tribe of Levi, from whom the whole sacerdotal order sprang.
And Samuel among them that call upon his name - Among those who are true worshippers, in distinction from the priests who were specially appointed to the public service of God. The idea is, that praise should be offered by “all” classes: by priests and by people. As Moses and Aaron were among the most eminent of the former class, so Samuel was among the most distinguished of those who were not of the priestly order. These were “representative men;” and the meaning is, that all who were of their order or rank - priests and people - should unite in the worship of God.
They called upon the Lord - They did call upon the Lord; they worshipped Yahweh. They gave the influence of their names and of their position to his public service. They thus showed their sense of the propriety of praising God; they gave the countenance of their example to public worship and praise; and the benefits which they received in answer to prayer showed the propriety and advantage of thus publicly acknowledging God.
And he answered them - They did not call upon him in vain. He heard their prayers. He bestowed blessings on them in connection with their worship. It was not a useless thing to praise and worship him. The worship of God is thus commended to us not merely from the propriety of the act itself, but from its advantages. It is unnecessary to refer to particular instances in the history of these people when their prayers were answered. Their lives were full of such instances - as the lives of all who truly call upon God are now. If a man who prays could “see” all that comes to him every day in answer to prayer - all the things bestowed which he had “desired” in prayer, and which would not have been conferred on him if he had not prayed, there would no longer be any doubt on the question whether God answers prayer.
He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar - He spake to the men of other times; to those who called upon his name. It cannot be meant literally that he spake to “Samuel” from the “cloudy pillar” - the pillar which guided the Israelites in the wilderness, unless that term be understood in the general sense as denoting the “Shechinah” - the visible symbol of the divine presence - the cloud that rested on the ark. The idea is, that God his people in ancient times from the cloud - the symbol of his presence; that he communed with them; that he heard their prayers; that he gave them his commandments; that he interposed in their behalf, and that it was not a vain thing that they worshipped him. All this was as true of Samuel - it is as true now of those who call upon God - as it was of Moses and Aaron.
They kept his testimonies ... - They obeyed his laws, and he thus heard and answered them.
Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God - The reference here is to God as “our” God; that is, the language used by those who now worship him is designed to give encouragement in approaching his throne. The God that “we” worship is the same that “they” worshipped; and as he answered them, we may feel assured that he will answer us.
Thou wast a God that forgavest them - They were not perfect; they were sinners; they often offended thee, and yet thou didst answer them, and show them mercy.
Though thou tookest vengeance - Though thou didst manifest thy displeasure at their misconduct; though thou in thy judgments didst show that thou wast displeased with them; nevertheless thou didst answer them. Sinners as they were, and often as thou didst show thy displeasure at their conduct, yet thou didst hear their prayers and bless them.
Of their inventions - The Hebrew word denotes work, deed, doing, conduct. It means here what they did - their sins. There is no allusion to any special art or “cunning” in what they did - as if they had “invented” or found out some new form of sin.
Exalt the Lord our God - See the notes at Psalms 99:5.
And worship at his holy hill - In Psalms 99:5, this is, “at his footstool.” The “holy hill” refers to Zion, as the seat of the national worship.
For the Lord our God is holy - See Psalms 99:5. This appropriately closes the psalm, by a distinct and solemn statement that the fact that Yahweh is a holy God is a reason for worshipping him. This is at all times the highest reason for adoration and praise.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 99". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany