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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 99

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 99:0


Praise to the Lord for His Fidelity to IsraelNo MT IntroPraise to the Lord for His HolinessHymn Celebrating God's KingshipGod the Supreme KingGod, the Upright and Holy King
Psalms 99:1-5Psalms 99:1-3Psalms 99:1-5Psalms 99:1-3Psalms 99:1-2a
Psalms 99:2-3b
Psalms 99:3c-e
Psalms 99:4-5 Psalms 99:4-5Psalms 99:4
Psalms 99:5
Psalms 99:6-9Psalms 99:6-7Psalms 99:6-7Psalms 99:6-7Psalms 99:6
Psalms 99:6
Psalms 99:8-9Psalms 99:8-9Psalms 99:8-9Psalms 99:8
Psalms 99:9

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This Psalm extolls YHWH's reign (cf. Psalms 93:1; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 97:1). Even Psalms 99:4 could, and probably does, refer to YHWH (i.e., the Mighty King). YHWH was Israel's true King (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7; Psalms 47:3; Psalms 48:2; Psalms 95:3).

B. This Psalm reflects the

1. wilderness wandering period

a. the ark (Psalms 99:1b, Psalms 99:5; Psalms 99:5b)

b. Moses and Aaron (Psalms 99:6a)

c. the pillar of cloud (Psalms 99:7a)

d. the giving of the Law at Sinai (Psalms 99:7b,c)

e. forgiveness (Psalms 99:8, cf. Numbers 14:20)

2. early united monarchy (cf. Psalms 99:6b, i.e., Samuel)

3. temple in Jerusalem

a. in Zion (Psalms 99:2a, see Special Topic: Zion)

b. His holy hill (Psalms 99:9b)

C. Psalms 99:8 is a key theological verse. It reflects the twin, inseparable truths of

1. YHWH's merciful, longsuffering character

2. human responsibility to hear and obey (cf. Exodus 34:6-7)

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 99:1-5 1The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! 2The Lord is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. 3Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He. 4The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5Exalt the Lord our God And worship at His footstool; Holy is He.

Psalms 99:1 “The Lord reigns” See notes at Psalms 96:10 and Psalms 97:1. All are perfects, which speak of completed actions, but the timeframe of Hebrew verbs must be determined from the context.

“let the peoples tremble” This verb (BDB 919, KB 1182, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense) is parallel to “let the earth shake” (BDB 630, KB 680, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense; this word [BDB 630, KB 680] is found only here in the OT). Taken together, they form another universal emphasis. Here, it reflects YHWH's justice (cf. Psalms 99:4).

Both physical creation and human beings are affected by their Creator (cf. Exodus 19:0; Psalms 77:18; Romans 8:18-25)!

“He is enthroned above the cherubim” The verb (BDB 442, KB 444, Qal participle) means “sits on His throne” (cf. 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 37:16). The mention of “the cherubim” (see Special Topic: Cherubim) identifies this phrase as referring to Exodus 25:22. The ark was the earthly place of YHWH's presence (i.e., “footstool,” Ps. 99:15b; 1 Chronicles 28:2; the earth was called YHWH's footstool in Isaiah 66:1; the temple was called His footstool in Psalms 132:7; Lamentations 2:1). He dwelt between the wings of the cherubim above the mercy seat (i.e., lid of the ark). This special place (i.e., above the ark in the Holy of Holies) was where heaven and earth, the visible and invisible realms, met!


Psalms 99:2 “The Lord (YHWH) is great in Zion” This adjective (BDB (BDB 152) is used often of YHWH.

1. His person - Deuteronomy 7:21; Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 8:6; Nehemiah 9:32; Psalms 86:10; Psalms 145:3; Psalms 147:5; Isaiah 12:6; Jeremiah 10:6; Jeremiah 32:18; Daniel 9:4

2. His name - Joshua 7:9; 1 Samuel 12:22; 1 Kings 8:42; 2 Chronicles 6:32; Psalms 76:1; Psalms 99:3; Jeremiah 10:6; Jeremiah 44:26; Ezekiel 36:23; Malachi 1:11

3. His works - Deuteronomy 11:7; Judges 2:7; Psalms 111:2

4. His glory - Psalms 21:5; Psalms 138:5

5. His mercy (hesed) - 1 Kings 3:6; 2 Chronicles 1:8; Psalms 57:10; Psalms 86:13; Psalms 108:4

6. His goodness - Nehemiah 9:25

7. His compassion - Isaiah 54:7

8. greater than all gods - Exodus 18:11; Deuteronomy 10:17; 1 Chronicles 16:25; 2 Chronicles 2:5; Psalms 77:13; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 96:4; Psalms 135:5

The noun (BDB 152) is also used of YHWH in Deuteronomy 3:24; Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 11:2; Deuteronomy 32:3; Psalms 105:2.

The AB suggests that the comparative preposition (KB 825, #1) in Psalms 99:2b suggests a possible comparative in Psalms 99:2a, which would denote YHWH's greatness over Israel/Judah, as it is over/above “all the peoples” (p. 368). It think this fits the parallel best. Israel was first, but not the only, one (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16).

“He is exalted above all the peoples” This phrase implies that YHWH is exalted (BDB 926, KB 1202, Qal participle) above the gods of the nations (i.e., their idols, cf. Psalms 97:9; Psalms 113:4; also note Exodus 18:11; Deuteronomy 10:17; 1 Chronicles 16:25; 2 Chronicles 2:5; Psalms 77:13; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 96:4; Psalms 135:5).

Psalms 99:3 “Let them praise Your great and awesome name” This is the third imperfect used in a jussive sense (cf. Psalms 99:1a,b).

For YHWH's “great name,” see the notes at Psalms 99:2.

YHWH's “awesome” name is from the verb (BDB 431, KB 432, Niphal participle) “to fear” or “awe.” It is used often of YHWH (cf. Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17, Deuteronomy 10:21; Deuteronomy 28:58; Psalms 111:9; Malachi 1:14).

The words “great” and “awesome” are often used together to describe YHWH (cf. Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 4:8; Nehemiah 9:32; Daniel 9:4).

The “them” refers to all non-Israelites (i.e., “peoples,” Psalms 99:1a; “the earth,” Psalms 99:1b; “all the peoples,” Psalms 99:2b.

“Holy is He” Notice this is repeated in Psalms 99:5c and alluded to in Psalms 99:9c, which looks like a purposeful parallel. For “holy” see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY.

Psalms 99:4 I think this verse applies to YHWH Himself (see Contextual Insights A). Notice how His reign (Psalms 99:1) is characterized.

1. loves (BDB 12; KB 17, Qal perfect) justice (BDB 1048)

2. established (BDB 465, KB 464, Polel perfect) equity (lit. uprightness, BDB 449)

3. executed (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal perfect) justice (BDB 1048) and righteousness (BDB 842, see SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS)

Notice they are all three perfects, but NASB, NJB, and NKJV translate the first as present and the next two as past. The time element of Hebrew verbs must be determined by context. So, do these describe who YHWH is or what He will do?

The terms “justice” and “righteousness” are often used together to designate the appropriate reign of kings.

1. YHWH Himself - Psalms 99:4; Isaiah 33:5; Jeremiah 4:2; Jeremiah 9:24

2. David - 1 Chronicles 18:14

3. Solomon - 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8

4. Judean kings - Jeremiah 22:3, Jeremiah 22:15; Ezekiel 45:9

5. Israeli kings - Amos 5:9, Amos 5:24

6. Messiah (i.e., line of David) - Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah 32:16; Isaiah 59:9, Isaiah 59:14; Jeremiah 33:15

Psalms 99:5 “Exalt the Lord our God” This is the first of two imperatives which close out the first strophe.

1. exalt - BDB 926, KB 1202, Polel imperative, same verb used in Psalms 99:2b

2. worship (lit. “bow down”) - BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel imperative, cf. Psalms 132:7

Notice how the full covenant title, “the Lord our God” (lit. YHWH Elohim, cf. Genesis 2:4; Exodus 20:2) is repeated three more times in Psalms 99:8a, Psalms 99:9a,c. YHWH is uniquely related to Abraham's descendants.

1. in Zion, Psalms 99:2 (i.e., the temple)

2. in Jacob, Psalms 99:4c (i.e., Israel)

3. in Moses and Aaron, Psalms 99:6a (exodus and wilderness wandering period)

4. in Samuel, Psalms 99:6b (United Monarchy)

5. His law, Psalms 99:7b,c (Exodus 19-20)

6. His holy hill, Psalms 99:9b

“His footstool” See note at Psalms 99:1b. The verb “tremble” (BDB 919) is similar to the noun “footstool” (BDB 919). This may be an opening and closing sound play.

Verses 6-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 99:6-9 6Moses and Aaron were among His priests, And Samuel was among those who called on His name; They called upon the Lord and He answered them. 7He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; They kept His testimonies And the statute that He gave them. 8O Lord our God, You answered them; You were a forgiving God to them, And yet an avenger of their evil deeds. 9Exalt the Lord our God And worship at His holy hill, For holy is the Lord our God.

Psalms 99:6-9 This strophe covers the period of the exodus, wilderness wanderings, conquest, and institution of the monarchy.

Psalms 99:6 “those who called on His name” This would denote an act of worship in the temple/tabernacle (cf. Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-13; see Special Topic: What Does It Mean to “Receive,” “Believe,” “Confess/Profess,” and “Call Upon?”). In Jeremiah 33:3 it denotes prayer (i.e., personal relationship).

Notice they called and YHWH answered (Psalms 99:8a)!

Psalms 99:7 “the pillar of cloud” This refers to the special cloud (“pillar,” BDB 765) representing YHWH's personal presence that led and protected the Hebrew slaves as they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:24; Exodus 33:9, Exodus 33:10; Deuteronomy 1:33; Nehemiah 9:12, Nehemiah 9:19; Psalms 78:14; Psalms 105:39).

This cloud/pillar disappeared after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.


“testimonies. . .statute” See SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION.

“that He gave them” This verse is about God's revelation (i.e., “He spoke to them”. . .”He gave them”) and His peoples' obedience to it (cf. Psalms 99:7b, i.e., “they kept”).

The “them” of Psalms 99:7 seems to refer to Moses (cf. Exodus 33:9) and Aaron (cf. Numbers 12:4-8). It could also refer to all of Israel (cf. Exodus 19-20).

This is one of the central issues of Christianity/Judaism! How has the one true God revealed Himself

1. in creation

2. in promises

3. in actions

4. #1-3 recorded them in the OT

5. in His Son

6. #5 recorded them in the NT



See the three video sermons online at www.freebiblecommentary.org in the Introductory Paragraph on the home page.

1. Why I Trust the OT

2. Why I Trust the NT

3. Is Christianity True?

Psalms 99:8 “You did answer them” This relates to the issue of prayer. I have three Special Topics (see below) that address this issue. “Them” follows the use of “they” in Psalms 99:6. Both refer to the priestly prayers of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, the great intercessors of the OT (cf. Jeremiah 15:1).

1. Moses - Exodus 32:9-14, Exodus 32:31-32; Numbers 14:13-19; Numbers 21:7; Deuteronomy 9:18-20, Deuteronomy 9:25-29; Psalms 106:23

2. Samuel - 1 Samuel 7:5, 1 Samuel 7:8-9; 1 Samuel 12:19, 1 Samuel 12:23




God's response took two forms.

1. forgiveness (i.e., Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:17-19; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 78:32; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 103:6-14)

2. avenger of their evil deeds (i.e., Exodus 32:28; Numbers 20:12; Psalms 95:11; Psalms 107:12)

These go together because obedience (cf. Psalms 99:7b) is crucial. Judgment is both punitive (i.e., Exile) and redemptive (cf. Hebrews 12:5-13). The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 155, has a great statement, “forgiveness and vengeance, lawfulness and grace, love and wrath are not contradictions in YHWH.” They reflect the tension of a grace covenant with demands for human response. For a full discussion of “retribution,” see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1140-1149.

Psalms 99:9 The NKB has Psalms 99:9 as a separate strophe, and it may be because it switches to two imperatives directed to Israel.

1. exalt the Lord our God - BDB 926. LB 1202, Polel imperative, cf. Psalms 99:5

2. worship at His holy hill (i.e., temple) - BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel, cf. Psalms 99:5

However, notice the purposeful structure of strophe one, ending in these same imperatives (Psalms 99:5) and then strophe two, ending in the same imperatives. Remember, strophe divisions are not inspired. Often modern western people analyze this OT poetry in ways that reflect our culture and literary models, not ancient Hebrew and ANE models. This may especially be true of Ugarit models.

“For holy is the Lord our God” A similar phrase closes Psalms 99:5.

There are some English versions that see the threefold repetition of this phrase (cf. Psalms 99:3, Psalms 99:5, Psalms 99:9) as the author's way of dividing his Psalm into three strophes (cf. NKJV, TEV); JPSOA has four (Psalms 99:1-3, Psalms 99:4-5, Psalms 99:6-8, Psalms 99:9).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Describe the significance of the ark of the covenant.

2. Does this Psalm, like the previous ones, have a universal element?

3. Is Psalms 99:4 talking about an ideal Davidic king or YHWH Himself?

4. Why are Moses, Aaron, and Samuel mentioned in Psalms 99:6?

5. How can YHWH be both forgiving and avenging?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 99". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-99.html. 2021.
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