This psalm, without title in the Hebrew text, is a triple proclamation of God’s holiness, as Isaiah would later do (Isaiah 6:3).
“Here, after the carefree delight of Psalm 98, we recollect how exalted and holy he is, and how profound is the reverence we owe him.” (Derek Kidner)
A. The holy presence of God.
1. (1) God is present in His sanctuary.
The LORD reigns;
Let the peoples tremble!
He dwells between the cherubim;
Let the earth be moved!
a. The LORD reigns: For the third time, a psalm begins with this phrase (see also Psalm 93:1 and 97:1). Psalm 99 speaks of God’s presence (He dwells between the cherubim), but in His presence He reigns. God isn’t simply there; He is a reigning king.
b. Let the peoples tremble: In the presence of a sovereign God, it is appropriate to tremble. Even the earth can be moved at His presence – much more so should the peoples be moved.
i. “Saints quiver with devout emotion, and sinners quiver with terror when the rule of Jehovah is fully perceived and felt.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Men of the world ridiculed ‘the Quakers’ for trembling when under the power of the Holy Spirit; had they been able to discern the majesty of the Eternal they would have quaked also.” (Spurgeon)
c. He dwells between the cherubim: God is enthroned in His sanctuary. It is difficult to say whether the psalmist had in mind the heavenly sanctuary of God or the earthly representation of it (the tabernacle or temple); both are true and either one fits.
i. “His living throne of cherubim – not the weaponless cupids of religious art but the mighty beings whose forms summed up for Ezekiel the whole kingdom of earthly creatures – this living throne is a flying chariot, fiery with judgment and salvation.” (Kidner)
2. (2-3) God is present in Zion.
The LORD is great in Zion,
And He is high above all the peoples.
Let them praise Your great and awesome name—
He is holy.
a. The LORD is great in Zion: God is present in heaven and in all the earth, but He has special regard for Zion, the city of Jerusalem. In that city set in the hills, He is high above the peoples.
i. The LORD is great in Zion: “In the Hebrew text the words lie in this order, The Lord in Zion…is great.” (Poole)
b. Let them praise Your great and awesome name: God rightfully receives praise because of His greatness and because He is holy.
i. He is holy: Holiness, at its root, has the idea of apartness. It describes someone, or something, which is set apart from other people or things. An object can be holy if it is set apart for sacred service. A person is holy if he is are set apart for God’s will and purpose.
ii. “Holy is a word to emphasize the distance between God and man: not only morally, as between the pure and the polluted, but in the realm of being, between the eternal and the creaturely.” (Kidner)
iii. God Himself is set apart in many senses. He is set apart from creation, in that the Lord God is not a creature, and He exists outside of all creation. If all creation were to dissolve, the Lord God would remain. He is set apart from humanity, in that His nature or essence is Divine, not human. God is not a super-man or the ultimate man. God is not merely smarter than any man, stronger than any man, older than any man, or better than any man. You can’t measure God on man’s chart at all. He is Divine, and we are human.
iv. God’s holiness is a part of everything He is and does. God’s power is a holy power. God’s love is a holy love. God’s wisdom is a holy wisdom. Holiness is not an aspect of God’s personality; it is the essence of His entire Being.
v. “While the word itself signifies simply separateness, and was used with reference to other gods by other peoples, it acquired a new significance in this Divine revelation…. God was revealed as separated from everything unjust, untrue, evil, in His character, and therefore in all His dealings with men, whether in the giving of law, or in the activities of government.” (Morgan)
vi. He is holy: “As this not only ends this verse but the fifth also, and in effect the ninth, it seems to be a [kind] of chorus which was sung in a very solemn manner at the conclusion of each of these parts. His holiness – the immaculate purity of his nature, was the reason why he should be exalted, praised, and worshipped.” (Clarke)
B. The holy strength of God.
1. (4) The strong righteousness of God.
The King’s strength also loves justice;
You have established equity;
You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
a. The King’s strength also loves justice: God’s great strength and sovereignty could, in theory, be used for evil. Yet Yahweh the King loves justice and has established equity.
i. “He is no arbitrary ruler. His reign is for the furtherance of justice.” (Maclaren)
ii. “God abuseth not his kingly power to tyranny, but joineth it with his justice and uprightness. Regiment without righteousness is but robbery with authority.” (Trapp)
b. You have executed justice: With God, justice and equity are not mere slogans or promises. He has executed justice among His people and in the world and will continue to do so.
i. “Most kingdoms have an establishment of some kind, and generally it is inequitable; here we have an establishment which is equity itself. The Lord our God demolishes every system of injustice, and right alone is made to stand.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “That king-craft which delights in cunning, favouritism, and brute force is as opposite to the divine kingship as darkness to light. The palace of Jehovah is no robber’s fortress nor despot’s castle, built on dungeons, with stones carved by slaves, and cemented with the blood of toiling serfs.” (Spurgeon)
2. (5) The proper response to His holy strength.
Exalt the LORD our God,
And worship at His footstool—
He is holy.
a. Exalt the LORD our God: Understanding the power, holiness, and goodness of God should lead us to exalt Him and to humbly worship Him.
b. Worship at His footstool: Most commentators regard this as the ark of the covenant, connected to their understanding of between the cherubim in Psalm 99:1. The ark of the covenant is called His footstool (1 Chronicles 28:2), but so are Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:1) and the earth as a whole (Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 5:35, Acts 7:49).
i. “The object of the exaltation and ‘worship at his footstool’ is to submit oneself to his sovereignty and to respond properly to his holy presence.” (VanGemeren)
c. He is holy: The statement from Psalm 99:3 is repeated for emphasis. God is holy in all He is and all He does.
i. “The Bible calls God holy more than anything else, more than sovereign, more than just, more than merciful or loving. In fact ‘holy’ is the only epithet of God that is repeated three times for emphasis, like this: ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).” (Boice)
ii. “Holiness is the harmony of all the virtues. The Lord has not one glorious attribute alone, or in excess, but all glories are in him as a whole; this is the crown of his honour and the honour of his crown. His power is not his choicest jewel, nor his sovereignty, but his holiness.” (Spurgeon)
C. The holy revelation of God.
1. (6-7) God revealed to His priests.
Moses and Aaron were among His priests,
And Samuel was among those who called upon His name;
They called upon the LORD, and He answered them.
He spoke to them in the cloudy pillar;
They kept His testimonies and the ordinance He gave them.
a. Moses and Aaron were among His priests: The psalmist listed three notable priests in the history of Israel – Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. These were ones who prayed (called upon His name) and God revealed Himself (He answered them).
i. “To encourage the faithful in the worship of God, the examples of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel are [cited as evidence], men of like infirmities with ourselves, whose prayers were heard, both for themselves and others.” (Horne)
ii. “Priestly functions were exercised by Moses, as in sprinkling the blood of the covenant, [Exodus 24:1-18] and in the ceremonial connected with the consecration of Aaron and his sons, [Leviticus 8:1-36] as well as at the first celebration of worship in the Tabernacle [Exodus 40:18-33].” (Maclaren)
iii. Priests: “The noun is a participial form from the verb ‘serve’ and is here loosely used for ‘servants’ or ‘intercessors.’ Moses, Aaron, and Samuel interceded on Israel’s behalf.” (VanGemeren)
iv. Among those who called upon His name: “Evidently those that call upon the name of God compose a separate class…. It is a high honor to be included among them that call upon His name. If you cannot find your place in any other class, perhaps it is here.” (Meyer)
b. He spoke to them in the cloudy pillar: The pillar of cloud was the physical representation of God’s presence with Israel in the wilderness. God spoke to Moses from that cloudy pillar (Exodus 33:9).
c. They kept His testimonies: The psalmist noted the general obedience of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel.
2. (8-9) God revealed in forgiveness and holiness.
You answered them, O LORD our God;
You were to them God-Who-Forgives,
Though You took vengeance on their deeds.
Exalt the LORD our God,
And worship at His holy hill;
For the LORD our God is holy.
a. You were to them God-Who-Forgives: God answered these men (and others) who sought Him. He revealed Himself to them as the God-Who-Forgives. Significantly, even these men of whom it was said, they kept His testimonies (Psalm 99:7) need this revelation of the God-Who-Forgives.
b. Though You took vengeance on their deeds: It isn’t clear if the ones referred to here are the priests mentioned in Psalm 99:6 (Moses, Aaron, and Samuel) or if it is referring to the people they prayed for (Israel as a whole). Most commentators regard their deeds as referring to Israel’s deeds, but it is also true that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were each disciplined by God in some way.
i. “God spared them, but showed his displeasure at their misdoings. He chastised, but did not consume them. This is amply proved in the history of this people.” (Clarke)
ii. “Through all the history of His people He has been faithful, both in forgiveness and in vengeance, and that because He is holy. Therein is the reason for worship. Herein also is the reason for trembling.” (Morgan)
c. Exalt the LORD our God: Once more the reader is compelled to exalt God, to worship Him, and to recognize God’s holiness.
d. For the LORD our God is holy: For the emphatic third time, God’s holiness is proclaimed. Later, in heavenly visions, the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:3) and the Apostle John (Revelation 4:8) would hear this three-time declaration of holiness combined into a single sentence.
i. “This is the supreme reason for confidence in Him, and so the supreme inspiration of worship.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org