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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 99

Verse 1

PSALM 99

HOLY; HOLY; HOLY; IS THE LORD OF HOSTS (Isaiah 6:3)

"This Psalm falls into three parts: (1) Psalms 99:1-3; (2) Psalms 99:4-5; and (3) Psalms 99:6-9, each concluded with a declaration of God's holiness. It is an echo of the Trisagion of the seraphim (Isaiah 6:3)."[1] In the light of this discerning remark by Delitzsch, we have chosen the above title for Psalms 99.

"The Trisagion is the name of a hymn, probably of Hebrew origin, that is in the liturgy of the Greek and Oriental churches, beginning with the words, `Holy, holy, holy.'"[2]

Scholars are by no means unanimous in their classifications of this group of psalms. Rhodes called this one, "The Last of the Enthronement Psalms."[3] McCaw classified it as next to the last of "Six liturgical psalms (Psalms 95-100)."[4] Kidner made it next to the last of a group of eight Psalms (Psalms 93-100), which he named, "The Kingship and Advent of our Lord."[5] All such classifications in our own opinion are of very little help.

"A number of ancient versions ascribe this psalm to David;"[6] but most present-day scholars consider this indecisive.

To us it appears that Kidner is correct in seeing in this psalm a declaration related to, "God's final Advent."[7] This interpretation is supported by the words, "Let the earth be moved," and other implications of verse 1.

Psalms 99:1-3

"Jehovah reigneth; let the peoples tremble:

He sitteth above the cherubim; let the earth be moved.

Jehovah is great in Zion;

And he is high above all the peoples.

Let them praise thy great and terrible name:

Holy is he."

"Let the peoples tremble" (Psalms 99:1). The trembling of all nations (the Gentiles) is not connected with the current dispensation; but the time indicated here is that moment when the entirety of Adam's race will suddenly behold, "Him that sitteth upon the throne" (Revelation 6:16).

"He sitteth above the cherubim" (Psalms 99:1). Most scholars seem to think this is a reference to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple. Rawlinson expressed that interpretation thus: "The imagery is taken from the internal economy of the Jewish Temple, where the Shechinah was enthroned above the cherubic forms that overshadowed the Mercy Seat."[8] However, Kidner rejected that view, saying, "The throne of the living God above the cherubim is not a reference to the weaponless cupids of religious art, but to the mighty beings seen in Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:4ff)."[9]

"Let the earth be moved" (Psalms 99:1). The cosmic disturbances that shall accompany the Final Advent of God in Christ are often mentioned in the Bible. Hebrews 12:26-27 definitely makes the removal of the earth one of the cosmic events taking place on that occasion.

"Jehovah is great in Zion" (Psalms 99:2). We need not limit the meaning here to the literal Jerusalem. That ancient dwelling place of the Lord typified the New Jerusalem, "which is our mother" (Galatians 4:26); and the Second Advent will be the occasion when God will appear to all the peoples of the earth as great in both Jerusalems.

"Let them praise" (Psalms 99:3). The antecedent of `them' is `peoples,' all the peoples of the earth, indicating that the message here is by no means restricted to the literal Israel. Both Jerusalems and both Israels will praise God at the Second Advent.

"Holy is he" (Psalms 99:3b). This expression, with a variation in Psalms 99:9, closes each of the three divisions of this psalm.

Verse 4

"The king's strength also loveth justice;

Thou dost establish equity;

Thou executist justice and righteousness in Jacob,

Exalt ye Jehovah our God,

And worship at his footstool:

Holy is he."

"The king's strength loveth justice" (Psalms 99:4). "What is meant is the theocratic kingship,"[10] being, of course, a reference to the earthly kings of Israel. We cannot accept this, because practically none of those kings either loved justice or established equity. "`The King,' here is the Lord."[11] "Surely only one King is spoken of here, namely, God Himself."[12]

"Equity ... justice ... righteousness" (Psalms 99:4). These holy principles were announced in Psalms 98:9 as features of God's final judgment; and there is no grounds for referring them to anything else in this passage.

"In Jacob" (Psalms 99:4). This name is a synonym for Israel, but both the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Israel which succeeded the Israel of old are intended. Both will appear simultaneously at the final judgment.

"Exalt Jehovah ... worship at his footstool" (Psalms 99:5). Where is God's footstool? "The earth itself is God's footstool" (Isaiah 66:1); and what is meant here is that "anywhere and everywhere on the whole earth is the appropriate place for worshipping God." This has been and continues to be the proper understanding of "where" God should be worshipped ever since the First Advent. Under the old dispensation, Jerusalem alone was the place to worship God. Since it is "the peoples," inclusive of the Gentiles, who are to worship God (Psalms 99:2), we should have expected this release from the "Jerusalem only" restriction in the Old Testament.

"Holy is he" (Psalms 99:5). This, as in Psalms 99:3, marks the end of this paragraph.

Verse 6

"Moses and Aaron among his priests,

And Samuel among them that call upon his name;

They called upon Jehovah, and he answered them.

He spake unto them in the pillar of cloud:

They kept his testimonies,

And the statute that he gave them.

Thou answeredst them, O Jehovah our God:

Thou wast a God that forgavest them,

Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings.

Exalt ye Jehovah our God,

And worship at his holy hill;

For Jehovah our God is holy."

The mention of three of the great heroes of national Israel, as well as the stress for worshipping God "at his holy hill" indicates the special application of this part of the psalm to the ancient Israel. Appropriately, the prayerful obedience of Israel's past leaders, the emphasis upon God's holiness, along with the reminder that even Moses, Aaron and Samuel, although forgiven, were also punished for their sins - all these declarations were extremely appropriate for the ancient Israel, whose repeated rebellions and sins constitute the principal burden of the Old Testament.

"Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name" (Psalms 99:6). Moses is here called a priest because of certain priestly functions which he performed in the consecration of Aaron, the setting up of the tabernacle, and also because of his intercessory prayers for Israel. Aaron was the first High Priest. Samuel, who was not a priest, is here mentioned as one, "who called upon God's name" (Psalms 99:6). An instance of Samuel's prayers for Israel is found in 1 Samuel 12:19-22.

"They kept his testimonies ... and the statute" (Psalms 99:7). This was a strong reminder to Israel that the great blessings that came to Israel under such leadership was due to the "obedience" of those great leaders. Israel needed that reminder.

"Thou (God) forgavest them" (Psalms 99:8). Yes, even Moses, Aaron and Samuel committed sins. Moses and Aaron did so at the waters of Meribah; and Samuel's excessive leniency toward his reprobate sons was sinful. God forgave those sins; but the fact of their still suffering the penalties due from them was cited in the same breath.

"Thou (God) tookest vengeance of their doings" (Psalms 99:8). Moses and Aaron were forbidden to enter Canaan; and, "Samuel's judgeship seems to have been brought to an end through his undue leniency toward his sons Joel and Abijah (1 Samuel 7:1-5)."[13]

"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" is a law which is not abrogated by forgiveness. All of God's forgiveness is accompanied by punishment in order to show the pardoned man how deadly his sin was. The worst penalty of sin, separation from God, is wholly turned aside by forgiveness; but for the most part the earthly penalties of sin, and which are the natural results of sin, whether in character, memory, habit, or circumstances, are not removed by pardon. The character of such penalties is changed so that they become loving chastisements for our profit.[14]

"Worship at his holy hill" (Psalms 99:9). This restriction contrasts with worship at God's footstool (Psalms 99:5), which is the whole earth, and indicates that this portion of the psalm must be understood as directed to the Old Testament Israel.

"For Jehovah our God is holy" (Psalms 99:9). This statement is fully the equivalent of "He is holy," the concluding words in Psalms 99:3,5, and serves also as the concluding exclamation here.

The combination here of words regarding the final judgment in Psalms 99:1-5, along with the final section (Psalms 99:6-9) which applies especially to Israel, seems to be characteristic of all of the psalms, many of which have a number of elements in the same psalm.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 99". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-99.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.