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This Psalm is one of the series of Psalms which celebrate the Kingship of Jehovah. “All these Psalms,” says Perowne, “alike tell of the setting up of a Divine kingdom upon earth. All alike anticipate the event with joy. One universal anthem bursts from the whole wide world to greet the advent of the righteous King. Not Zion only and the daughters of Judah are glad, but the dwellers in far-off islands and the ends of the earth. Even inanimate nature sympathises with the joy; the sea thunders her welcome, the rivers clap their hands, the trees of the wood break forth into singing before the Lord. In all these Psalms alike the joy springs from the same source, from the thought that on this earth, where might has so long triumphed over right, a righteous King shall reign, a kingdom shall be set up which shall be a kingdom of righteousness, and judgment, and truth.
“In this Psalm, not only the righteous sway of the King, but His awful holiness, forms the subject of praise, and the true character of His worshippers as consecrated priests, holy, set apart for His service, is illustrated by the examples of holy men of old, like Moses, Aaron, and Samuel.”
THE SUPREMACY OF THE LORD IN THE CHURCH AND THE STATE
The Psalmist celebrates—
I. The supremacy of the Lord in the Church. Psalms 99:1-3.
1. The Lord dwells in the Church. “He sitteth throned upon the cherubim.” The sitting implies rest and permanence; that Jehovah is not a transient guest, but an abiding resident there. “The Lord hath chosen Zion, he hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” In a special manner the Lord dwells in the Church. He specially manifested Himself in the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple. “The Temple was the royal palace, and the Holy of Holies was the presence-chamber.” And in the Christian Church He is specially present. Here He manifests the perfections and glory of His character more fully than elsewhere—
(1) In the salvation of sinners.
(2) In the communications of His grace which He makes to His people. (See remarks on Psalms 76:2; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 87:0.)
2. The Lord it Supreme in the Church. “The Lord reigneth; He sitteth throned upon the cherubim; the Lord is great in Zion, and He is high above all the people.” The Lord rules in His Church. He is sovereign there. His will is loyally obeyed there. And He is supreme in the hearts of His people. He has manifested His greatness in the Church,—the greatness of His power, wisdom, righteousness, and grace. And He who rules in Zion rules in all the nations of the earth. He is exalted above all the peoples. The Psalmist speaks of His “great and terrible name,” or, “great and fearful name.” The Lord’s name is equivalent to the Lord himself in His revealed holiness. His name is “terrible” to His enemies, “holy” to His people, “great” to both, and should be held in awe and reverence by all men. Let the Church of this age ask herself two questions.
First. Does the Lord dwell in her midst? Are the tokens of His presence manifest? Are sinners converted to Him? Do her members live as members of a society in constant communication with and in the constant presence of the Lord and King?
Second. Is the Lord supreme in her? In some Churches Acts of Parliament are supreme, in others rigid creeds and formulæ, in others respectability and fashion, in others sacraments and ceremonies. Oh, for the day when the Lord Jesus Christ, in His spirit and principles, shall be supreme in every community of His professed followers!
II. The supremacy of the Lord in the state. Psalms 99:4-5. Two prominent features of this supremacy are mentioned by the Poet—
1. Power. “The King’s strength.” “This verse, as regards construction, is entirely dependent upon the preceding one.”—Hengstenberg. Perowne says: “Others carry on the construction from the last verse, taking the words ‘He (or, it) is holy,’ as parenthetical, thus: ‘They shall praise Thy great and fearful Name (it is holy), and the might of the King who (or, which) loveth righteousness.’ It must be confessed that, but for the words of the refrain, which it is awkward to take thus parenthetically, the sense and the construction are better preserved by this rendering.” Christ is an almighty King both in Himself, and in and for all who believe in Him.
2. Righteousness. This is the great thing. His strength is mentioned, because it is perfectly righteous. His omnipotence expresses itself only in righteousness. We have here—
(1) Righteousness in the heart of the King. “Loveth judgment.” “He loveth righteousness and judgment.” “The Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His saints.”
(2) Righteousness in His legislation. “Thou dost establish equity.” He has established rectitude as the great eternal law of His government. “The law is holy.”
(3) Righteousness in His administration. “Thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob.” Under the reign of Jehovah the executive is as just as the legislative. All the laws and all the administration tend to the establishment of righteousness.
Learn here the Divine idea of religion in the state. The government of a country is religious when the king rules in righteousness, when Parliament strives to abolish all unrighteous laws and to enact righteous ones, when magistrates and judges seek to administer the laws justly, and when venality and corruption are swept from all its departments and offices.
There is one feature in the relation of the King both to the Church and to the State which is brought into prominence, viz., His Holiness. “He is holy.” Charnock well says: “As His holiness seems to challenge an excellency above all His other perfections, so it is the glory of all the rest; as it is the glory of the Godhead, so it is the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them.… As sincerity is the lustre of every grace in a Christian, so is purity the splendour of every attribute in the Godhead. His justice is a holy justice, His wisdom a holy wisdom, His arm of power a ‘holy arm,’ His truth or promise a ‘holy promise.’ ‘Holy and true’ go hand in hand. ‘His name,’ which signifies all His attributes in conjunction, is holy.’ ”
III. The holy supremacy of the Lord as a reason for worship. “Let them praise Thy name; for it is holy. Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool; for He is holy.” Holiness is the summation of all moral perfections; therefore we should worship the Lord. He is supreme not only in position, but in character; therefore we should adore Him. We should exalt Him—
1. With reverent fear. “Let the people tremble; let the earth be moved.” Amyraldus points out that the fear which proceeds from simple reverence, as well as that which arises from apprehension of evil, produces trembling. So the first verse may apply to the Church as well as to the world. With awe approach THE HOLY ONE.
2. With profound humility. “Worship at His footstool.” As weak and dependent creatures, and especially as sinful creatures, it behoveth us to draw near to Him with deep self-abasement.
EXAMPLES OF THE HOLY SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD AND THE BECOMING WORSHIP OF HIS PEOPLE
The connection of these verses with the foregoing is not very clear. It is not easy to trace with certainty the continuity or the relation of thought. The relation suggested by Perowne seems to us the most probable with which we are acquainted. “The great subject of the Psalmist’s praise is the holiness of God. It is a holy God whom he calls upon all men to worship. It is ‘a holy foot-stool,’ ‘a holy mountain,’ before which they bow down; it is therefore a holy worship which they must render. Such was the worship of His saints of old: and then likewise Jehovah manifested His holiness both in ‘forgiving’ and in ‘taking vengeance.’ ” Consider—
I. The examples of the becoming worship of man. “Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel,” &c. Of these Aaron only was a priest in the usual acceptation of the term. But Moses discharged the priestly duties before Aaron entered upon his office (Exodus 40:22-27), and he consecrated Aaron and his sons. Samuel also exercised priestly functions (1 Samuel 9:12-13; and 1 Samuel 7:9). But the feature of the priestly office which is here brought into view is intercession, calling upon God. “Among them that call upon His name,” is an explanation of “among His priests.” Examples of this calling upon God in intercession by Moses are recorded in Exodus 17:11-12; Exodus 32:30-32; Psalms 106:23; and by Samuel, 1 Samuel 7:8-9; 1 Samuel 12:16-19; 1 Samuel 12:23. And a signal example of the efficacy of Aaron’s intercession is recorded in Numbers 16:47-48. These distinguished saints worshipped God—
1. In earnest prayer. Intercessions and pleadings such as theirs—so bold, yet so reverent; so confident, yet so humble—greatly honour the Lord. Their living faith in Himself and their sincere and deep trust in His mercy were well-pleasing to Him. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
2. In holy lives. “They kept His testimonies and the ordinances that He gave them.” They gave to God the praise not only of the lip, but of the life. “Thanksgiving is good, but thanks-living is better.” A holy life is the true expression of a reverent heart. The worship of a holy life excels the purest and most reverent worship of prayer and praise; because
(1) it is constant, and
(2) it is more influential.
Let us imitate these high examples of worship.
II. The examples of the holy sovereignty of God. “He answered them. He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar. Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God,” &c. The Lord’s holy sovereignty was manifest in His answers to the prayers of His servants. He answered them—
1. By His communications unto them. “He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar.” These words are strictly applicable only to Moses and Aaron. But the cloudy pillar may be taken as a figurative expression denoting Divine revelation generally, taken from one of its original forms. The Lord frequently communicated with Moses (Exodus 16:10-12; Exodus 24:15-18, et al); and with Aaron (Numbers 12:5-8). Moreover the Lord often spoke to Samuel. Even in childhood the voice of the Lord was addressed to him; and He continued to communicate with him through a long life. In thus responding to the worship of His servants the Lord manifested His gracious condescension, &c.
2. By granting the forgiveness for which they pleaded. “Thou wast a God that forgavest them.” These ancient saints interceded with the Lord on behalf of the sinful people, when His wrath was kindled against them (Exodus 32:11-14; Exodus 32:31-32; Numbers 16:47-48; 1 Samuel 7:9), and in answer to their prayers He forgave the sins of the people. In their own personal history there are no remarkable examples of the forgiving mercy of the Lord; but there are in their intercessions for the people. The Divine supremacy is merciful and gracious. The King has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
3. By inflicting judgment on their evil doings. “Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions,” or “doings.” There is perhaps an allusion here to the punishment of the whole adult population of Israel for their murmurings and rebellions. In that portion of their history we see the intercession (Numbers 14:13-19), the forgiveness (20, 21), and the judgment (22, 23). Thus God manifested His grace in hearing prayer, His mercy to the offenders, His anger against sin, and His holiness in all.
1. How holy are all the doings of God! Holiness has been defined “the symmetry of the soul;” and all the attributes and operations of God are gloriously symmetrical, they harmonise; the harmony is holiness.
2. How great is the power of prayer! “Prayer is the slender nerve that moveth the muscles of Omnipotence.”
PARDON WITH PUNISHMENT
“Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.”
A very great and grave mistake about the whole relations of forgiveness and retribution, and about the whole character of that Divine nature from which they both flow, is implied and concentrated, as it were, in that little word “though.” It is no part of the original Psalm, and the rendering is a case of interpretation, rather than of translation. What the Psalm says is this: “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, and Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” There is no apparent antagonism here even hinted at between pardon, forgiveness, and punishment, but they are both regarded as parts of one great whole, and as flowing from the holy love of God, which the whole Psalm celebrates.
“Vengeance”! The modern notion attached to revenge is by no means to be found in the word which is here employed. What the Old Testament meant by vengeance is precisely that public justice to which the modern notion of revenge is diametrically opposed.
I. That forgiveness is, at bottom, the undisturbed communication of the love of God to sinful man. We are far too apt to think that God pardons men in the fashion in which the sovereign pardons a culprit who has been sentenced to be hanged. Such pardon implies nothing as to the feelings of either the criminal or the monarch. There need neither be pity on the one side nor penitence on the other. The true idea of forgiveness is to be found not in the region of law only, but in the region of love and Fatherhood. The forgiveness of God is over and over again set forth in Scripture as being—a father’s forgive-ness. “Your heavenly Father will forgive you your trespasses.” Let us remember our own childhood, our children, and how we do with them … Not putting up the rod, but taking your child to your heart, is your forgiveness. The blessing of forgiveness is not fully comprehended when it is thought of as shutting up some outward hell, or the quenching of its flames. It goes much deeper than this, and means the untroubled communion of love and delight between the reconciled father and the repentant child. The slave may dread the rod, but the child dreads the father’s closed heart. And pardon is the open heart of God, full of love, unaverted by any consequences of my sin, unclosed by any of my departures from Him.
II. That such pardon does necessarily sweep away the one true penalty of sin. I have been maintaining that the proper notion of pardon is not the removal of penalty, and that is absolutely true if you think of penalty only as being external and arbitrarily inflicted. But it is not true when we come into the spiritual region. What is the penalty of sin? “The wages of sin is death.” What is “death”? The wrenching away of a dependent soul from God. How is that penalty ended? When the soul is united to God in the threefold bond of trust, love, and obedience. The communication of the love is the barring of the hell. The one true penalty of sin is to be torn asunder from God by our own evil desires, and therefore the outflow of His love to us sinners is really the cancelling of the sorest penalty and true wages of unrighteousness. The real penalty passes away where the love is welcomed and received.
III. That the pardoning mercy of God leaves many penalties unremoved.
“Thou forgavest them, and Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” Forgiveness and punishment are both parts of one process, they both come from one source, the One heart which is all holiness and all love. Let me remind you of historical illustrations that may help to bring this idea out a little more clearly. Aaron, see ‘Numbers 20:24; Moses, see Deuteronomy 32:48-51; David, see 2 Samuel 12:7-14. The old statement, “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap,” is absolutely true, universally true. God loves us too well, not to punish His children when they sin, and He loves us too well to annihilate, were it possible, the secondary consequences of our transgressions. The two sides of the one truth must both be recognised—that the deepest and the primary penalties of our evil, which are separation from God, and the painful consciousness of guilt, are swept away—and, also, that other results are allowed to remain, which, being allowed, may be blessed and salutary for the transgressors. If you waste your youth, no repentance will send the shadow back upon the dial, or recover the ground lost by idleness, or restore the constitution shattered by dissipation, or give again the resources wasted upon vice, or bring back the fleeting opportunities.
IV. That pardoning love so modifies the punishment that it becomes an occasion for solemn thankfulness. Whatever painful consequences of past sin may still linger about our lives, or haunt our hearts, we may be sure of two things about them all—that they come from Forgiving Mercy, that they come for our profit. It is no harsh,—no, nor even only a righteous Judge who deals with us. We are chastened by a Father’s hand. “When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned.” The stroke of condemnation will never fall upon our pardoned hearts. That it may not, the loving strokes of His discipline must needs accompany the embrace of His forgiveness. And so the pains change their character, and become things to be desired, to be humbly welcomed, to be patiently borne and used, and even to be woven into our hymns of praise.
Brethren! you know where and how the pardon is to be found. In Christ is all the Divine forgiveness treasured. Trust in Him, and there is no condemnation for you.
You have before you an alternative—either you will be separated from your sins by God’s pardon in Christ and God’s chastisement of love; or, clutching your sins, refusing to let Him cast them all away, you will be separated by them utterly from God, and so fall into the death which is the wages and punishment of sin.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 99". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12