God, King of Justice and Holiness
1 The Lord is King;[b]
let the nations tremble.
He sits enthroned on the cherubim;
let the earth quake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted above all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name:[c]
holy is he!
4 Mighty King, you love justice,
and you have established fairness;
in Jacob[d] you have brought about
what is just and right.
5 Exalt the Lord, our God,
and worship at his footstool;
holy is he![e]
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
and Samuel was among those who invoked his name;
they cried out to the Lord,
and he answered them.[f]
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;[g]
they obeyed his decrees and the law he gave them.
8 O Lord, our God,
you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but you punished their wrongdoings.[h]
9 Exalt the Lord, our God,
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the Lord, our God, is holy.[i]
- Psalm 99:1 Each of the two parts of this eschatological hymn is followed by a refrain (vv. 5, 9) that stresses the holiness of the King of Israel (see Isa 6:3-5). In the temple at Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant had two winged creatures, the cherubim, which were considered to be the throne of God. It is a weak image of the greatness of the Almighty, for whom Mount Zion is a “footstool.” God is so holy that he infinitely transcends all the realities of the universe. However, his holiness is not a far-off greatness, indifferent to human life. In adoring him, we are brought face to face with the demands of justice, rectitude, and faith. The holiness of God is truly astounding. In the final analysis, it constitutes God’s intimate presence in our lives.
We can pray this psalm in honor of Christ the King who is all-holy and always obedient to the will of his Father (see Jn 4:34; 14:31). His whole life Jesus carried out what the Father had given him to accomplish, one lengthy self-sacrifice for the salvation of the world (Heb 7:27; 9:28).
- Psalm 99:1 The Lord is King: see note on Ps 93:1a-b. Cherubim: see note on Ps 18:11.
- Psalm 99:3 Name: see note on Ps 5:12. Holy is he: God is so holy that he infinitely transcends all the realities of our universe; furthermore, because he is holy himself, God calls upon his people to be holy too (see Lev 11:44). They must consecrate themselves wholly to him (see also Mt 5:48; Rom 12:1).
- Psalm 99:4 God is completely just by nature. He gave the law to his people so that they could live in his ways. Paul characterizes the Gospel as the revelation of the justice (“righteousness”) of God (see Rom 1:17). Jacob: i.e., Israel (see Gen 32:29).
- Psalm 99:5 God is portrayed seated in heaven with his feet resting on the earth as on a footstool (see Isa 66:1), and more specifically on Mount Zion (see Ps 132:7; 1 Chr 28:2; Lam 2:1). The people are to praise and worship the Lord at his footstool.
- Psalm 99:6 The psalmist wishes to show that the Lord is a gracious King who hears the prayers of all who come to him with the right disposition. To do so, he mentions three great figures who at various stages interceded with the Lord for the nation (see Ex 32:30; Num 17:12f; 1 Sam 7:2-11).
- Psalm 99:7 Spoke to them from the pillar of cloud: the pillar of cloud was the symbol of God’s presence with his people during the Exodus (see Ex 13:21f), and God spoke to Moses (see Ex 33:9) and to Aaron (see Num 12:5) in the pillar of cloud. But though he spoke to Samuel, we have no record of it being in the pillar of cloud. Hence, the psalmist may here be alluding to the communication itself rather than how God communicated.
- Psalm 99:8 Punished their wrongdoings: among those punished for wrongdoings were Moses and Aaron, neither of whom was allowed to enter the Promised Land (see Ps 106:22f; Num 27:14; Deut 3:26).
- Psalm 99:9 Refrain similar to that in verse 5.