Tom Lowe

Psalm 99
(A hymn to the God of holiness, supposed to be a psalm of David, a Coronation Psalm, the sixth of the “royal psalms” 93, 95-100)

Theme: Worship the Lord for His majesty and holiness

Psalm 99

1 The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people.
3 Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy.
4 The king's strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity, thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them.
8 Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.
9 Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy.


This psalm looks first at the future, and then at the present, then at the past. It views the Lord as the One who is to come, as the One who is, and as the One who was—the One who occupies all the tenses of time. This is the One that sat upon the throne, eternal, almighty. A well-liked commentator made this interesting observation: “In the fuller light of the Christian revelation we see this threefold fact in the life of God suggested. The Father enthroned, the Son administers His Kingdom, and the Spirit interprets His will through leaders and circumstances, through pity and through punishment.”

This psalm shows us that the One who sat upon the throne is prophet, priest, and king. In Israel men were anointed for each of these ministries. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One. We are to believe not only that He lives, but that He reigns.


[99:1-3] This is what one can expect when dealing with the coronation of a king.

1 The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.

Jehovah sits upon the throne in heaven (9:11{1.1]; 110:2; 146:10) but in the psalmist’s day, He was also enthroned on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies of the sanctuary on Mount Zion (see 80:1{1.2]; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6). It was there that God’s Glory rested, and from there God spoke to Moses and ruled the nation of Israel (Numbers 7:89{1.3]).

The word translated “tremble” literally means “to shake with the earth” or “to be violently agitated, emotional.” Well might the peoples of the earth fear at the advent of this king! Well might the earth [the people of the earth] be moved [with fear and trembling]! In the beginning the Lord ruled more by the power of holy fear; now He rules by the power of holy love.

The King who has come back had the marks of Calvary upon Him. The feet that rend Olivet are feet once pierced by Roman nails. He is seen sitting between or upon the cherubim. That is how John describes Him in the Apocalypse, “in the midst of the four living creatures.” The position is full of significance.

“He sitteth between the cherubims” is a reference to the belief that God’s throne on earth was above the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant between the two winged creatures known as cherubim (Exodus 25:18-22{1.4]; 37:7-9). The holiness of God’s name makes it truly great to His friends and terrible to His enemies. But though He is great and awful, we do not fear Him; for “he sitteth on the cherubim,” a phrase which always recalls the blood sprinkled mercy-seat—God in Christ, reconciling the world.

The cherubim appear first in connection with the goodness of God at the gate of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, having eaten of the tree of life, have been driven from paradise. When they turned to look back at the portals of their lost Eden they saw a fearful sentinel there, a cherub with a flaming sword. His mission was to keep them from the tree of life.

[1.1} “Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings” (Psalms 9:11).
[1.2} “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim. . .” (Psalms 80:1). It was between the cherubim, over the cover of the ark, called the propitiatory or mercy-seat, that the glory of the Lord, or symbol of the Divine Presence, appeared. It is on this account that the Lord is so often said to dwell between the cherubim.
[1.3} “And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims: and he spake unto him” (Numbers 7:89). Upon the ark in which the law was, called the testimony, was the mercy seat; over that were placed two cherubim following it, and between these was the seat of the divine Majesty, which he had now taken, and from hence the voice of him speaking, was heard.”
[1.4} “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:18-22).

2 The Lord is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people.

It has always been God’s intention to make Zion the political capital of the world and to make Israel the hand of the nations. When God called Israel to be a nation he gave her political ascendancy and spiritual ascendency over all other nations. He took away Israel’s political ascendancy because of her repeated unfaithfulness, and He handed that political ascendancy to the Gentiles, in the person of Nebuchadnezzar. A new period in human history began, called by the Lord Jesus “the times of the Gentiles.”

Spiritual ascendency, however, still remained with Israel. If God had anything to say, He still said it through a Jew. Then, when Israel rejected the Messiah and crucified Christ, God took away her spiritual ascendency over the nations and invested it in the Church. There began another period in human history called “the fullness of the Gentiles.”

At the rapture of the Church, God will again begin dealing with the Jewish people, and spiritual ascendency will be restored to the Hebrew people. The witnesses in the tribulation age will be Jewish witnesses. At the ultimate return of Christ, “the times of the Gentiles” will end, and God will restore one and all to send and see to Israel. Zion will come into its own.

Zion is to be great, and the Lord [the majesty of God] is great in Zion. The psalmist anticipates that day. The Lord is to be high above all the people on the earth and in heaven. All the nations will acknowledge the authority of Christ, the administration of the Jews, and the ascendency of Zion. Zion will be the capital of a new world order. All nations will accept the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ, exalted over all, on His throne in Zion. There He is served as great, more than anywhere else. There He is high above all people [above all the people of the earth, who shall exalt themselves against Him]; just as that which is high is exposed to view and looked up to, so in Zion the perfection of the divine nature appears more conspicuous and more illustrious than anywhere else, therefore, let those that dwell in Zion and worship there, praise Thy great and terrible name, and give thee the Glory due unto it, for it too is holy (v. 3).

3 Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy{3.1].

The psalmist notes, too, how holy the Lord’s throne is: “Let them praise Thy great and terrible name; for it is holy,” and therefore, the most praiseworthy. The translators often render that last clause: “Holy is He!” Earth and Heaven are in agreement at last; man on earth responds along with the hierarchy of heaven to proclaim the holiness of our Savior, Lord, and King.

[3.1} The word “holy” means “separate, set apart, totally different.”

4 The king's strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity, thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob.

In verse four, the subject is “The Lord’s Morality,” which is morality in the strictest sense. We hear a lot these days about relative morality, a moral standard which varies according to the situation. The Lord knows nothing about such a flexible standard of morality. When the Lord comes He will establish His empire on absolute morality.

The apostle makes three points about “The Lord’s Morality”:
1) He Embraces Morality.
“The Kings strength also loveth judgment.” The word for “judgment” can be rendered “justice.” Observe that the Lord embraces morality in the hour of His strength; the very time when many who rise to power go wrong. There is an old saying that is just as true today as it was back then: “All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” History proves these words to be only too true.

The Lord Jesus, when He comes, will reign first as David, to put down all His foes; then as Solomon, to display to the world the manifold wisdom of God [See explanation given in verse 6]. But never will He, in His strength, depart from justice. He embraces morality. “The king’s strength loveth justice”—i.e., the almighty power of the divine king is wholly absorbed in what is right.
2) He Establishes Morality.
“The king's strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity.” This has been translated in a couple of ways: “Thou art a King, in love with justice”; “The Kings energy is keenly set on justice.” The thought is that God’s mind is pledged to the vindication of His justice, as King of the universe. He establishes equity and executes judgment (justice) and righteousness. There will be no bias, no deviation from the path of absolute justice, equity, and integrity.
3) He Enforces Morality.
“Thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob.” The word “Thou” is emphatic; it is the word to be emphasized in the sentence. The character of the kingdom reflects the character of the king: He does what He does because He is what He is. He will be the ideal prince.

Israel’s government was a theocracy. God raised up David to rule over them [and some think this psalm was written upon the occasion of his enthronement] and He is the King whose strength loveth judgment. He is strong, but all his strength comes from God; and he does not abuse his strength by supporting anything wrong as great princes often do. Romans 13 teaches us that civil authorities [kings, presidents, congressmen, judges, etc.] are the ministers of God, not just the employees of the governed.

“Thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob.” In all He does equity is constant and stable. When they do wrong He punishes His own people, but no less than other people, as he notes in verse 8. This shows that He is no respecter of persons, but a righteous and impartial judge to all sorts of men. They are unflatteringly called Jacob, the one who, though given a new name (Israel) and a new nature, still so often lived the old Jacob’s-life.

[99:5-6] The psalmist identifies the Lord Jesus as “The Ideal Priest.” He is One who can wear the robes of a priest and the crown of a king. He is not only the ideal prince, He is the ideal priest. That the two thoughts should be linked in one psalm speaks volumes for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for no Hebrew would have brought the two offices together in a single person apart from such divine inspiration.

5 Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.

In Scripture the “footstool” could be the ark of the covenant (1 Chronicles 28:2{5.1]), the sanctuary of God (132:7; Isaiah 60:13{5.2]; Ezekiel 43:7{5.3]), and the city of Jerusalem (lamentations 2:1), or even planet earth (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:35). Solomon’s throne had a footstool of gold (2 Chronicles 9:18), and visitors would kneel there in homage before him. The sanctuary on Mount Zion was God’s chosen dwelling place, and the ark in the sanctuary was His appointed throne, so when the Jewish Pilgrims came to Jerusalem, they were worshipping at His footstool. Note that this verse is the central verse of the psalm and emphasizes the three major themes of the psalm: God’s holiness and our privilege and responsibility to worship Him and exalt Him (see vs. 3 and 9).

This King-Priest sat upon the throne and the peoples of the world come before Him, are given audience by Him, and worship at His feet. When we draw near to God, to worship Him, our hearts must be filled with high thoughts of Him, and He must be exalted in our souls. The more we humble ourselves, and the more prostrate we are before God, the more we exalt Him.

That reminds us of Mary of Bethany. Every time we meet Mary of Bethany in the Scripture she is at Jesus feet. We meet her in life’s most tranquil hour: “And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word” (Luke 10: 39). The Lord had come for a visit to that beloved home in Bethany. Martha was in the kitchen; Mary was at Jesus’ feet. We meet her in life’s most tragic hour: “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” (John 11: 32). Lazarus was dead and buried, and sorrow had invaded that house. Jesus had come, but He had come too late, despite the urgent message sent when Lazarus was so sick. Mary threw herself, not into Jesus’ arms (no woman ever did that), but at His feet. We meet her in life’s most triumphant power: “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (John 12:3). Lazarus was alive from the dead, and Mary brought her ointment of spikenard, most costly, and was there at Jesus feet, pouring it all out in worship. That was when He came to earth the first time. Mary seemed to understand what it meant to take one’s place at Jesus’ feet. When He comes again the whole world will understand. Worship belongs to Him.

[5.1} “King David rose to his feet and said: "Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people.”I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it” (1 Chronicles 28:2). The “footstool” of our God―The so-called mercy-seat, suspended over the Ark, on which were the cherubim (v. 1).
[5.2} “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place for my feet” (Isaiah 60:13). “The place of my feet” is clearly parallel with the "sanctuary" of the previous clause (60:12). So the word "footstool" is used of the Temple in Psalm 99:5; Psalm 132:7.
[5.3} “And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet. . .” (Ezekiel 43:7). “The place of the soles of my feet,” was of frequent occurrence to denote the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5; Psalm 132:7).

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

He used for examples three eminent persons who performed the duty of praising and worshipping God in order to persuade Jacob [Israel] to do the same. This is an unusual combination, “Moses and Aaron.” Strictly speaking, the only one of them who was a priest according to Levitical Law was Aaron. Moses was Aaron’s younger brother. He was the great law giver of Israel, the great emancipator of the Hebrews, a second father to the nation. We learn from Exodus 24:6-8{6.1] that he exercised priestly functions in Israel before Aaron did. Indeed, it was he who consecrated Aaron to the priesthood but he was never ordained to be a priest. He is included here, however, as a priest.

It is the same with Samuel. He was not a priest, though he was a Levite, but he exercised the priestly office in Israel after the apostasy of the constitutional priesthood. It had failed in Eli and had been apostatized in Hophni and Phinehas. So, contrary to normal practice, this godly Levite took the priestly functions upon himself—and with God’s fullest approval. He did so because he was a prophet. In Israel the prophet often assumed authority greater than that vested in either king or priest.

Moses did everything according to the pattern shown him; it is often repeated, “According to all that God commanded Moses, so did he.” Aaron and Samuel did likewise. Those were the greatest men and most honorable and most renowned for keeping God’s testimonies and conforming to the rule of his word. Let us follow in their footsteps, cultivating the meekness of Moses; the holiness of the Aaronic priesthood; and the prayers which were so striking a characteristic of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:8-13; 8:6, 21).

Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were men greatly used by God in an intercessory capacity. The psalmist saw God raising up such men in those early days of the restored temple—godly men like Ezra and Nehemiah, Zechariah and Haggai, men greatly burdened on behalf of God’s people. The inspired poet saw the intercessory ministry being restored to Israel, but it was a priesthood no longer restricted to its strict legal forms. His vision thus soars on to a future age when all priesthood will be vested in Jesus who came, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, from the tribe with no God-given priestly function.

The Lord Jesus, then, is the ideal priest, yea and more than a priest, for worship belongs to Him. It will be brought to Him. “For He is holy!” That is the key to it! He is the “holy One of Israel”; all worship is centered in Him, no matter how irregular that might seem accordingly to Old Testament convention.

[6.1} “Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:6-8).

[99:7-9] The great work of the prophet in the Bible was to speak for God under direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus is prophet, priest, and king. It is fitting that this unknown singer of old should grasp this three-dimensional truth.

7 He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them.

The message was in the law. The prophets of the Old Testament were all called to minister in times of national apostasy when the law was set aside by Israel. The statement “they kept his testimonies (commandments)” is extraordinary, for if there was one thing Israel did not do, that was it. Their history was one of continual rebellion against the law of God. Even after the Babylonian captivity, when idolatry had been purged out of Israel’s national souls, the leaders of Israel idolatrously put the law in the place of God and began that system of exegesis{7.1] and commentary which made the law ineffectual, as the Gospels show. “They kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them,” was added to teach them that God will not hear the prayers of them who do not keep His commandments.

The “cloudy pillar” applies particularly to “Moses and Aaron” and refers to the means of God’s appearance and guidance in the wilderness (Exodus 14:19-20; Numbers 12:5). Moses and Samuel are cited as men of powerful intercession in Jeremiah 15:1.

[7.1} Exegesis: an explanation or critical interpretation (especially of the Bible)

8 Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.

We see Him pardoning and punishing at the same time. This is typical of the prophetic ministry of Scripture. When Nathan came to David and David fell down in repentance before God, the crime he had committed was removed by God’s grace. The consequences, however, remained as part of God’s governmental dealings with him. David had decreed: “The man shall pay fourfold,” when he pronounced sentence on the man in Nathan’s parable. Thus it was that the sword struck four times at David’s own sons. As the consequences of his behavior pursued him down the years they were used by God, not as a punitive measure, but as a purifying one. God used them not just to chastise but to change the character of the penitent. Moses and Aaron, who did sin, and whose sin God did pardon, but He punished them by excluding them from the land of Canaan (see Numbers 20:12{8.1]; Deuteronomy 32:50-51). Let us beware of sin; it may be forgiven, yet we may have to reap its better results.

“Thou wast a God that forgavest them,” is a reference, not to the three named, but to the whole nation. How many times the Lord forgave Israel and gave them another opportunity to serve Him (103:13-18). The throne and the altar were not far apart in the sanctuary (see Isaiah 6:1-7). “Thou doest make them pay for their evil practices,” is a better translation than “Though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” While God pardons, “He must still vindicate His holiness by chastisement, in case men would imagine that He makes light of sin. See Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:20; and the prophet’s touching identification of himself with the guilty people in Micah 7:9.

[8.1} “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them" (Numbers 20:12).

9 Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy.

The entire prophetic ministry in Israel was intended to get the people to properly worship the Lord their God—because of His holiness. The prophetic ministry of the Lord Jesus was the same. When Satan tempted Him, His answer was a Brusque: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.” When the woman at the well tried to evade His convicting statements by engaging Him in religious controversy, He said: “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” He Himself accepted worship, but as prophet He directed worship to the Father.