Psalm 99
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This psalm plainly belongs to a group (see Psalms 95, Introduction) to be referred to the post-exile times, when the renewed worship and nationality made it possible for the poet to compare his age with that of the greatest saints and heroes of old. The short refrain marks the poetical form.

The LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.
(1) The Lord reigneth.—See Note, Psalm 93:1.

Tremble.—LXX. and Vulg., “be angry.” The optative in this and the following clause is after the LXX.; but the Hebrew is in the ordinary present, the peoples tremble, the earth staggers.

He sitteth.—In original a participle.

Between the cherubims . . .—See Notes on Psalm 80:1.

Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy.
(3) Great and terrible name.—The rabbins see here the mystic tetragrammaton, whose pronunciation was kept so secret.

For it is holy.—This is grammatically possible, but as Psalm 99:5; Psalm 99:9 repeat the expression, evidently as a refrain, and there it needs the masculine, it is better to read here, “Holy is He.”

In this way, too, we avoid an awkward construction in the next verse, which should be joined closely with this: Let them praise Thy great and terrible name (saying), “Holy is He, and mighty, a king that loveth justice.”

Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.
(5) Worship at his footstool.Prostrate your. selves at His footstool. The earth is called the “footstool” of God (Isaiah 66:1; comp. Matthew 5:35); in other places the expression is used of the sanctuary (Psalm 132:7; comp. Isaiah 60:13; Lamentations 2:1). In 1Chronicles 28:2 it seems to refer to the ark. No doubt here, after mentioning the throne above the cherubims, we must think of the ground on which the ark stood, or of the ark itself.

Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.
(6) Moses.—Better, a Moses and an Aaron among his friends, and a Samuel among them that call upon his name; calling upon the Lord, and he answers them; in the pillar of cloud he speaks unto them. The poet is enhancing the sacred character of the services of his own day by likening the priests and ministers to the sacred heroes of the past, as we might distinguish a period of great scientific achievement by saying, “We have a Newton or a Bacon among us.” To make it a mere historical reference, “Moses and Aaron were,” &c, would be altogether too abrupt and inaccurate, since Moses was not a khohen, nor did God speak to Samuel in the cloudy pillar. It is true that the present tense is changed in Psalm 99:7 to the preterite, but it is quite natural that the psalmist should glide into the narrative style after the mention of the historical name. The Son of Sirach also makes special reference to the prayer of Samuel (Ecclesiasticus 46:16). Possibly, too, there is an allusion to the meaning of his name, “asked,” or “heard of God.”

Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.
(8) Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions (or, works).—This does not refer to the personages just mentioned but to the people at large. The train of thought is as follows:—“There are great saints among us, as in olden time, but, as then, their prayers, while often procuring forgiveness, could not altogether avert punishment for sin; so the present community must expect retribution when sinful, in spite of the mediation of the better part of the nation.” The Hebrew style did not favour similes, and hence the poet omits the signs of comparison, and leaves his inference to be drawn by his readers.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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