Psalm 99 represents the closing theme of Psalms 93-99. They are called the Royal Psalms because they proclaim God as King of the
Universe. In those verses not naming God as King, the alternative name leaves no doubt as to His power and majesty. Look at Psalm 94:2, which refers to God as the “Judge of the earth,” a royal function in those times. The background of these psalms relates to the gods and goddesses of the Canaanites in which they magnify such idolatrous practices as sexual promiscuity and child sacrifices to Molech. Against such sordid worship styles, the Royal Psalms proclaim the righteous, but loving and forgiving, King-Judge whose holiness sets Him apart from all heathen gods and worship practices.
The psalm begins with a call to praise God for His majestic holiness (vv. 1-3). The expression “sitteth between the cherubims” requires some amplification. The Bible first mentions cherubims in Genesis 3:24, beings God placed at the east of the Garden of Eden following the sin of Adam and Eve. God added a “flaming sword” to protect the tree of life. However, we can find a fuller description of their significance when God instructed Moses to build the ark of acacia wood, a box measuring about two feet three inches square and about three feet, nine inches long, overlaid inside and out with pure gold. The lid, made of solid gold, had a cherub at each end, facing each other with wings outstretched over the lid. The area between the two figures was called the mercy seat from which God spoke to Moses (25:22). The lid means “covering,” In the New Testament it was the place of propitiatory sacrifice. Moses placed three objects inside the ark: Aaron’s rod that budded, the tablets of the law, and a pot of manna. By application to us, in Romans 3:25, the Bible sets forth Jesus as the propitiatory sacrifice, the divine Mercy Seat (Heb. 9:5, 7, 11, 12).
The word Zion (v. 2) merits closer attention. (1) Its most common usage identified it with Jerusalem, the incline running southeast of the city, an area also known as the City of David. It also applies to the temple hill. (2) Zion has been used to refer to the whole nation of Israel (Isa. 1:20), to the capital of Judah (Amos 6:1). (3) Zion was widely used to describe the City of God in the age to come (Rev. 14:1).
Each of the three main divisions of the psalm, 1-3, 4-5, and 6-8, ends with the sentence that God is holy. Holiness speaks of God’s being “distant” or “distinct from.” His righteous character starkly contrasts with our practice of right or wrong. He is holy, that is, sinless. C.H. Spurgeon observes that when humans speak of the thrice holy God, as in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, no other attribute of God carries the emotional depth of the doxology centered around His holiness.
The Bible next turns our attention to the justness of God’s judgments (vv. 4-5). When it comes to exerting governmental authority,
especially when all authority rests in the hands of one person, the saying is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts completely. In the governing of Israel by God, the Bible shows that the saying does not apply to God. His authority (strength) is tempered by His love. As a result, He sets up standards of equality, enforced firmly and justly on all. The psalmist thereby calls on the nations to worship at His footstool, in front of the cherubims. We can picture a huge crowd bowing in reference before God, for He is holy.
Finally, the nation bows in reverence before God because He answers prayer (vv. 6-8). The Bible names three men who prayed to God and received answers: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Strictly speaking, Moses was not a member of the priesthood, but He performed priestly rites in his administrative duties. We might classify him as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, as in Genesis 14:15. God spoke to Moses and Aaron from the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. Both men had moral failures at times, but God forgave them even though he held them accountable for their moral failures. God forgave their sins, but He did not annul the consequences. God is holy.
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