The LORD’s reign dominates the landscape of the brief section of psalms of which Psalm 99 is a part, and its offering includes just as much depth, opening once more with the powerful but elegant declaration, “The LORD reigns.” Building upon the previous psalms’ promise and Messianic hope, this song presents the exalted character of the LORD, thus expressing confidence not only in His right to judge but also in the righteousness of His judgment. As such, the knowledge of our human weakness—in every way—should wake us to the reality of just how unprepared we are to stand before His throne. We should tremble at the prospect, for this is the God of Israel who “dwells between the cherubim.” Indeed, the whole earth should quake at the thought (Psa. 99:1). He is exalted above mankind—not simply by His placement on Mount Zion in Jerusalem but because He reigns from heaven itself (Psa. 99:2). This is no idol contrived by man and reflective of man’s foibles. Yahweh stands above such flaws in perfect holiness (Psa. 99:3). Therefore, He remains the rightful King, having the strength of rule and the character to judge (Psa. 99:4). His decisions and His will reflect His holiness, and He thus deserves not only allegiance, but also adoration and worship (Psa. 99:5). He has every right to reign, every right to rule, every right to judge.
Then, in an interesting turn, the psalm turns to three prominent men from Israel’s past: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel (Psa. 99:6a). Each interacted with the LORD in a rather personal way: Moses as lawgiver, Aaron as high priest, and Samuel as a prophet. However, the psalmist emphasizes one unifying characteristic among them: “They called upon the LORD, and He answered them” (Psa. 99:6). The LORD spoke by right of His reign, and these great leaders of the past fulfilled their role as divine subjects: they obeyed (Psa. 99:7). But what type of occasion did these share in common? They each interceded for people who needed God’s forgiveness, for the psalm declares, “You answered them, O LORD our God; You were to them God-Who-Forgives, Though You took vengeance on their deeds” (Psa. 99:8). He did not take away the consequences of their actions, but He did send away their sin. The holy God who established His perfect standard, the divine King who reigns over all, the just Judge who holds our fate in His hand is also “God-Who-Forgives.” What a powerful, moving thought!
The LORD reigns. How truly glorious that is! And when we recall the preceding crescendo of the previous similar psalms, we gain an even greater insight. The LORD came to a world of dying men (Psa. 90), trusted God as a man (Psa. 91), lived as a man among unworthy men (Psa. 92), lived as God among men (Psa. 93), was rejected by senseless men (Psa. 94), was needed by men (Psa. 95), overcame all odds to establish His kingdom (Psa. 96), proved Himself worthy of worship (Psa. 97), and achieved the greatest of victories on behalf of God for the benefit of mankind (Psa. 98). And all of this was essential to make forgiveness available to man. Oh, indeed, the LORD is worthy of exaltation. He is worthy of worship. And He is holy in every way (Psa. 99:9).