The foundation of all religion is laid in this truth, That the Lord reigns. God governs the world by his providence, governs the church by his grace, and both by his Son. We are to believe not only that the Lord lives, but that the Lord reigns. This is the triumph of the Christian church, and here it was the triumph of the Jewish church, that Jehovah was their King; and hence it is inferred, Let the people tremble, that is, 1. Let even the subjects of this kingdom tremble; for the Old-Testament dispensation had much of terror in it. At Mount Sinai Israel, and even Moses himself, did exceedingly fear and quake; and then God was terrible in his holy places. Even when he appeared in his people’s behalf, he did terrible things. But we are not now come to that mount that burned with fire, Heb. 12:18. Now that the Lord reigns let the earth rejoice. Then he ruled more by the power of holy fear; now he rules by the power of holy love. 2. Much more let the enemies of this kingdom tremble; for he will either bring them into obedience to his golden sceptre or crush them with his iron rod. The Lord reigns, though the people be stirred with indignation at it; though they fret away all their spirits, their rage is all in vain. He will set his King upon his holy hill of Zion in spite of them (Ps. 2:1-6); first, or last, he will make them tremble, Rev. 6:15 The Lord reigns, let the earth be moved. Those that submit to him shall be established, and not moved (Ps. 96:10); but those that oppose him will be moved. Heaven and earth shall be shaken, and all nations; but the kingdom of Christ is what cannot be moved; the things which cannot be shaken shall remain, Heb. 12:27. In these is continuance, Isa. 64:5.
God’s kingdom, set up in Israel, is here made the subject of the psalmist’s praise.
I. Two things the psalmist affirms:—1. God presided in the affairs of religion: He sitteth between the cherubim (Ps. 99:1), as on his throne, to give law by the oracles thence delivered—as on the mercy-seat, to receive petitions. This was the honour of Israel, that they had among them the Shechinah, or special presence of God, attended by the holy angels; the temple was the royal palace, and the Holy of holies was the presence-chamber. The Lord is great in Zion (Ps. 99:2); there he is known and praised (Ps. 76:1, 2); there he is served as great, more than any where else. He is high there above all people; as that which is high is exposed to view, and looked up to, so in Zion the perfections of the divine nature appear more conspicuous and more illustrious than any where 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 is holy. The holiness of God’s name makes it truly great to his friends and terrible to his enemies, Ps. 99:3. This is that which those above adore—Holy, holy, holy. 2. He was all in all in their civil government, Ps. 99:4. As in Jerusalem was the testimony of Israel, whither the tribes went up, so there were set thrones of judgment, Ps. 122:4, 5. Their government was a theocracy. God raised up David to rule over them (and some think this psalm was penned upon occasion of his quiet and happy settlement in the throne) and he is the king whose strength loves judgment. He is strong; all his strength he has from God; and his strength is not abused for the support of any wrong, as the power of great princes often is, but it loves judgment. He does justice with his power, and does it with delight; and herein he was a type of Christ, to whom God would give the throne of his father David, to do judgment and justice. He has power to crush, but his strength loves judgment; he does not rule with rigour, but with moderation, with wisdom, and with tenderness. The people of Israel had a good king; but they are here taught to look up to God as he by whom their king reigns: Thou dost establish equity (that is, God gave them those excellent laws by which they were governed), and thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob; he not only by his immediate providences often executed and enforced his own laws, but took care for the administration of justice among them by civil magistrates, who reigned by him and by him did decree justice. Their judges judged for God, and their judgment was his, 2 Chron. 19:6.
II. Putting these two things together, we see what was the happiness of Israel above any other people, as Moses had described it (Deut. 4:7, 8), that they had God so night unto them, sitting between the cherubim, and that they had statutes and judgments so righteous, by which equity was established, and God himself ruled in Jacob, from which he infers this command to that happy people (Ps. 99:5): “Exalt you the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; give him the glory of the good government you are under, as it is now established, both in church and state.” Note, 1. The greater the public mercies are which we have a share in the more we are obliged to bear a part in the public homage paid to God: the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, especially, ought to be the matter of our praise. 2. When we draw night to God, to worship him, our hearts must be filled with high thoughts of him, and he must be exalted in our souls. 3. The more we abase ourselves, and the more prostrate we are before God, the more we exalt him. We must worship at his footstool, at his ark, which was as the footstool to the mercy-seat between the cherubim; or we must cast ourselves down upon the pavement of his courts; and good reason we have to be thus reverent, for he is holy, and his holiness should strike an awe upon us, as it does on the angels themselves, Isa. 6:2, 3.