"Shout Joyfully to the LORD, All the Earth" (Psalms 98-100) November 8-14
As explained in the Bible Reading Program comments on Psalm 96, that psalm finds a parallel in Psalm 98. Both begin with a call for a new song of praise for the Lord (96:1; 98:1). Both progress through widening circles of praise: first the congregation of worship at the temple (96:1-5; 98:1-3); then all people on earth (96:7-10; 98:4-6); and finally all creation (96:11-13; 98:7-9). And the two psalms end with rather similar language (see 96:11-13; 98:7-9).
Another royal psalm of the set spanning 93-99, Psalm 98 also follows this thematic progression: "(1) a call to praise God as the Savior (vv. 1-3); (2) a call to praise God as the King (vv. 4-6); (3) a call to praise God as the coming Judge (vv. 7-9)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 98). As with the other psalms of this section, the Septuagint names David as the author, though this attribution is not confirmed (in fact, only two of the seven, Psalms 95 and 96, have confirmed Davidic authorship).
The end of Psalm 98:1 introduces the psalm as what some call a "Divine Warrior victory song" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, introductory note on Psalm 98). The imagery of God's "right hand"—symbolic of favorable action—gaining victory was earlier used of His powerful deliverance of Israel from Egypt (see Exodus 15:6; compare Deuteronomy 4:34). It was God's "right hand" that afterward delivered the Promised Land into Israel's hands (Psalm 44:3). The reference in Psalm 98 could just as well refer to God leading Israel's armies to victory in David's day or later. It ultimately could also serve as an end-time prophecy of God's future takeover of this world, as explicitly mentioned at the end of the psalm.
Verse 2 explains that "God's saving acts in behalf of his people are also his self-revelation to the nations; in this sense God is his own evangelist (see 77:14...see also Isa 52:10)" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 98:2). The end of verse 3 will be ultimately realized at the return of Christ in power and glory at the end of the age (compare Isaiah 40:5; Luke 3:6).
Only then will the psalmist's call for the whole earth to join in a joyous celebration of praise to the Lord, the King, be answered (see verses 4-6). Only then will the whole of creation be liberated from its current bondage to corruption (compare verses 7-8; Romans 8:21).
The psalm ends with the great announcement also made in Psalm 96:13: "He is coming to judge the earth" (98:9)—that is, to rule all nations—and His judgment or rule will be righteous and equitable, meaning fair, reasonable, impartial and just.
Psalm 99 is the last of the set of royal psalms beginning with Psalm 93. It appears to form a couplet with Psalm 98, as Psalm 97 does with 96. Psalms 97 and 99 both open with the same key phrase, "The LORD reigns," and they both mention the special benefits of this reign to Zion. This can refer to the physical city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants or to God's spiritual people. "Jacob" in 99:4 refers to the physical nation of Israel, wherein God has previously executed just and righteous rule and will do so again in His Kingdom—as a preview of how He will then extend His rule to all nations.
A running theme through Psalm 98 is God's holiness. Note the similar refrain at the end of verses 3, 5 and 9: "He is holy...He is holy...the LORD our God is holy." As The Nelson Study Bible explains: "Holy means to be 'distant' or 'distinct from.' This is the principle word used to describe the transcendence of God (113:4-6)" (note on Psalm 99:3). In line with this, verse 2 states that God is "high above all the peoples." Another commentator says: "The word 'holy' means 'separate, set apart, totally different.' God's nature is 'wholly other,' yet He was willing to dwell with His people and meet their needs" (Wiersbe, Be Exultant, note on verses 1-3). Indeed, despite how high above us God is (compare Isaiah 55:8-9), we are also told that "He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).
In response to the majesty and power of God's reign, people on earth should tremble and shake with awe (Psalm 99:1, NIV). God dwelling "between the cherubim" (same verse) may refer to God's exalted throne in heaven—yet the significance here may be that of God coming down to the earthly model of His heavenly throne in the tabernacle or temple. Recall the two golden cherubim fashioned to cover the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-20). During the time of Israel's wilderness years, God met with Moses at the mercy seat: "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony" (Exodus 25:22). This would seem to parallel the later statement in Psalm 99 regarding God speaking to Moses, Aaron and Samuel "in the cloudy pillar" (verse 7), which came down into the tabernacle, evidently still in Samuel's day as it later did in Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 8:10-11). Even so, when Christ comes in power to rule the nations, He will rule from the earthly temple in Jerusalem and the pillar of cloud and fire will be restored (Isaiah 4:5).
Worshipping at God's "footstool" in Psalm 99:5 connotes a feeling of humility. From His throne in heaven, God looks on the earth as His footstool (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:35). Yet more specifically, He refers to the place of His tabernacle or temple as His footstool (Psalm 132:7; Isaiah 60:13)—and that is evidently what is meant here, given the parallel mention of God's "holy hill" (Psalm 99:9). "When the Israelites came to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, they pictured themselves as being at the feet of the Creator" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 5).
In verse 6, Moses is classed with Aaron as a priest in the sense of an intercessor between God and man. Indeed, all of the spiritually converted people of God are considered to form a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9). The psalmist remembers that God answered the faithful men of old—Moses, Aaron and Samuel serving as examples of this (there having been many others). Although God punished their sins, He still answered them with forgiveness: "You were to them God-Who-Forgives" (verse 8).
The psalmist infers that, "since God answered the prayers of our ancestors, surely He will continue to answer the prayers of those who call upon Him" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 6). Indeed, He does so today and will do so even more dramatically when His coming reign over the earth is established. All of this again demonstrates that despite God's high and holy transcendence above our lowly earthly existence, He is intimately concerned with His people and faithfully responds to their worship and prayers.
Psalm 100 is an unattributed psalm of public thanksgiving to God that follows the set of royal psalms from 93 to 99. "Perhaps the ancient editors felt that the royal psalms demanded the response of worship provided by this psalm" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 100). The psalm also closes the entire section of psalms beginning with Psalm 90. Psalm 100 is related to Psalm 95:1-2 and, as we will see, to 95:6-7. And its opening words in 100:1 are the same in Hebrew as the first line of Psalm 98:4, there translated, "Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth."
The full response to this call will later come when Jesus Christ establishes the Kingdom of God on the earth. Under His rule, everyone will experience the gladness (verse 2) of living in harmony with God. At that time singing with joy to the Lord will be natural and spontaneous. In the meantime, worshippers come before Him anticipating the future with joy—in spite of circumstances of the world.
The basis for giving thanks is that God, as our Creator, has made us. We did not make ourselves (verse 3). "For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Moreover, God guides us, cares for us and provides for us as a shepherd does his sheep (see Psalm 100:3b). The same basis for praise is laid out in Psalm 95:6-7.
We are commanded to enter into God's presence and worship Him because He is eternally good, loving and merciful (verses 4-5). The gates and courts here picture the temple where people come through the gates into the courts to praise God as a congregation. It also symbolizes the fellowship and worship of God's spiritual temple today, His Church, as well as the great throngs of worship in the coming Kingdom.