The Messiah’s Reign in Holiness

a brief study of Psalm 99, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 5 Feb 2010

Psalm 99 is another song to extol the reign of the Messiah. But it differs from the previous three Psalms in that the previous three look forward to His coming, whereas in Psalm 99, we are looking back to His reign over His people from the days of Moses.

This Psalm begins with the words, “The LORD reigneth” just as in Psalm 97. Commenting on these words, Matthew Henry says:

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.

This Psalms is therefore about the reign of Christ. We may entitle it “The Messiah’s Reign of Holiness.”

It has essentially two parts. In the first part, we are called to worship the LORD because He is transcendent in His holiness. In the second part, we are called to worship the LORD because He is immanent in His holiness.


1. Exalt the LORD for He is Transcendent in Holiness

1 The LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.

The LORD reigns. Not only does He lives, but He reigns! But He does not reign like an ordinary king. He reigns as God transcendent.

The word ‘transcendent’ speaks of God as being high and above creation. He rules as one who is outside and above creation. He is the Creator.

He is represented as sitting between the cherubim to show that he is no ordinary king sitting upon his throne. His attendants are powerful angelic beings rather than powerful men.

His power is therefore beyond human imagination. He is sovereign and omnipotent. Therefore, let the people tremble and the earth shake in fear. Let those who know him not and those who would not submit to him be brought to a realization of His greatness and be filled with anguish and astonishment (v. 1).

This must be the desire of God’s children. Every child of God loves the LORD and desires for all the world to acknowledge His greatness. Thus, our Lord teaches us to pray: “Hallowed be thy name” as the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

And does not the Lord sometimes answer to this petition when He sends powerful natural disasters like to earthquake, tornadoes and tsunamis to humble man? Let the people tremble and the earth move and shake, when the Lord reveals a shadow of His power. Let us pray that the Lord will make His glory and power known to the world.

But verse 2, the LORD is great and revered in Zion.

2 The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people. 3 Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy.

He is “high above all the people.” Let the people praise Him for His great and terrible name, for it is holy.

This is especially so as He who is their King is not only powerful but just, v. 4—

4 The king’s strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity, thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob. 5 Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy. 

I believe that the king in verse 4 is not an earthly king as some suggests. It appears to me from the context that this is the King of king and Lord of lords, the Prince of Peace.

Let us exalt His name and humble ourselves to worship Him at His footstool for He is holy, whereas we are creatures of dust—proud dust.

Let us worship Him with the attitude of Isaiah, who when he saw the holiness of the LORD cried out:

“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isa 6:5)

Let us come to a realization of our own sin and nothingness like Peter who when he realized the holiness and transcendence of the Lord Jesus, fell at His feet and cried: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8).

Beloved brethren and children, what has your attitude been towards the Lord? Do you fear Him? Or do you have a familiarity with Him that makes you, for example, take worship lightly? Is there a sense of awe when you come before him to pray, or is it an attitude of casualness? Do you have a holy fear in worship, or have you no qualms about doing your own thing during worship? Beloved and children, fear Him and worship Him with holy awe for He is transcendent in holiness.

And not only so, but secondly, let us…

2. Exalt the LORD for He is Immanent in Holiness

When we speak of God as being Transcendent, we are saying that He is above and outside creation. But when we speak of His immanence (from the word Immanuel), we are saying that He is with us and concerned about us.

This is the emphasis in verse 6-8—

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the LORD, and he answered them. 7 He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them. 8 Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.

The LORD is holy. He sits between the cherubim. He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). But He condescends hear the prayers of His appointed servants such as Moses, Aaron and Samuel. And sometimes He speaks to them in remarkable ways. The cloudy pillar in the wilderness for example, or the burning bush, or the thunder and lightning on Mouth Sinai, or the still small voice that Samuel heard.

Whatever it is, one thing is certain—the Lord responds unto His children, when they approach Him in fear. That is why in verse 7, we are told that “they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them.” And in verse 9, we are told how the Lord answers and forgives His children when they cry unto him and no doubt, confess their sins. The LORD would chastise them for their sin, but He would forgive them just as a loving father would.

The LORD, in other words, while He is immanent and cares for His people, is not unprincipled and unrighteous. He remains holy and righteous, though immanent. And therefore, we must worship Him with awe and reverence according to His appointment for His own worship.

Thus, our Psalm ends with the words—

 9 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.

We must worship the LORD for He is holy. We must worship Him according as He had appointed—“at his holy hill.

In Old Testament days, that would be to worship in Jerusalem at the temple. Many of the Jews neglected this commandment. They continue to worship the LORD in high places which were formerly used for pagan worship. And so one of the common complaint of the Lord in regard to the kings in the South is that they failed to remove the high places… even though they were otherwise good kings.

In the Northern kingdom, the common complaint was that they sinned the sin of Jeroboam by using golden calves to worship. In the Southern kingdom, the common complaint was high places. We think of the complaint against Asa (1Kgs 22:43), Jehoash (2 Kgs 12:3), Amaziah (2 kgs 14:4), Azariah (2 Kgs 15:4); and Jotham (2 Kgs 15:35). All these kings are recorded as walking in the way of David and doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord except they allowed the worship of Jehovah in high places. It was not until Hezekiah’s time, that the high places were removed, although his son Manasseh restored them.

Now, the high places is not the ‘holy hill.’ When the Jews worship in high places, they demonstrated that they did not have respect unto the Lord’s holiness. This is why the kings who allowed that bore the black mark against their names.

Now, today we do not have high places, but I would put it to you that the principle remains the same. Because God is holy in His transcendence and immanence, we must not presume to worship Him according to our own invention, convenience and pleasure.

We must worship according to His own appointment, and unless we can be sure from Scripture that we may worship Him in a particular manner, we should not lightly use that form of worship. For this reason our Presbyterian Reformed fathers teach us to sing only the Psalms without instruments, and to do away with Christmas, Easter or Good Fridays. For all these things do not have their origin from the Word of God. They are the modern high places.

We must worship the LORD at his holy hill, for He is holy.
The LORD is holy and He reigns. Let us beloved brethren and children, not only acknowledge His holiness, but submit to Him as our holy King. Let us worship with an attitude of reverence both in our hearts and in our forms. Both are important.
Let us cultivate holy attitudes and live holy lives. Let us, in this way call upon the world to repent from a careless and immoral way of life that leads to destruction, to find grace of salvation in the fear of the LORD, our Holy King. Amen. Ω