Psalm 99

Psalm 99

He answered them

By Seth Rodriquez

O Lord our God, you answered them…” Psalm 99:8

Have you ever felt powerless? Like the troubles of this world were going to overwhelm you? Psalm 99 gives us hope by declaring a remarkable truth: The all-powerful King of the Universe hears our prayers and answers us. Let’s dive deeper into this encouraging psalm.

When dealing with poetry, each section within a poem is called a “strophe.” Think of a strophe as a paragraph: it binds together a series of thoughts into a tight unit. Psalm 99 contains two strophes: verses 1-5 and verses 6-9. How do we know? Because the poet marked the end of each strophe with similar lines (a poetic device known as tail linkage):

  • v. 5 — “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!”
  • v. 9 — “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!”

Do you see the parallels in these verses? Both are hitting the same key words: “Exalt … worship … holy.”

Now that we have identified the structure of the poem, we can look for themes within each strophe. What is the author emphasizing in each section?

In Strophe 1 (verses 1-5), the psalmist emphasizes the kingship of God: “The Lord reigns … He sits enthroned … he is exalted ….” Our God is King over all creation! Stop and let that sink in. We serve the King of the Universe! There is nothing outside his control! Everything happens according to his plan. The rest of this strophe celebrates what kind of king he is: mighty, holy, and just.

In Strophe 2 (verses 6-9), the emphasis is harder to catch. The psalmist surprises us by starting with a history lesson: “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.” Why are these three men highlighted? If you go back and compare Psalm 99 with the biblical accounts of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, you realize that the psalm is jam-packed with allusions to these stories:

  • “let the peoples tremble! … let the earth quake!” (v. 1) — In the days of Moses and Aaron, the Israelites trembled and the earth quaked when God appeared on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-18). In the time of Samuel, “all the people feared the Lord and Samuel” when God sent thunder and rain at Samuel’s command (1 Sam. 12:18).

  • “He sits enthroned upon the cherubim” (v. 1) — God met with Moses “between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony” (Exod. 25:22), and in the days of Samuel, God was described as “enthroned upon the cherubim” (1 Sam. 4:4).

  • “In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them” (v. 7) — God appeared to the Israelites in the wilderness as a pillar of cloud, and there were numerous times when God addressed Moses and Aaron together (Exod. 6:13; Lev. 11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1; 16:1; Num. 2:1; 4:1, 17; 14:26; 16:20; 19:1). The cloud is not mentioned in 1 Samuel, but we are told that God spoke to Samuel on multiple occasions (1 Sam. 3:1-21; 8:7, 22; 9:15-17; 15:10-11; 16:1-13).

  • “Lord our God” (vv. 5, 8, 9) — Moses used the phrase “Lord our God” or “Lord your God” over 300 times in the book of Deuteronomy … over 8 times more frequently than any other book of the Old Testament! In this phrase, we hear an echo of Moses.

  • “you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings” (v. 8) — Both the forgiveness of God and the discipline of God were evident in the times of Moses (Exod. 34:6-7; Num. 14:11-20) and Samuel (1 Sam. 3:12-14; 7:3-6; 12:19-25).

The most significant allusion the psalmist wants us to focus on is mentioned in verse 6: “They called to the Lord and he answered them.” Exodus 19:19 tells us that at Mount Sinai, “Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.” First Samuel 8:9 tells us, “Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him.”

This truth is the focus of Strophe 2. How do we know? Because the psalmist repeats it in verse 8: “O Lord our God, you answered them.”

Putting the two strophes together forms a powerful truth: The Lord, the great King over all creation, listens to his people and actually answers them! So if you serve this King, you are not helpless! God has the power to solve your problems and he has a listening ear. When the waves of life come crashing down, you can call on the same God who helped Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Just as God answered the prayers of those heroes of the faith, he will answer yours as well. He may not answer in the way you expect (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10), but the same God who worked miracles in the days of the Old Testament is waiting for you to call on him today.


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