Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Song of Praise in Honour of the Thrice Holy One
This is the third of the Psalms (Psa 93:1-5, Psa 97:1-12, Psa 99:1-9) which begin with the watchword מלך ה. It falls into three parts, of which the first (Psa 99:1-3) closes with קדושׁ הוּא, the second (Psa 99:4, Psa 99:5) with קדושׁ הוּא, and the third, more full-toned, with אלחנוּ קדושׁ ה - an earthly echo of the trisagion of the seraphim. The first two Sanctuses are two hexastichs; and two hexastichs form the third, according to the very same law by which the third and the sixth days of creation each consists of two creative works. This artistic form bears witness against Olshausen in favour of the integrity of the text; but the clare-obscure of the language and expression makes no small demands upon the reader.
Bengel has seen deepest into the internal character of this Psalm. He says, "The 99th Psalm has three parts, in which the Lord is celebrated as He who is to come, as He who is, and as He who was, and each part is closed with the ascription of praise: He is holy." The Psalm is laid out accordingly by Oettinger, Burk, and C. H. Rieger.
The three futures express facts of the time to come, which are the inevitable result of Jahve's kingly dominion bearing sway from heaven, and here below from Zion, over the world; they therefore declare what must and will happen. The participle insidens cherubis (Psa 80:2, cf. Psa 18:11) is a definition of the manner (Olshausen): He reigns, sitting enthroned above the cherubim. נוּט, like Arab. nwd, is a further formation of the root na, nu, to bend, nod. What is meant is not a trembling that is the absolute opposite of joy, but a trembling that leads on to salvation. The Breviarium in Psalterium, which bears the name of Jerome, observes: Terra quamdiu immota fuerit, sanari non potest; quando vero mota fuerit et intremuerit, tunc recipiet sanitatem. In Psa 99:3 declaration passes over into invocation. One can feel how the hope that the "great and fearful Name" (Deu 10:17) will be universally acknowledged, and therefore that the religion of Israel will become the religion of the world, moves and elates the poet. The fact that the expression notwithstanding is not קדושׁ אתּה, but קדושׁ הוּא, is explained from the close connection with the seraphic trisagion in Isa 6:3. הוּא refers to Jahve; He and His Name are notions that easily glide over into one another.
The second Sanctus celebrates Jahve with respect to His continuous righteous rule in Israel. The majority of expositors construe it: "And (they shall praise) the might of the king, who loves right;" but this joining of the clause on to יודוּ over the refrain that stands in the way is hazardous. Neither can ועז מלך משׁפּט אהב, however, be an independent clause, since אהב cannot be said of עז, but only of its possessor. And the dividing of the verse at אהב, adopted by the lxx, will therefore not hold good. משפט אהב is an attributive clause to מלך in the same position as in Psa 11:7; and עז, with what appertains to it, is the object to כּוננתּ placed first, which has the king's throne as its object elsewhere (Psa 9:8, Sa2 7:13; Ch1 17:12), just as it here has the might of the king, which, however, here at the same time in מישׁרים takes another and permutative object (cf. the permutative subject in Psa 72:17), as Hitzig observes; or rather, since מישׁרים is most generally used as an adverbial notion, this מישׁרים (Psa 58:2; Psa 75:3; Psa 9:9, and frequently), usually as a definition of the mode of the judging and reigning, is subordinated: and the might of a king who loves the right, i.e., of one who governs not according to dynastic caprice but moral precepts, hast Thou established in spirit and aim (directed to righteousness and equity). What is meant is the theocratic kingship, and Psa 11:4 says what Jahve has constantly accomplished by means of this kingship: He has thus maintained right and righteousness (cf. e.g., Sa2 8:15; Ch1 18:14; Kg1 10:9; Isa 16:5) among His people. Out of this manifestation of God's righteousness, which is more conspicuous, and can be better estimated, within the nation of the history of redemption than elsewhere, grows the call to highly exalt Jahve the God of Israel, and to bow one's self very low at His footstool. להדם רגליו, as in Psa 132:7, is not a statement of the object (for Isa 45:14 is of another kind), but (like אל in other instances) of the place in which, or of the direction (cf. Psa 7:14) in which the προσκύνησις is to take place. The temple is called Jahve's footstool (Ch1 28:2, cf. Lam 2:1; Isa 60:13) with reference to the ark, the capporeth of which corresponds to the transparent sapphire (Exo 24:10) and to the crystal-like firmament of the mercaba (Eze 1:22, cf. Ch1 28:18).
The vision of the third Sanctus looks into the history of the olden time prior to the kings. In support of the statement that Jahve is a living God, and a God who proves Himself in mercy and in judgment, the poet appeals to three heroes of the olden time, and the events recorded of them. The expression certainly sounds as though it had reference to something belonging to the present time; and Hitzig therefore believes that it must be explained of the three as heavenly intercessors, after the manner of Onias and Jeremiah in the vision 2 Macc. 15:12-14. But apart from this presupposing an active manifestation of life on the part of those who have fallen happily asleep, which is at variance with the ideas of the latest as well as of the earliest Psalms concerning the other world, this interpretation founders upon Psa 99:7, according to which a celestial discourse of God with the three "in the pillar of cloud" ought also to be supposed. The substantival clauses Psa 99:6 bear sufficient evident in themselves of being a retrospect, by which the futures that follow are stamped as being the expression of the contemporaneous past. The distribution of the predicates to the three is well conceived. Moses was also a mighty man in prayer, for with his hands uplifted for prayer he obtained the victory for his people over Amalek (Exo 17:11.), and on another occasion placed himself in the breach, and rescued them from the wrath of God and from destruction (Psa 106:23; Exo 32:30-32; cf. also Num 12:13); and Samuel, it is true, is only a Levite by descent, but by office in a time of urgent need a priest (cohen), for he sacrifices independently in places where, by reason of the absence of the holy tabernacle with the ark of the covenant, it was not lawful, according to the letter of the law, to offer sacrifices, he builds an altar in Ramah, his residence as judge, and has, in connection with the divine services on the high place (Bama) there, a more than high-priestly position, inasmuch as the people do not begin the sacrificial repasts before he has blessed the sacrifice (Sa1 9:13). But the character of a mighty man in prayer is outweighed in the case of Moses by the character of the priest; for he is, so to speak, the proto-priest of Israel, inasmuch as he twice performed priestly acts which laid as it were a foundation for all times to come, viz., the sprinkling of the blood at the ratification of the covenant under Sinai (Ex. 24), and the whole ritual which was a model for the consecrated priesthood, at the consecration of the priests (Lev. 8). It was he, too, who performed the service in the sanctuary prior to the consecration of the priests: he set the shew-bread in order, prepared the candlestick, and burnt incense upon the golden altar (Exo 40:22-27). In the case of Samuel, on the other hand, the character of the mediator in the religious services is outweighed by that of the man mighty in prayer: by prayer he obtained Israel the victory of Ebenezer over the Philistines (Sa1 7:8.), and confirmed his words of warning with the miraculous sign, that at his calling upon God it would thunder and rain in the midst of a cloudless season (Sa1 12:16, cf. Sir. 46:16f.).
The poet designedly says: Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel among His praying ones. This third twelve-line strophe holds good, not only of the three in particular, but of the twelve-tribe nation of priests and praying ones to which they belong. For Psa 99:7 cannot be meant of the three, since, with the exception of a single instance (Num 12:5), it is always Moses only, not Aaron, much less Samuel, with whom God negotiates in such a manner. אליהם refers to the whole people, which is proved by their interest in the divine revelation given by the hand of Moses out of the cloudy pillar (Exo 33:7.). Nor can Psa 99:6 therefore be understood of the three exclusively, since there is nothing to indicate the transition from them to the people: crying (קראים, syncopated like חטאים, Sa1 24:11) to Jahve, i.e., as often as they (these priests and praying ones, to whom a Moses, Aaron, and Samuel belong) cried unto Jahve, He answered them-He revealed Himself to this people who had such leaders (choragi), in the cloudy pillar, to those who kept His testimonies and the law which He gave them. A glance at Psa 99:8 shows that in Israel itself the good and the bad, good and evil, are distinguished. God answered those who could pray to Him with a claim to be answered. Psa 99:7, is, virtually at least, a relative clause, declaring the prerequisite of a prayer that may be granted. In Psa 99:8 is added the thought that the history of Israel, in the time of its redemption out of Egypt, is not less a mirror of the righteousness of God than of the pardoning grace of God. If Psa 99:7-8 are referred entirely to the three, then עלילות and נקם, referred to their sins of infirmity, appear to be too strong expressions. But to take the suffix of עלילותם objectively (ea quae in eos sunt moliti Core et socii ejus), with Symmachus (καὶ ἔκδικος ἐπὶ ταῖς ἐπηρείναις αὐτῶν) and Kimchi, as the ulciscens in omnes adinventiones eorum of the Vulgate is interpreted,
(Note: Vid., Raemdonck in his David propheta cet. 1800: in omnes injurias ipsis illatas, uti patuit in Core cet.)
is to do violence to it. The reference to the people explains it all without any constraint, and even the flight of prayer that comes in here (cf. Mic 7:18). The calling to mind of the generation of the desert, which fell short of the promise, is an earnest admonition for the generation of the present time. The God of Israel is holy in love and in wrath, as He Himself unfolds His Name in Exo 34:6-7. Hence the poet calls upon his fellow-countrymen to exalt this God, whom they may with pride call their own, i.e., to acknowledge and confess His majesty, and to fall down and worship at (ל cf. אל, Psa 5:8) the mountain of His holiness, the place of His choice and of His presence.