And justice for all – Psalm 99

The 4th book of Psalms

I have no idea what God is going to punish Pastor Wilhite for (see the image below). Possibly for his theology.

A church notice board with the caption:
God holds each
accountable for sin
and will punish
Pastor Larry Wilhite
SS 945A Worship 11 A

The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.

The layout is like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!

The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
    They called to the Lord, and he answered them.
In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
    they kept his testimonies
    and the statute that he gave them.
O Lord our God, you answered them;
    you were a forgiving God to them,
    but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Exalt the Lord our God,
    and worship at his holy mountain;
    for the Lord our God is holy!

Psalm 99 ESV UK

The Handbook to the Bible says of this psalm, “God the King, the Holy One, is on his throne; God who forgives and disciplines his people from the least to the greatest.” [1]

This is the penultimate of a series of psalms of congregational praise whose subject is God the king. The people had experienced the judgement of God by being exiled in Babylon but now were back in their homeland, at least that is the dating of the compilation of psalms 90 – 106, we do not know when most of the individual psalms within the compilation were written. Back in their homeland the returning exiles theology and philosophy had changed.

  • The country was much smaller, not much more than the city of Jerusalem and the land and villages within 20 miles or 32 kilometres from the capital.
  • Their concept of God was much larger. God was no longer the God of Israel or Judah; God is now the king of all people, sovereign of all creation. God had been with them even in a land which worshipped other gods.
  • In exile they had experienced God’s punishment but also God’s forgiveness.

God is holy and awesome, God is mighty over everybody over the whole world, the invitation goes our for everybody to praise him. Yes everybody, God is for all, God is inclusive. God in his fairness makes everything fair, that’s equity.

Bur God is not only awesome, something too great for people to look at, God is also intimate. Moses Aaron and Samuel are not because they were people who were born great, or were innately holy or wealthy, but as examples of people who prayed. The message is that people who pray are as great as the great people in the Bible, as great as Moses, Aaron and Samuel. God answered them because he is a forgiving God. You don’t have to go far into the Old Testament to see that the heroes of these stories are flawed. Being flawed is not a reason to hide from God, but a reason to come to the forgiving God. God would rather forgive than punish.

God forgives but takes sin seriously. The people at the time of this compilation knew that, they had been in exile in Babylon as the result of their nation’s refusal to take God seriously, but had also experienced God’s forgiveness. Yes, God does punish sin, but God’s forgiveness is greater than God’s punishment.

It hurts to forgive. I am disabled, in constant pain, due to an accident which the courts said is 100% the fault of the car driver that knocked me off by bicycle. I had to learn to forgive this man who was not looking where he was going. I could not do it without God’s help. Forgiveness has to be continuous, the prayer of Jesus, “Father, forgive they do not know what they are doing.” is a great help; I have adapted it and used it on many occasions.

It hurt God to forgive. The best example we have is Jesus — God became human in Jesus and took all of the sin of the world on him, paying the penalty by dying at the hands of humans so that humans can be free of sin. What a wonderful God we have.

[1] Published by Lion Publishing, second edition 1983 ©1973

< Psalm 98 | Psalm 99 | Psalm 100 >

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