Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Scripture for the Day: Psalm 99  

Like so many Psalms, the daily lectionary reading from Psalm 99 reminds us that God is king. The psalm opens without hesitation: “The LORD is king.” And the psalmist names God “Mighty King” again in verse four. The speaker insists that the LORD is great in Zion. But God is not the sovereign for Israel alone; God is exalted over all peoples (and their gods, we might add). The psalm insists that God is above all and over all. 

God’s rule is not confined to heaven, however, if by heaven we mean some sphere cut off from the everyday happenings here on earth. God’s rule breaks into history and into our lives. The psalmist employs stereotypical language to capture this: the earth shakes at God’s presence, worship takes place at God’s footstool, and God speaks through a pillar of cloud. This language recalls the miracle of Exodus, God’s leading the people from slavery to freedom, from a season of wandering to their entrance into the promised land. God’s rule has been known and experienced in Israel’s sacred past. 

God’s rule plays out in worship as well. God’s rule over the whole earth and over all peoples causes nations to praise God’s great and awesome name. There is an imperative, a command, in our worship. Verses 5 and 9 repeat the phrase, “Extol the LORD our God” (NRSV). The Hebrew root has a spatial sense referring to heights. To bring out this and the imperative, we might translate these verses as “Exalt the LORD” or even “Make the LORD exalted.” In our worship, we lift up the LORD. Of course, God does not need our praise or worship to be exalted. Rather, it is through worship that we remind ourselves and one another that God is exalted higher than all other things—higher than our anxieties or need for control, higher than our bank accounts and the market’s volatility, higher than political power plays, higher even than global pandemics. 

Psalm 99 connects this worship of God with a very specific geographical location. Allusions and references to Jerusalem, and the Temple found therein, occur in several places in the Psalm. The opening verse says that God sits “enthroned upon the cherubim,” a reference to God’s invisible presence over the ark of the covenant housed in the Temple. Besides this, we see gestures toward Jerusalem in reference to God’s “footstool” in verse 5 and God’s “holy mountain” in verse 9. While the first readers may have taken this geographical reference literally, Jews and certainly later Christians have adopted a more symbolic or spiritual reading. The worship of God, for early Christians, was never confined to the Temple or the city of Jerusalem. In house churches and open-air gatherings, early Christians praised God wherever they found themselves. It’s a good reminder to us this week that the worship of God has never been limited to a physical building or a specific location. We can (and should) exalt God in whatever place we find ourselves, even in our own little house-church gatherings with family on Sunday morning or in our virtual connections throughout the week. 

Finally, Psalm 99 reminds us that God’s kingly rule is one moving toward justice, equity, and righteousness. God’s rule is characterized by fairness, not favoritism. It bridges the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” It ensures that legal, economic, and social practices are justly established and administered. God is not only a God of justice. God is also a God of attention; the LORD listens to those who cry out. God extends forgiveness. And God avenges wrongdoing. God will not allow wrongdoing to have the final word but works through justice, love, and grace to counteract and resolve all of our misdeeds and patterns of injustice. 

So, today, wherever you may find yourself, extol the LORD our God. Exalt God in your heart and in your lives. For God is awesome, holy, just, forgiving, and attentive. Amen. 

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