Psalm 99: commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly

graphic (c) Netta Ewing

Psalm 99 is very well known since many of us often sing “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice!” For us it is an entry hymn, just as it was in its origins, as the people entered the Temple in Jerusalem. You can imagine the scene as the singers and instrumentalists moved through the gates and shouted the word, “Sing!” In a flippant mood, I remember Billy Connelly using that word to get the audience joining in.  “Sing!” No sweet- talking of gentle encouragement: just a straight shout: “Sing!”

But back to the Temple: the instrumentalists would include trumpets; but they would not be our piercing brass trumpets of today: they would be the much gentler-sounding ram’s horn. The accompanists would not drown the singers in those days. A message for today perhaps!

Verse two is translated in different ways: one says “Worship the Lord with gladness” while another translation has “Serve the Lord with gladness”. It’s the same Hebrew word behind this. Once you translate you also interpret. Worship expresses worthship. That translation is important of course.  But so is the other translation “serve the Lord with gladness”. It’s good to remind ourselves occasionally that if we are musicians we are engaged in a ministry of service. Service to God and to the community for whom we are responsible.

This psalm is universal in its outreach: “all peoples” are addressed, with even six or seven encouraging commands: shout, serve, come, know, testify and bless. And all these are focussed on the Lord: shout and come and  testify to the Lord.

Why? He is our creator and shepherd. We are the sheep of HIS pasture: the Lord has a care that is personal and not delegated to other intermediaries.

Our final verse has the singers rsounding with enthusiasm about how good the Lord is: “eternal his merciful love from age to age!” Now that’s a big finish if ever there was one!

 The psalm itself has two parallel panels, each one has a call to praise and a reason for this.