In the Septuagint, this psalm is ascribed to David. The Masoretic Text, however, has no superscription.
Like Psalm 97, this composition begins with the words, “YHWH reigns,” and may be taken to signify that he had revealed his sovereignty through an act of deliverance. In response to the reality of YHWH’s rule, “let peoples tremble.” The Hebrew term for “tremble” (ragáz) denotes a state of disturbance and can relate either to fear or rage. In the Septuagint, the rendering is orgízo, meaning “to be angry” or “to be enraged.” Accordingly, based on which specific meaning is chosen, the non-Israelite peoples may either be understood as trembling with fear or continuing with their raging, which raging would mean nothing to the Most High. In view of the parallel expression “let the earth [either the land or the inhabitants of the land] quake” before the one who “sits upon the cherubs,” the sense of trembling with fear may be preferable. In a representative sense, YHWH, by means a luminous cloud, was above the cherubs atop the ark of the covenant. He also directed the heavenly cherubs and could, in this sense, also be referred to as sitting upon the cherubs.
YHWH’s being great in Zion relates to his dwelling there in a representative sense. From Zion, therefore, the Israelites perceived that his great saving power came forth to deliver them from peril. By reason of his deeds, YHWH proved to be exalted “over all the peoples.”
Peoples everywhere had good reason to praise God’s name or YHWH himself. His name or he himself as the Most High is “great,” engenders a wholesome fear, and is “holy” or pure in the ultimate sense (untainted by any defilement).
There is uncertainty about the meaning of the words “and strength of a king; justice he loves.” The Septuagint reading is “and honor of a king loves judgment,” suggesting that a king’s love of justice brings honor to him. The Hebrew text has been understood to apply to God as king. “Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice.” (NRSV) “The King is mighty, he loves justice.” (NIV) As a lover of justice, the Most High does not show partiality but adheres to the highest standard of right. Incomparable power backs his justice. This assures that nothing could hinder the execution of impartial judgments. Another possibility is to understand the Hebrew to refer to a human king who upholds justice, “O the strength of a king who loves justice!” This would indicate that a ruler’s real might stems from an ardent desire to render just decisions.
YHWH is the one who has established uprightness. All his acts are solidly based on abiding principles of justice. “In Jacob” or for his people the Israelites, YHWH executed justice and righteousness, always dealing with the descendants of Jacob with equity.
Because of what he has done, YHWH should be exalted or accorded the highest honor possible. His “footstool” may designate Zion or Jerusalem where the ark of the covenant was located. There, at his representative dwelling place, worshipers were to bow down or prostrate themselves before him. Their doing so with profound reverence would be the fitting response for all he had done, for he is holy or absolutely pure in every way.
Though not specifically designated as a priest, Moses did serve in a priestly capacity, and his brother Aaron functioned as high priest. Samuel, though not a priest, served as a prophet and was among those calling on God’s name, appealing to YHWH for the Israelites. Moses, Aaron, and Samuel repeatedly cried out to the Almighty, and he answered them.
After the Israelites departed from Egypt and wandered in the wilderness, God did speak to Moses and Aaron (as well as to the rest of the people) from the pillar of cloud. When the Israelites observed the “testimonies” or decrees and the statutes he had given them, YHWH answered their prayers. He revealed himself as a forgiving God, but he did not withhold deserved punishment.
Because of all that YHWH had done, the psalmist called upon the Israelites to exalt YHWH, giving him the highest honor and praise possible. As his representative place of dwelling, Zion was his “holy mountain.” There, with profound reverence, worshipers should bow or prostrate themselves before him. This would be the fitting response to his just dealings with them, for YHWH is “holy” or absolutely pure.
Note: Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.