Theme: Worshiping at His Footstool
In this week’s lessons, we learn of God’s holiness, and of what our response ought to be in light of it.
Scripture: Psalm 99:1-9
The fourth element of holiness, the moral uprightness or righteousness of God, is developed in the second stanza of Psalm 99 (vv. 4-5), especially in terms of God’s righteous rule among his people and over the nations. He is said to love justice, to have established equity, and to have done always what is just and right (v. 4). Therefore, says the writer, we must “exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool (v. 5).
If the psalmist’s description were only of an earthly king and earthly throne, “his footstool” would indicate the platform or dais on which the king’s throne rests. But this is a divine king and a divine throne, as we have indicated. What should we consider God’s footstool in this case? It could be several things. It could be the earth, as in Isaiah 66:1 (“Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool”) or, more particularly, Mount Zion (as probably in Isaiah 60:13). What is most likely here is the Ark of the Covenant.
The ark was a box about a yard long and a foot and a half wide and deep. It was covered with gold, and it had a lid called the Mercy Seat, on either end of which were figures of cherubim, between whose wings God was understood to dwell. The box contained the law of God, the stone tables on which were written the Ten Commandments. All these features fit the psalm, especially since the ark was an earthly picture of the heavenly scene where God was understood to be “enthroned between the cherubim.” The enthronement between the cherubim fits stanza one, and the reminder of the law, which the ark contained, fits the emphasis upon God’s just and equitable rule in stanza two. In 1 Chronicles 28:2 David refers to “the ark of the covenant” explicitly as “the footstool of our God.”
This “footstool” was a terrible, awe-inspiring element in the religious experience of Israel. It was kept in the Most Holy Place of the temple and could be approached by the high priest only once a year on the Day of Atonement, and only then after first having made a sacrifice for himself and the people in the adjoining courtyard. To approach the ark at any other time or in any other way would result in immediate death for the one who had thus violated God’s holiness. This is how some who did this were judged: Nadab and Abihu, for example (see Lev. 10:1-3).
But the Ark of the Covenant was a picture of God’s mercy, too, for it was there, on the covering of the ark, called the Mercy Seat, that the high priest was able to make atonement for the people’s sins. He did it by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the covering, which meant that the blood, which testified to the death of an innocent sacrificial victim, now came between the presence of the holy God who was understood to dwell between the wings of the cherubim, and the law which was contained in the ark and which all of us have broken.
This is the only way we can approach God to worship him, which is what this stanza of the psalm is about. We “worship at his footstool” because it is only on the basis of the shed blood, pointing to the poured-out blood of Jesus Christ, that we can approach the holy God. Have you come to God in that way? If you have not come through faith in Jesus and his atoning death for your sins, you have not really come to God at all and you will be sent away from him into outer darkness at the final day.
What did the footstool mean to the Israelites?
How does the ark demonstrate God’s mercy?
What was the outcome of those who violated God’s holiness?
How do the features of the ark fit this psalm?
Key Point: We “worship at his footstool” because it is only on the basis of the shed blood, pointing to the poured-out blood of Jesus Christ, that we can approach the holy God. Have you come to God in that way?
Application: Who in your life needs to hear from you about the shed blood of Christ as the only basis for the forgiveness of their sins and peace with God?