Sovereign Lord, let nations tremble

Notes and commentary on Sovereign Lord, let nations tremble

The hymn aims to be a reasonably close paraphrase of Psalm 99. The psalm itself is modelled on the idea of God in his holy temple.

The psalm can be viewed as four sections, of approximately equal size. Three of those sections end with a variation of "he is holy"; this immediately suggests a pattern for the hymn's four verses.

"wrestled [Jacob] in...": The psalm simply mentions Jacob. This paraphrase interpolates into the hymn the incident in which Jacob wrestled all night with the angel.
"...graciousness": The wrestling of Jacob is, despite its action, a work of grace.
"kneel before your footstool": Jacob had been wrestled to the ground by the angel; we voluntarily kneel before the footstool of the Lord.
"voice to Samuel in the night": Again, this is an interpolation of a particular defining incident in the subject's life, which happens in the temple.
"grant us grace": "Grace" picks up the "graciousness" theme from the Jacob incident in the second verse.
"who would...chastise us": The psalm acknowledges God's punishment of Israel for their wrongdoing; the hymn acknowledges that God has the right to do this to us also.
"build us as a living temple": The imports the idea of the temple now being us, the gathered church (1 Peter 2:5).
"holy, holy, holy Lord": The previous verses ended with a single "holy Lord". The hymn concludes with an expansion to the threefold "holy, holy, holy Lord": Isaiah's vision in the temple (Is. 6:3).