Psalm 99: For the Lord Our God Is Holy
May 5, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The beginning of this psalm makes a fascinating contrast with the start of Psalm 97. Psalm 97, verse 1: “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice;” Psalm 99 verse 1: “The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!” Both are appropriate responses to the reign of the Lord. It is appropriate to rejoice with exuberance because of God’s rule. It is also appropriate to tremble with fear.
In fact, our joy is never so complete as when it is a fearsome joy. The man who rejoices at a pancake has significantly less joy than the man who rejoices at the top of Mount Everest. There is more fear at the top of the mountain, but also more joy. And so with God his fearsome reality is not conflicting with the joyful experience of him but confirming.
Neither is it wrong to emphasize his fearsomeness. God is to be feared; indeed, let the peoples tremble! Why? Simply because of his holiness. “Holy is he!” (99:5). The holiness of God, his utter otherness, his purity and ethical shining brilliance, that he is something else, extraordinary, utterly other, is enough to make any sane man quake. Is this how you think of God? Or do you think of him as a Santa Claus figure? Benign, nice, but basically ineffectual.
This psalm is calling us to recognize the holiness of God. Certainly, godly men pray and God answers them. “They called to the Lord, and he answered them” (99:6). There is a present compassion, a love, a prayer-hearing character, to the living God. We should not make the trembling fear of God to be akin to seeing God as nasty or vicious. He is holy; but he is also loving. Nonetheless, it is the holiness that is on display in this psalm (and the holiness of God that is so often downplayed today). God was a “forgiving God” to Moses and Aaron and Samuel. But he was also “an avenger of their wrongdoings” (99:8).
Christian, do not think that your status before God as a Christian means that you are immune from receiving discipline. Indeed, God, like a father, disciplines the child he loves for their good. Fear God and run from sin. “For the Lord our God is holy” (99:9).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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