TO CHEW ON: "He is holy ... He is holy... For the Lord our God is holy - Psalm 99:3,5,9
One thing that surprised me when I first delved into the meaning of the word holy was the aspect of separateness that is its essence. When we say God is holy, one of the things we are saying is that He is separate, unlike us:
["Holiness is separation from everything profane and defiling; and at the same time, it is dedication to everything holy and pure" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 155.]
Psalm 99 is a poem exploring God's holiness. In it the writer draws our attention to three aspects of this attribute God displays in His dealings with the earth and humankind:
1. God is holy or separate from the earth and humanity (vs. 1-3).
The psalmist shows God in His awful majesty. He is a God who reigns. He is a God whom we don't approach casually. "He dwells between the cherubim" refers to the place just above the cherubim statues on the ark, where God's presence 'lived' and from where He spoke to Moses and the high priest. The ark was in the Holy of Holies. No common person could go into that place. God is also described as "high above all peoples." They tremble at the sight and sound of Him. The only appropriate response: praise and worship. He is holy.
2. God is holy or separate in His justice (vs. 4-5).
Who of us hasn't at some time flung up our hands in frustration at some seeming unjust, even foolish verdict delivered by our legal system? So many aspects of our flawed humanity come into play in our judgments: incomplete knowledge of the situation, slavish adherence to the letter (versus the spirit) of the law, the life experiences and philosophies of lawyers, judges, and juries, faulty memories, the possibility of lying....
God, on the other hand, isn't hampered by any of those things. J. I. Packer says of God the judge:
"...God's work as Judge is part of its witness to His character. It confirms what is said elsewhere of His moral perfection. His righteousness and justice, His wisdom, omniscience, and omnipotence. It shows us also that the heart of the justice which expresses God's nature is retribution, the rendering to men what they have deserved; for this is the essence of the judges task. To reward good with good, and evil with evil, is natural to God" - Knowing God, p. 157-158.
3. God is holy or separate in His dealings with individuals.
The writer names Moses, Aaron and Samuel as examples. Though these were revered and respected leaders, the psalmist points out that they too had done wrong and needed forgiveness:
"You were to them God-Who-Forgives"Though God forgives, there are consequences of sin, lest man forget how offensive it is to God and how harmful it is to mankind" - footnote to Psalm 99:8 - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 762.
Though You took vengeance on their deeds" - Psalm 99:8.
And so as we sit, or kneel, or lie prostrate, contemplating God's holiness, we know instinctively that we can never measure up. We are separate from Him, doomed if we too do not get His forgiveness — the forgiveness we claim along with Moses, Aaron and Samuel, on the basis of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin.
Then we burst into praise and worship again — because our God is holy and separate and unlike any other in that way too. He has made a way for us to approach Him, despite His holiness.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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