Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Relating to a holy God

Ark of the Covenant - by Phillip Martin
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 99:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "He is holy.... He is holy.... For the Lord our God is holy." - Psalm 99: 3b, 5b, 9b.

This short hymn-Psalm has three stanzas, each declaring at its end, "He (God) is holy."

It might be a good idea, here, to remind ourselves what "holy" means. Jerry Bridges in his book The Pursuit of Holiness says:

"To be holy is to be morally blameless. It is to be separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God. The word signifies 'separation to God and a conduct befitting those so separated' "- Kindle Location 84.

Stanza 1 (Psalm 99:1-3) starts with God, the other, the inaccessible. Though He is "high above all peoples," for Israel He lived "between the cherubim"—the two gold angels that topped the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:22, 1 Samuel 4:4). Access to the Ark was limited. Its place in the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, guarded from all but the ministering priest by a heavy curtain.

The power and the mystery that surrounded the Ark was no fantasy. When the Philistines captured it, weird things happened to their idol (1 Samuel 5:1-4). When David tried to move it on an ox cart instead of the right way (carried with poles on the priests' shoulders), and Uzzah reached over to steady it, the touch killed him (2 Samuel 6:3-10).

The psalmist concludes this first stanza with "Let them (all the peoples) praise Your great and awesome name—He is holy."

In Stanza 2 (Psalm 99:4-5) the song moves to a celebration of how holy God is in justice. Addressing God directly the psalmist praises: "You have established equity;/ You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob." He admonishes the people, "Exalt the Lord our God / And worship at His footstool."

In the final stanza (Psalm 99:6-9) the psalm gets human. The writer reminds the people, this God who is so holy we can't touch the place He lives, who is utterly just and righteous, also interacted with people. When Moses, Aaron and Samuel called on His name, He answered them. More than that, He was to them "God-Who-Forgives." Wow! This holy, completely just, completely righteous God not only relates to but forgives puny, flawed, sinful humans.

In our time, we tend to de-emphasize the fact of God's holiness, stressing instead, His grace, mercy and love. He is those things, of course. But those qualities stand out even more sharply when viewed against the background of His holiness and our unworthiness. We need His forgiveness. That He is completely righteous and at the same time chooses to forgive sin is grace we will contemplate and praise Him for through eternity.

PRAYER: Holy God, please grow in me the comprehension and respect Your holiness deserves. Thank You for being the God-Who-Forgives. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.

MORE: Some practical thoughts on holy living

Bridges, in his book, makes a case for Christian holiness using 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, 1 Peter 1:14-16, Revelation 22:11, and Ephesians 4:22-24. He asks, "If holiness, then, is so basic to the Christian life, why do we not experience it more in daily living." He gives a three-part answer:

1. "Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centred than God-centered. We are more concerned with our own 'victory' over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God....

2. Our second problem is that we have misunderstood 'living by faith' (Galatians 2:20) to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part. In fact sometimes we have even suggested that any effort on our part is 'of the flesh.'...

3 Our third problem is that we do not take some sin seriously. We have mentally categorized sins into that which is unacceptable and that which may be tolerated a bit" - Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, Kindle Locations 92-10.
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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