Tuesday, November 22, 2022

PSALM 99 “EXALT THE LORD OUR GOD … HE IS HOLY ”

 


This Psalm is part of a group of theocratic Psalms (Psalms 93– 100). The general subject is the kingship of God the LORD (Yahweh), and the praise derived from the fact that He reigns. OUTLINE

I. The LORD Is Holy in His  Being (vv. 1-3)

II. The LORD Is Holy in His  Justice (vv. 4-5)

III. The LORD Is Holy in His  Forgiveness (vv. 6-9)

This threefold repetition of God’s holiness reminds us of the angels refrain in Isaiah’s vision of God: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isa. 6:3). Spurgeon calls it the “Holy, holy, holy Psalm”.[1] In Isaiah, the manifestation of God’s presence causes the thresholds of the temple to tremble (Isa 6:4); so here in Ps. 99:1b, the whole earth quakes.

I chose this Psalm for this evening, because I wanted us to think about the attribute of God’s holiness. There is probably no attribute of God which needs to be rediscovered more in our day than His holiness. The modern church seems to be more enamoured with the therapeutic and psychological uses of God to provide us with inner peace, than  with the fact that He is holy and therefore, having created us in His image, He is calling us to be holy.  

Holiness is what defines God’s character most fundamentally. The holiness of God (Hebr. quodesh) is a quality which separates God from everything else He has created. To use a German phrase  - “ER ist der ganz Andere” – He is the wholly Other. God’s holiness is closely associated with His glory (Hebr. kabod),  a word which associates God with being weighty. The point is that if we do not revere God as holy, then He rests lightly on us. And that is the curse that we find in our modern church. God is not seen and understood as holy and glorious. He rests lightly on us.We easily  substitute Him for created glory,  and that is what causes  God to  hand  us over to our depraved  beings (Romans 1:8ff) - when we are, as it where, left to our own devices and left to destroy ourselves. Oh, brothers and sisters pray that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down … to make His name known to our adversaries  and that the nations  might tremble at His presence” (Isaiah 64:1 ,2)

I.                    99: 1-3 The LORD Is Holy in His  Being

99:1 The Lord reigns.  He is the Great I AM that I AM. YAHWEH is His Name. He is the undisputed Ruler of the Universe – there is no one besides Him. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end; let the people tremble[2] (cf. 96:9)... let the  earth quake.

He sits enthroned upon the cherubim (cf. Ps 80:1). The allusion here is to the Shechinah glory - manifested in the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, in the holy of holies on the mercy-seat, between the cherubim. Here God promised to have His earthly visible dwelling[3]. The cherubim are first mentioned as guarding the gates of Paradise (Gen.3:24);  In Ezekiel 1 & Ezekiel 10 we find them carrying the throne of God upon their wings through the clouds;  But here in the tabernacle/ temple they are made as statues overlaid with gold. They overshadow the cover of the ark of the covenant. Between the two cherubim in the temple, the Shechinah, or visible symbol of the presence of God, rested and therefore God is represented here as “dwelling between the cherubim,”[4]

99:2 The Lord is great in Zion – (cf. Psalm 95:3). We have already seen that the LORD reigns in the earth. That signifies His greatness. But we see now in particular that He is great in Zion -  in context Jerusalem, but beyond that  this also refers to  the  manifested presence of  the  city of God, which is the church – His people,  and ultimately the bride of the Lamb (Rev. 21:9).   God is ever within the true Church. But remember this – the greatness of the true Church is God. Not her wealth, prestige, orthodoxy, culture, or intelligence, but His inhabitation – according to the covenantal promise: I will be your God- you will be my people!

And “he is exalted above all the peoples” - Above all the nations. He has them under his control. He rules over all. The God who rules in Zion – the church, also rules all the nations of the earth.  The peoples of the earth do not bow to him now, but the day will come when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess to God (Isa. 45:23 cf. Rom. 14:11; see also Phil. 2:10-11 where  this is applied to  the Lord Jesus)

99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome (being feared) name. The Name and the Being of God in its very nature evokes awe and reverence. The word “them” here refers to both Zion and all peoples. The entire world owes  God praise by virtue of who He is – and again , if they do not do so now, they will then, when He appears in glory!

The first section ends, as the second and third do, by stating, ”Holy is He!  This fundamental attribute of God needs to be meditated upon. We need to understand this. We need to see Him for who He is, being absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and exalted above His creatures in infinite majesty. His holiness is seen by us in His display of holiness. No man can see God and live. The holiness of God is seen in  His absolute moral purity. He is completely without sin and apart from it. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This means that nothing unclean, defiled, sinful, dark can enter His presence.

Do you now appreciate the atoning death of Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from sin, and who presents us faultless in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24)?

God is called holy more often than any other title. His name, which signifies all his attributes is holy (Ps. 103:1).  There is no other attribute of God repeated three times in the praise of it. We never read of the angels crying out, “Eternal, eternal, eternal” or “Faithful, faithful, faithful” or “Love, love, love.” In fact, we can say that God’s holiness relates to all of His perfections: His justice is a holy justice; his wisdom a holy wisdom; his love is a holy love  etc.

II.  99:4-5 The LORD Is Holy in His  Justice

99:4 The King in his might loves justice. The word king here refers to God as a king, cf. 99:1. The word rendered “might” means strength and the reference here is to what constitutes the main strength or power of His character and the nature of His government. God’s essential character, and all the displays of his authority, display justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.  God is always on the side of justice and  always on the side of that that which is  right.

99:5 Exalt the LORD our God - Let his name be lifted up on high. Let it be seen from far away.  Let it be done with a raised voice!  Worship at his footstool.  Worship (Hebr. shahah here literally translates as “be prostrated/ bowed down”). Exalting God as a human being relates to the act of lowering/ humbling ourselves – to see ourselves in proper relation to Him. To worship at his footstool.  The reference here is to the footstool on which the feet of a king rested when he sat on his throne (see also Ps. 132:7 ). It reflects a common ancient near eastern practice of bowing at the feet of a king on his throne. Holy is he (cf. 99:3). The fact that God is holy is a reason for humbling ourselves, bowing down before Him.

III.  99:6-9 The LORD Is Holy in His  Forgiveness

99: 6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among them that call upon his name.  Moses, Aaron and Samuel were spiritual leaders. These three interceded for the people of Israel and at various times acted as guardians of the Lord’s testimonies and statutes that they had received. They were responsible for leading Israel in true worship.   They called to the Lord and he answered them. They were the example, they were the custodians of public worship. They taught Israel how to approach God, as the elders of our church are also reminding you this coming week concerning how to approach God in prayer and fasting.

“And he answered them” -  When they approached God, He heard their prayers. He” is an emphatic pronoun: “They called on the LORD, and He Himself answered them.”

It is not a useless thing to praise and worship God Him. In fact, it is right and fitting for His creatures to do so! We must come to God in prayer expecting to hear from Him. Indeed, prayer and praise is a right response  to  a holy God.

99:7 In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them - the pillar which guided the Israelites in the wilderness - the “Shechinah” - the visible symbol of the divine presence. They kept his testimonies ...  They obeyed his laws, and therefore God heard them and answered them.  Note – “He spoke . . . He gave . . . You answered (v.8)”.  God is a prayer answering God.

9:8 O Lord our God you answered them.  You were a forgiving God to them - They were not perfect; they were sinners; they often offended  the LORD , and yet He  answered them, and showed them mercy. He is a forgiving God.  Only God can forgive our sin.

“…but an avenger of their wrongdoings”  -  their sins. There is no allusion to  any particular sin  here, and so we take it in a general sense. God being holy does not overlook sin – whether it be the sin of these leaders of the sin of this nation.  Most commentators believe that the reference is primarily to Israel’s sin.

99:9 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain - In 99:5, “at his footstool.” The “holy hill” here refers to Zion, as the seat of the national worship. For the Lord our God is holy – cf. 99:5. This closes the Psalm with the repeated fact he fact that God is a holy God This remains at all times the highest reason for our praise of Him.

APPLICATION

·         The Lord is  King – let us  tremble. This is true for all peoples of the world

·         The Lord loves justice

·         We must abandon sin, because God is holy.

·         We must praise Him  because He is holy

·         We must bring our petitions to God, because He answers prayer.

·         We must exalt and worship God, because He forgives sin.

·         Our prayer and praise becomes richer and deeper when we study the holiness of God.

 



[1] C.H. Spurgeon : The Treasury of David, Vol II, p.225

[2] The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, “Let the people rage” - or, be angry: as if the idea were that God reigned, although the people were enraged, and were opposed to him.

[3] Exodus 25:18, Exodus 25:22; Exodus 37:7; 1Sa 4:4; 1 Kings 6:25

[4] Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1

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