For the Love of God, Volume 2/October 12

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 285 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 2


1 Kings 15; Colossians 2; Ezekiel 45; Psalms 99—101

SOME OF THE PSALMS ARE grouped into collections. Psalms 93—100 celebrate the kingship and coming of the Lord. Thematically, however, they range from the exuberant exhilaration of Psalm 98 (yesterday’s meditation) to a more subdued but profoundly submissive awe. After the unrestrained joy of Psalm 98, there follows in Psalm 99 a profound reverence. We have moved from a festival of praise to a cathedral.

The psalm divides into two parts. The theme of the first is established by the repeated line, “he is holy” (99:3, 5). This does not mean something as narrow as saying that God is good or moral (though it does not exclude such notions). The emphasis is on the sheer “Godness” of God—what makes him different from human beings, what makes him uniquely God. The two instances of the clause “he is holy” are meant to be statements summarizing in each case the preceding lines. (a) The Lord reigns; he is exalted above the mighty cherubim (99:1). Though he manifests himself in Zion, he is no tribal deity: “he is exalted over all the nations” (99:2). “Let them praise your great and awesome name” (99:3)—and then the summarizing refrain, “he is holy.” (b) If he reigns over all, he is, supremely, the King (99:4). He is not only mighty, he loves justice and fairness. This has been eminently displayed in his own covenant community: “in Jacob you have done what is just and right” (99:4). There is only one appropriate response before such a God: “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool” (99:5)—and again the summarizing refrain, “he is holy.”

The second part of the psalm contemplates the truth that, however exalted and holy he is, God chose to disclose himself to human beings. We may be tempted to think of Moses and Aaron and Samuel as almost superhuman. But the psalmist carefully places them among the priests and among those who called on his name: they were not fundamentally different from others. Moreover, they were frail and flawed like the rest of us. According to verse 8, God was to them (not “to Israel”: the NIV footnote is correct) “a forgiving God,” even though he “punished their misdeeds” (here follow the NIV text, not the footnote).

Thus the theme of God’s holiness does not end in mere transcendence, but in an unimaginably great God graciously disclosing himself to human beings—even when they rebel against him. We stand in their company. If his holiness is disclosed both in mercy and in wrath, then we are neither to despair of it nor to presume upon it. “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy” (99:9).

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