Theme: Three Important Consequences
In this week’s lessons, we learn of God’s holiness, and of what our response ought to be in light of it.
Scripture: Psalm 99:1-9
The final section of this three-part psalm (the last two stanzas in the New International Version) breaks away from heaven to speak of three past leaders of Israel—Moses, Aaron and Samuel, and of the wilderness experience of the people, when God “spoke to them from the pillar of cloud” (vv. 6, 7).
A change like this usually seems abrupt to us and even causes some of the commentators to begin speculating about two separate psalms that have somehow been wrongly joined together. But such changes are common in the psalms, and in this case the purpose seems to be to remind us that worship of the high and holy God is not for angels alone, though angels do worship him, but for human beings like ourselves. It is we who are being called to “exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool” (v. 5) or to “worship at his holy mountain” (v. 9).
What will we discover if we do come to God on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, as God requires? We will discover two things. First, we will discover that God answers prayer. Moses, Aaron and Samuel “called on the LORD and he answered them” (v. 6). Second, we will find forgiveness for our sins. “You were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds” (v. 8).
Our study of the holiness of God, as it is developed in Psalm 99, leads to three important consequences:
1. If God is holy, we must be holy. Peter wrote, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Pet. 1:15). Holiness is no option for a Christian.
2. If we are not holy (and we are not), we must flee to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. Notice that at the end of the psalm “he is holy” is changed to “our God is holy,” which is surely significant. God needs to be our God. But how does the holy God become our God since we are not holy? The answer is by atonement and forgiveness (v. 8). It is only the forgiven who can worship at God’s holy mountain.
3. If we know God, we must worship him. At the beginning of Psalm 99 the nations are exhorted to praise God, which they may or may not do. But regardless of how the nations respond, God is great in Zion, and this means that he is praised by his people. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “The ignorant forget him, the wicked despise him, the atheistical oppose him, but among his own chosen he is great beyond comparison. He is great in the esteem of the gracious, great in his acts of mercy, and really great in himself: great in his mercy, power, wisdom, justice and glory.”1
Let me close with the way this is handled in Hebrews. The author of that book wrote,
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words, so that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel….
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:18-24, 28, 29).
Indeed he is! Worship is what each of us must do.
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966) p. 222.
What is the purpose of the abrupt change in language in this psalm?
Who is called to worship God in the second stanza?
Why should we strive to be holy?
For what purpose does the psalmist refer to God as “our God” in verse 8?
Prayer: Ask God for the assurance of answered prayer and forgiveness for sins. Ask for a glimpse of his holiness.
Application: Prepare yourself for worship this Sunday by meditating on Hebrews 12:18-24, 28, and 29.
For Further Study: During the course of his ministry, James Boice preached through all 150 psalms. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering the three-volume set at 25% off the regular price. Consider using this for your personal or family devotions.