The Book of Psalms

Monday: Holy, Holy, Holy


Theme: The Holy, Holy, Holy Psalm
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
Psalm 99 is about the holiness of God. It is about his kingly reign, too, since it begins with the words “the LORD reigns” (it is the third psalm to do so; the others are Psalms 93 and 97) and it is the next to last in the series of eight royal psalms, beginning with Psalm 92 and ending with Psalm 100. But chiefly Psalm 99 is about God’s holiness, which is important for us to understand if we are to appreciate the character of this supreme and reigning Monarch. It is almost impossible to miss this emphasis because the point is made three times in the psalm: in verse 3 (“he is holy”), in verse 5 (“he is holy”) and in verse 9 (“the LORD our God is holy”).
It is also hard to miss the importance of holiness as an attribute of God in the Bible generally. To begin with, the Bible calls God holy more than anything else, more than sovereign, more than just, more than merciful or loving. In fact “holy” is the only epithet of God that is repeated three times for emphasis, like this: “Holy, holy, holy” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).
Since the ancients did not have our ways of emphasizing something in print, either by capitalizing or printing in boldface or color, they achieved their emphasis by repetition. Jesus did it when he prefaced many of his sayings by “verily, verily” or “truly, truly.” It was a device for calling special attention to what followed. But if saying something twice gives it emphasis, how about if the idea is repeated three times, as “holy” is? Obviously, this makes it of superlative importance.
As we read the Bible we discover that God alone is holy: “Who will not fear you, O LORD, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy” (Rev. 15:4). God is said to be majestic in his holiness, which is the precise theme of Psalm 99. Exodus 15:11 says, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” This attribute of God is celebrated before his throne day and night by the seraphim. Isaiah heard them sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3). So did John in Revelation: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). God’s people are called on to join these praises. For example, “Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name” (Ps. 30:4).
Psalm 99 is hard to outline, because it can be divided in so many ways. Verses 5 and 9 are nearly identical, which divides the psalm into two fairly equal parts (vv. 1-5 and 6-9). But the psalm can also be given three parts, each ending with the words “he is holy” (vv. 1-3, 4-5) or “the LORD our God is holy” (vv. 6-9). I have already called attention to this feature. Again, there are four locations where God is seen to be reigning, and these correspond to the stanzas of the New International Version: 1) “between the cherubim” (vv. 1-3); 2) “at his footstool” (vv. 4-5); 3) “from the pillar of cloud” (vv. 6-7); and 4) “at his holy mountain” (vv. 8-9). Each of these is uniquely associated with God’s holiness and therefore teaches some essential truth about it.
In my judgment, the best way to outline the psalm is by the three parts ending with the words “he (or “the LORD our God”) is holy.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon saw this and called Psalm 99 “The Holy, Holy, Holy Psalm.”1
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 222.
Study Questions:

Why is it important to understand the holiness of God?
How do we know that the writers of the Bible consider the holiness of God to be important?
What is unique about God’s holiness?

Observation: Repetition in Scripture is a device used for emphasizing an idea or showing the importance of what is to follow.
Prayer: Given the biblical emphasis on God’s holiness, make it a point to acknowledge this attribute in your prayers.
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Greatness of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

Study Questions
Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Follow Us

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7