As we worship Jehovah for His infinite wisdom, right at the peak of our praises must be the recognition that His mercyto us is altogether holy. How He managed to do that is beyond all finite calculation. But fortunately, it is not beyond our ability to adore and praise.
“The Lordreigneth; let the people tremble: He sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved. The Lordis great in Zion; And he is high above all the people. Let them praise thy great and terrible name; For it is holy. The king’s strength also loveth judgment; Thou dost establish equity, Thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt ye the Lordour God, And worship at his footstool; For he is holy. Moses and Aaron among his priests, And Samuel among them that call upon his name; They called upon the Lord, and he answered them. He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: They kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them. Thou answeredst them, O Lordour God: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, Though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions. Exalt the Lordour God, And worship at his holy hill; For the Lordour God is holy” (Psalm 99).
Summary of the Text
This psalm can be divided into three sections or strophes as well. Each one of those sections ends with exultation in the holiness of God. Holiness is therefore the three-fold refrain. His name is holy (v. 3). His judgments are holy (v. 5). His mercy is holy (v. 9). Because Jehovah reigns, His people tremble and the earth staggers (v. 1). He reigns from between the cherubim, which is where the mercy seat is (v. 1). The Lord is great in Zion, high over the people (v. 2). His name is great and terrible (v. 3), and is to be honored as holy. God is the king who loves judgment, who loves the justice of judgment (v. 4), and He establishes equity (v. 4). All of it is righteous (v. 4). Because He is like this, we must worship at His footstool, in front of the mercy seat, for He is holy (v. 5). He is the God who answers prayer, as He did for His priests, Moses and Aaron, and as He did for Samuel (v. 6). He spoke to them from the cloudy pillar, and they kept His testimonies and ordinances (v. 7). When God answers prayer, He makes a distinction between sinner and sin. He forgave them, but took vengeance on their inventions (v. 8). Because all of this is truth itself, we are to exalt the Lord, and worship at His holy hill—for He is holy (v. 9).
His Merciful Name is Terrible
This is a jubilant psalm, but the joy in it is not a frothy or lite kind of thing. The rejoicing people here tremble(v. 1). The name we are praising is a great and terrible name—with terriblehere being understood as that which means the kind of awe that causes earthquakes. The earth staggers (v. 1). It is a psalm that rejoices in forgiveness, but this is not a “boys will boys” kind of forgiveness. It is no gloss-over-it forgiveness. This is forgiveness that maintains the highest and holiest of standards. The king lovesjudgment and equity (v. 4). And after He has separated our sins from us, He takes vengeanceon them (v. 8).
Real Social Justice
A recent thing in Christian circles has been the cry for social justice. On one level there should be no problem with this—we see in our text that the king we serve lovesjudgment, and He establishesequity. He executesboth judgment and righteousness. How could we be against any of that? Biblically grounded, we are not. But we remember the warning the Lord gave us. “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
Before programs or hearings, or investigations, or reforms, before any of that, we must have definitions. What do we mean by justice? If it is not biblical justice, biblically defined, then it is nothing more than a secular pursuit of continued unholiness. And that is precisely what the current “social justice” fad is, a love of the unholy.
From the Cloudy Pillar
Not surprisingly, the merciful and most holy word comes to us from the awesome cloudy tower that accompanied Israel by day, and which was a tower of fire by night. This is where the word of forgiveness comes from.
“And the Lordwent before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Ex. 13:21–22).
In the time of the new covenant, this blessing is for all the houses of Zion—which means you.
“And the Lordwill create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, And upon her assemblies, A cloud and smoke by day, And the shining of a flaming fire by night: For upon all the glory shall be a defence” (Is. 4:5).
Both Just and Justifier
So how is it possible for God to save us, and execute vengeance on our inventions? He sees that we keep His testimonies and ordinances, and He also sees how we fail to do so. How is this to be dealt with? The answer to this question—and when it comes to a man’s salvation, it isthequestion—is double imputation. God imputes the sin and wickedness of our guilt to Christ on the cross, and He imputes the absolute purity of Christ’s life to us.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
“To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
And He does it from the pillar of cloud and fire, with the tabernacle beneath. And in that tabernacle, there is the Holy of Holies, containing the ark of the covenant. On top of that ark are two cherubim, facing each other, and between them is the mercy seat. And God dispenses His judgments from that place, the place where the blood was put, and which was the holiest place within the holiest place in all Israel. And that means your forgiveness is not a matter of divine indulgence. Your forgiveness, your new life, your cleansing, is holy.