By Roy Ciampa, Ph.D.
Armstrong Chair of Religion, Samford University
SET APART: THE HOLINESS OF GOD
The language of kingship is key to understanding God and His holiness, and this psalm invites us to understand God from that framework, albeit a kingship that understands Him as set apart from and as ruler over all creation.
God is set apart in His greatness. (1–3)
Our God is so awesome in His holiness that proper recognition of His kingship — of His reign — should lead all peoples to tremble before His powerful and holy presence.
Human kings have their human attendants, but our Lord is “enthroned between the cherubim” whose exact nature and description are not provided, but whose angelic status as guardians of God’s presence reminds us that our King is not of this earth and reigns even over all spiritual and earthly beings.
All the earth should quake in the presence of such an awe-inspiring God because He is holy.
God is set apart in His justice. (4–5)
We Americans are used to a form of government in which the executive, legislative and judicial branches are kept separate. But in ancient Israel under the monarchy, kings were expected to establish and defend justice and to promote righteousness in the society. (See 1 Kings 10:9 and 2 Chron. 9:8, as well as 2 Sam. 8:15 and 15:4–6; 1 Kings 3:28 and 7:7; and 1 Chron. 18:14.)
Psalm 99 makes it clear that God, Israel’s King (and that of all creation), is set apart in His justice as He loves, establishes and administers justice, fairness and righteousness in Israel, and eventually in all creation.
He is set apart from all the imperfect models of justice we see all around us.
We are called to exalt and bow before Him in light of this. As those who worship a God who loves and administers true justice, fairness and righteousness, we should also always find ourselves to be growing in our love for and commitment to these things.
God is set apart in His actions toward us. (6–9)
In this last refrain, God is praised for speaking and revealing Himself to priests like Moses, Aaron and Samuel.
These were called to lead Israel, and when they called on the Lord “he answered them” and “spoke to them in a pillar of cloud.”
Samuel did not experience the pillar of cloud, but he had his own experiences of calling to the Lord and having Him answer (see 1 Sam. 7:9). God spoke to them, and they obeyed.
These were not perfect leaders, and God’s commitment to justice was reflected in that He was both “a forgiving God to them” and “an avenger of their sinful actions.”
Our King’s holiness and justice are reflected both in mercy and discipline.
He is not a silent God. Rather, He reveals Himself to us and is neither unforgiving nor complacent in dealing with our sins.
God is above and beyond all creation and greater than we can imagine, and we are called to exalt Him in all that we say and do, and to bow down before our holy God.
In the psalmist’s day that worship was to be given on “his holy mountain” in the temple in Jerusalem. Now we join with all God’s people “who in every place” (1 Cor. 1:2) call on His holy name across the globe, knowing there is no god like our Holy God.