“The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; He sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the LORD in Zion; He is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise Your great and awesome Name – He is holy.”
“Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.”
“Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.”
Reginald Heber writes in the first verse of his wonderful hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” these penetrating and powerful words.
“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty! God in three persons blessed Trinity!”
In writing these words the hymn writer leads us into a world of praise to the LORD God who is described as three times holy. There is a focus upon the doctrine of the Trinity in Heber’s hymn. It is a focus and a doctrine which is woven into much of the praise, worship and teaching of the Scriptures. Psalm 99 is an example of how that is worked out. The LORD God is the focus of the invitation to worship which we find here. He is introduced to us as three times holy. In fact the Psalm is divided up in such a way that we meet with three refrains around which the Psalm’s teaching and invitations are woven. In each refrain we find ourselves crying out “Holy!”
The message of the Psalm is that we have encountered a LORD God who is absolutely holy in every way. So often we find ourselves attracted to the various attributes of God. We love that God is a being of infinite power. We especially love this attribute when we think that we can somehow bend the infinite power of God to accomplish our purposes. That God would be on our side is a word of great comfort to us as we live in this uncertain world.
We also find ourselves attracted to the concept of the love of God. This is even more comforting to us if we define that love as a type of mushy commitment on God’s behalf to only act in such ways as to do good to everyone no matter how they live.
What we find more challenging is the teaching in the Scriptures which tells us that God is Holy. Many years ago I encountered this description of the LORD God that He was a God of Holy Love. His love is tempered with holiness and His holiness is tempered with love. Here we are getting closer to the biblical portrayal of God’s character. Holiness is defined as God being set apart from everything which is not God. He is a being who lives in such absolute purity that He is completely and totally opposed to all sin. For Him all sin must be judged, either in the second death or in the cross. These are the only options available to a sinner. To encounter the living God in His absolute holiness is to be overwhelmed with this reality.
The Biblical writers confront us with this reality in various ways. In Hebrews 12:28-29 we are confronted with this description.
“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.”
In the third chapter of the book of Exodus Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is told to take off his sandals for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. In Isaiah 6:3-7 the Old Testament Prophet has his encounter with God and is overwhelmed by the holiness of the LORD and of his own sinfulness.
“And they were calling out to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory. “ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me! “ I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.“ Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for. ““ This is the word of hope which we find in the 99th Psalm. The Lord God is three times holy. His sovereign holiness is revealed in His justice which brings us to His throne of grace where sin is judged and punished. There however we meet with the offer of grace because at the throne of grace we meet with the holy God who has provided in His own dear Son the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World for all who will receive Him. What a tremendous hope. All you have to do is receive Him.