So often, when we think of God and his character, the first word that comes to mind is “love.”
And it is true. God is love. But here we see another aspect of his character. His holiness. And so while Psalm 97 says, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice,” Psalm 99 starts out,
The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. (1)
Why do we tremble? Why does the earth shake? Because God is holy, and we are not. Time and again, the psalmist sings about God’s holiness. He says,
Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy. (3)
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (5)
And yet again,
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. (9)
It is because of his holiness, that time and again, people fell before God in fear, whether it was Moses (Exodus 3:5-6), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), or even John (Revelation 1:17).
They knew they were not worthy to look upon God. They knew that by rights, this holy God should destroy them because of their sin.
Yet time and again, God showed his mercy to these men and to his people.
The psalmist writes about this mercy, singing,
You were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. (8)
Though Israel often failed to trust God, though they often defiled themselves with their sin and God punished them for it, still he never abandoned them. He continued to extend his forgiveness to them.
And when people like Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, imperfect vessels though they were, called on God, he answered them.
The good news is that God does all of this for us. Though God is holy, and we are not, though we fail so many times, yet God forgives us and hears us when we call.
So let us remember his holiness and his mercy both, and as the psalmist says, exalt and worship him each day.