So far in Psalm 99 we’ve seen that God is holy because he is sovereign over all peoples. Yesterday, we were reminded that he is holy because he loves justice. Today, we look at the third aspect of God’s holiness provided by this psalm – his work in salvation.
In vv6-7 we see a few people in Israel’s history who prayed to God on behalf of the people and God acted to save them:99:6-7 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on Yahweh and he answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.
These verses recall three figures from Israel’s history who prayed on behalf of Israel – asking God to forgive their sin:
The Israelites rebelled while Moses was up on the mountain getting the 10 commandments (Exodus 32). They melted down their gold into a calf in order to create an idol for themselves. God, understandably, was angry with them. What happened? Moses interceded for the Israelites. And God forgave.
Some time later, Korah and 250 other men rebelled against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Numbers 16), which was in effect a rebellion against God himself. God caused an earthquake to swallow them up. This led the rest of the Israelites to be angry with Moses and Aaron, and God sent a plague on them, in which 14,700 people died. But at the height of the plague, Aaron made a sacrifice of atonement, and interceded for the people. And God forgave.
A few centuries later, Israel was in the Promised Land. They had come under heavy oppression by the Philistines, as a punishment for their idolatry (1 Samuel 7). So they repented of their idolatry, and turned back to God and his ‘statutes and decrees’. Samuel interceded. And God forgave, delivering them from the Philistines.
All this is why the Psalm says in verse 8:99:8a Yahweh, our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God…
Just as God was a forgiving God to Israel, so he is a forgiving God to us. We have sinned. But Christ has interceded for us. And God has forgiven us, through the completed work of Jesus. That’s what we celebrate the most as we gather together as God’s people: the God of mercy and forgiveness.
However, the last part of v8 seems a bit jarring in the context of God’s gracious salvation and forgiveness:99:8 Yahweh, our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds.
Though you punished their misdeeds? Isn’t this part of the Psalm celebrating forgiveness? But this phrase is significant. The theme of the psalm is ‘the holiness of God’ – so when God acts in salvation, he must also uphold his justice if he is indeed to remain holy. God’s mercy and justice go hand in hand – he can’t just overlook sin, or his holiness would be compromised.
The Apostle Paul put it this way:Rom 3:25-26 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
God has forgiven us. But he has also punished our misdeeds. In some ways, part of the punishment is the temporal consequences of sin. They don’t just disappear when God forgives. But the eternal consequences have been dealt with in Christ. By his sacrifice, our misdeeds have been punished, so that God can forgive us while remaining just and holy.
Spend some time in prayer praising our holy, forgiving God, and thanking him for the sacrifice he provided in Jesus.99:9 Exalt Yahweh our God and worship at his holy mountain, for Yahweh our God is holy.
(By the way, you don’t have to go to his holy mountain in Israel. Remember, you are now the location of God’s temple, in which he dwells by his Holy Spirit.)