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Psalm 99

King Yahveh is holy!

Like today’s super-rich, ancient kings distanced themselves from the masses below them. So why wouldn’t the King of the universe, in all his holiness, do so? But God’s idea of holiness is far different from ours.

Yahveh reigns—
let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned between the cherubim—
let the earth quake!
2 Yahveh is mighty in Zion
exalted far above all the peoples.
3 Let them praise our majestic
awe-inspiring God—
he is holy!

4 Loving justice
this mighty king has established what’s fair
and done only what’s just and right
to Jacob’s descendants.
5 Exalt Yahveh our God as king
and bow low before his footstool—
he is holy!

6 Moses and Aaron were two of his priests
and Samuel another who asked God for mercy.
They cried out for help
and God heard their cries and rescued them.
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud—
and they did what he said
keeping the laws he gave them.
8 Yahveh our God
you answered their prayers
and forgave their sins
yet you punished them when they did wrong.
9 Exalt Yahveh our God as king
and worship at his holy mountain
for Yahveh our God is holy!

This psalm repeatedly describes God as holy and views its proclamation of God’s kingship as cause for earth’s peoples to tremble and the earth to quake. What’s so awe-inspiring about God? Though utterly transcendent, he’s powerfully present among us, manifesting his presence between the ark of the covenant’s cherubim in Jerusalem. Transcendence and immanence don’t usually go together. But Yahveh is a one-of-a-kind God, reigning over all and calling for everyone’s submission.

Unlike any of his rivals, this all-powerful king loves justice, cares for the oppressed and has given his people a law that requires the same of them. All his dealings with his people have been just and right. So he asks nothing of them that he doesn’t unfailingly give them. Again, all this sets him apart as holy.

The psalm mentions Moses, Aaron and Samuel, who interceded for God’s people before Israel had kings. God heard them and spared his people because he’s merciful. We see another aspect of his holiness here, his ethical wholeness. We naturally either forgive or judge—or veer from one to the other. God does both because he’s totally committed to redeeming our world. That’s why the psalmist calls the world to worship this awesome king in Jerusalem where he reveals himself as the Holy One of Israel.

You determined to redeem the Israelites, God, for your holiness isn’t avoidance of sinners, so much as a commitment to show mercy while upholding justice—to bear our sins, at whatever cost. I exalt you, Lord! There’s no one like you! Make me holy as you are holy, I pray. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Exalt Yahveh our God as king
and worship at his holy mountain
for Yahveh our God is holy!

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.