In my previous post, I reflected on how God’s forgiveness and discipline intertwined in our lives, gleaning principles from Psalm 99 and Hebrews 12. Psalm 99 also teaches some powerful truths about holiness and the sovereignty of God in connection with prayer by heroes of faith. Psalm 99 has universal perspective: People from every nation (and even the earth itself!) should tremble at the realization that God rules. While, especially in Western society, people cherish autonomy, Psalm 99 reminds us that even rulers, priests, and prophets are accountable to God. The psalm mentions Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Each of these three had a connection with priesthood; Moses and Samuel also functioned as rulers and prophets in Israel. The role of prayer in the ministry of all three is noted when the psalm’s writer observes about Samuel, “…Samuel also was among those who called on his name,” in a literary structure that equates the service of Aaron and Moses with that of Samuel. While all three were spiritual leaders of the people of God, Moses and Aaron especially were held accountable for sins committed in the course of leading Israel. Even Samuel had to answer for the unethical behavior of his sons after he delegated some of his responsibilities and authority to them.
Psalm 99 emphasizes the holiness of God in its call to worship him: “Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!”(verse 5) and “Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy” (verse 9). We know the LORD is holy because he is a “lover of justice” and has “executed justice and righteousness”(verse 4). In regard to the prayers of Aaron, Moses, and Samuel, verse 8 observes, “O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.” The psalmist also notes that this trio of faith heroes “kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.”
God’s holiness is to be reflected in the lives of his worshipers; passages like James 3 underline that teachers and leaders of worship especially should live holy lives. The lives of the three leaders named above reveal that even flawed leaders can lead God’s people well, but that there is a personal cost for their sins. Psalm 99 applies this truth to leaders, but also to all in our world who call on God’s name in prayer. Prayer is not a glib conversation with a friend, but a dialogue with the holy Creator of life and our world. As Hebrews 12:28 states, “Therefore, since wee are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” When we “call for fire” in prayer, we must pray with awareness of the power of the One to whom we cry.