The concept of divine holiness is rich in Scripture. It implies otherness (that God is entirely separate from and over his creation) and purity (that God is light and in him is no darkness at all) but, biblically, the idea also implies consistency. Because he is holy, God can be expected to act consistently toward his people. Psalm 99 helps us to see this.
Before, I am misunderstood, I do not mean to imply that God behaves uniformly toward his people. Indeed, God’s ways are frequently mysterious and we don’t always understand them. He may incredibly provide a building in answer to one church’s prayers while withholding the same from another. He may miraculously intervene to heal one faithful Christian while allowing another to die. But even though he does not always respond as we would like him to, and even though his ways might appear mysterious to us, we can count on the fact that he always hears the prayers of his people and answers them in a way that ultimately works for their good.
The psalmist writes of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel who “called on his name.” Wonderfully, when they did so, “he answered them.” Indeed, “he spoke to them” and “answered them” as a “forgiving” God (vv. 6–8). Their prayers were not hope-so prayers in which they simply offered up a prayer and hoped for the best. Because they knew that he was holy, they were confident that he could be depended upon to hear their prayers and to graciously answer them.
Too often, our sense of confidence in prayer rests in our performance. If we have had a reasonably good week in which we have been faithful to the Lord, we are confident that he will hear us. If we have failed miserably to walk in his statutes, we feel as though he is more likely to prove deaf to our pleas. Psalm 99 reminds us that our confidence lies in his consistency, not in our performance. It reminds us that he is holy and therefore not capricious. His mood does not change suddenly and without explanation so that we cannot approach him with confidence.
We can pray confidently, not because we are deserving of his mercy but because he is holy and can therefore be expected to respond consistently with his character. “He answered them.” “He spoke to them.” “You answered them.” This repeated refrain encourages us that God is committed to his people. As Tucker and Grant write,
If God answered Moses’s prayer after the disaster of the golden calf incident; if God answered Aaron’s priestly prayers for a continually mutinous people; if God answered Samuel’s prayer for a people caught in that downward spiral of rebellion marked out in the book of Judges, then God will hear our pleas for mercy as well. He hears because he is gracious and forgiving. He hears because his character is holy, constant, and consistent.
It is perhaps significant that this particular collection of psalms—the royal psalms—come immediately after a collection of psalms that focused on the destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar. If ever Israel felt that God was not on his throne it was after Jerusalem was destroyed. But the placement of these psalms reminds us that God reigns even when it seems as if he doesn’t and that his character remains unchanged even in times of severe chastening.
The Jerusalem destruction might also have tempted the people to wonder if God was given to sudden, unexplainable mood swings. This psalm served to remind them that that was not the case. Even in his anger, their eternal King could be expected to favourably answer his people’s humble prayers.
As you reflect on this psalm today, allow it to remind you that God is consistent in his character and his love for his people. Let that encouragement drive you to prayer, not resting in your own sense of performance but in your knowledge of God holy and consistent character.