Today we will be looking at the topic of holiness, and how our holiness or being set apart is derived from our contemplation of the One who is uniquely holy and set apart.
In Psalm 29, David provides a poetic allegory of a thunderstorm in order to consider the holiness and majesty of God.
Psalm 29:2 – “Give to Yahweh the glory his name deserves. Worship Yahweh in his holy splendor.”
Within this psalm is a description of God’s awe-inspiring power displayed in the majestic outworking of a tempest. He is extolled in the demonstration of the power of a mighty storm. In this psalm, David uses a repeated phrase which is typically translated as “the voice of Yahweh.”
Psalm 29:4 – “the voice of Yahweh in power, the voice of Yahweh in splendor.”
However, the word that is brought out in English as voice (the Hebrew word qol) can mean sound or noise, as well. Here’s an example from Exodus:
Exodus 19:16 – On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder [qol] and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound [qol], so that all the people in the camp shuddered.
Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible relates the following regarding the voice of Yahweh as used in this psalm:
“The voice of the Lord – The voice of Yahweh. There can be no doubt that the expression here, which is seven times repeated in the psalm, “the voice of Jehovah,” refers to thunder; and no one can fail to see the appropriateness of the expression. In heavy thunder it seems as if God spake. It comes from above. It fills us with awe. We know, indeed, that thunder as well as the other phenomena in the world, is produced by what are called “natural causes;” that there is no miracle in thunder; and that really God does not “speak” anymore in the thunder than he does in the sighing of the breeze or in the gurgling of the rivulet; but:
(a) He seems more impressively to speak to people in the thunder; and
(b) He may not improperly be regarded as speaking alike in the thunder, in the sighing of the breeze, and in the gurgling stream.
In each and all of these ways God is addressing men; in each and all there are lessons of great value conveyed, as if by His own voice, respecting His own existence and character.”
The idea that the voice of Yahweh described in this psalm is a thunderous sound has to do with its depiction throughout each of the various verses:
The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars; Yahweh shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
The voice of Yahweh flashes flames of fire.
The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness; Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of Yahweh makes the deer give birth and strips the woodlands bare.
All of these things can be said to be the result of a powerful thunder and lightning storm: shattering of trees; flashing light and fire; shaking of the wilderness; stripping the woodlands bare. Making the deer give birth can imply that the frightened deer goes into labor, but it also implies that the thunderous voice of God rumbles through the deserted wilderness places where deer prefer to separate themselves when giving birth.
If you’ve ever been through a close violent thunderstorm, I’m sure you can recall how terrifyingly loud and unnerving the noise and commotion of the wind and rain can be. If you were in an open and unprotected area when experiencing a large storm, I’m certain you can recall how vulnerable and frail you may have felt. The Psalmist here is using this type of imagery as a way of illustrating the power and majesty of God, and how incredibly small and unshielded we are from the elements of this world; how much more does that apply to us spiritually.
“In each and all of these ways God is addressing men; in each and all there are lessons of great value conveyed, as if by His own voice, respecting His own existence and character. Those which are addressed to us particularly in thunder, pertain to His power, His majesty, His greatness; to our own weakness, feebleness, dependence; to the ease with which He could take us away, and to the importance of being prepared to stand before such a God.”
To wander into the realm of God is to be vulnerable and exposed to the power and majesty of the One who is beyond all comprehension. If the power of a single storm on earth can instill fear into the stoutest of hearts, how much more the all-powerful presence of the Almighty God?
These things are not necessarily meant to say that God is purposefully causing these individual occurrences to happen; he certainly could if he chose to. But the emphasis in this psalm is that those wonders and powers of nature demonstrate how all-powerful God really is simply because he created them in the first place. Because of this, it is easy for people to get God mixed up with his Creation.
For example, pantheism says that God is in everything, and therefore everything is God. Wikipedia has a reasonable working definition of pantheism that states:
“Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God. All forms of reality may then be considered either modes of that Being, or identical with it. Some hold that pantheism is a non-religious philosophical position. To them, pantheism is the view that the Universe (in the sense of the totality of all existence) and God are identical.”
A common popular trope today is to assign “the universe” as an all-present, all-knowing force that influences the lives of people. This is typically used in kind of an ironic rather than serious fashion. However, there are some who believe that speaking something into the universe will bring an echo of meaning or direction back into their lives. Others believe when some notable event occurs, that the universe has pointed them in a direction or made a choice for them. Most people today engage with this type of thinking not realizing that this is really a form of pantheism.
By contrast, in Hebrew thought, God is not equated with the Creation, but is evidenced in and through his Creation. He can do with it as he wills, using it to accomplish his purposes as he sees fit. For example, he can cause a flood or he can create a drought; he can make a storm appear out of nowhere or he can calm the storm.
But beyond just manipulating the natural order, the God of the Bible is not limited by his Creation; he can cause non-linear things (according to the parameters of our understanding of physics) to occur. He can cause the sun and moon to stand still for a whole day (Joshua 10), or the sun to appear to go backwards (2 Kings 20). He can create a dry path through the depths of a sea in one night (Exodus 14), or cause someone who has died to live again (1 Kings 17, Luke 7, John 11). These are things that go against the natural order of things, and therefore demonstrate that God’s nature is transcendent to this Creation; he is greater than just the sum totality of all of its parts. Therefore the God of the Bible is greater and more powerful than whatever god is assigned to the pantheistic philosophy of the created universe.
To consider the vastness of God’s power and ability, one needs only to look beyond the created order of even this world. In some psalms attributed to David, he meditates on the expanse of the heavens and the heavenly bodies that are evident there. He explains how this universality of God’s handiwork is evident in all nations under the heavens.
Psalm 19:1-4 – “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard. Their message has gone out to the whole earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
Because this aspect of God’s nature is evident everywhere, David ponders man’s role in light of his transcendent nature.
Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place, what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?”
David’s conclusion is that viewing the vastness of God’s creation should cause us to be humbled in view of our limited existence and scope of influence.
Our modern astronomical telescopes have transformed how we look at the universe outside of the environs of the earth. We now have space telescopes that can image the farthest reaches of the visible universe. I am fascinated with these types of pictures, and I even have a computer wallpaper that is an image of a spiral galaxy. When I look at such an image depicting a self-contained galaxy with its millions of stars and planets, and knowing that the earth is only one tiny speck in our own galaxy, my mind is immediately humbled to whatever my personal circumstances might be, as this perspective reminds me of how small and finite my view of reality typically is.
In a similar way, when I come to the Bible and explore its depths, I am likewise placed in a position of humility when I consider the magnitude of spiritual revelation that God has provided us in his Word. That God has revealed himself as a being greater than the universe itself is boggling to the mind, and yet necessary for him to demonstrate who he is. His being is so high above all that exists, he is set apart from his Creation; yet he has chosen to maintain a dynamic and ongoing relationship with those whom he has created within that order of Creation that we call the universe.
Our own holiness, or separation from the world, is derived from our perspective and meditation of God as the Creator of all. In our current generation, amidst a people who have no recognition of any god, or who are self-absorbed in the creations of their own making, believers stand apart in our honoring of the one true God of the universe. In so doing, we ourselves become set apart.
1 Peter 1:15-16 – But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
We must recognize that our holiness is derived from his holiness and majesty. If we lose sight of who he is, we become less set apart. Conversely, as we honor him and ascribe to him the glory that his name deserves, then we are elevated into a position of strength and purpose that rises far above our mundane existence.
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