Tremble Before Him (Psalm 96:9-10)
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! 10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” —Psalm 96:9-10
Trembling is what you experience when you’re afraid. And you don’t only feel afraid of things like dangerous evil or personal humiliation. You feel fear when you encounter real majesty.
Walk to rim of the Grand Canyon and look down. You will tremble—not only because the Grand Canyon could kill you if you’re not careful, but also because what you see is truly awesome.
Climb to the summit of Mauna Kea on the big Island of Hawaii and peer into the universe through one of the Keck telescopes, the most powerful on the planet. You will see galaxies of incomprehensible size at incomprehensible distances. And you will tremble—not because you fear the galaxies will kill you, but at the sheer splendor of things so immense and powerful.
Trembling over something truly fearful is a sign of wisdom. Which is why the proverbial author wrote, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). It is foolish to not tremble before God. Our text tells us that God established the world (the Hebrew word implies earth). The Grand Canyon is a hairline crack relative to the size of the earth. The Bible tells us the galaxies are God’s “handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
The psalmist commands us to tremble before God. Not trembling is not an option—if we see God for what he is. What is he?
God is holy—resplendently holy, breathtakingly holy, fearfully holy. When Isaiah saw a vision of God in his holiness, he thought it would kill him (Isaiah 6:5). When the Apostle John saw a revelation of God the Son in his holiness he fell like a dead man (Revelation 1:17). Not trembling before God is a sign of spiritual blindness. No one sees God and does not tremble.
And God is the equitable judge of all peoples. This is not itself good news for us. For “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So if God is holy and we are sinful and God is our judge, what hope do we have of surviving his judgment? And this is where the news gets good.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to be the propitiation for our sins that we might not perish but receive eternal life (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). Jesus “who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the reason we can “worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” In Jesus, our guilt is removed and we receive his holiness. God is both perfectly just and our merciful justifier (Romans 3:26). No greater love has ever been demonstrated (John 15:13).
Our guilt is removed, but our trembling is not. For us now, trembling is meant to be part of our worship. We tremble at God’s holy, omnipotent majesty; we tremble at Christ’s brutal, unfathomable sacrifice; and we tremble, we unworthy sinners, to receive a love so amazing, so divine.
When was the last time you trembled in fear of anything? Why did you tremble?
Why is it wise to fear the LORD? And what is the connection between fear and worship?
When was the last time you experienced a sense of trembling before God?