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Psalm 99: Holy is This One

A song of ecstatic awe imagining God as king of the world.

Read Psalm 99

Open the translation of your choice...


Pic by Christine Valters Paintner

Singing the Psalm

Holy, holy, holy is this one 
Holy, holy, holy is this one 

In the wilderness, on the mountain 
were you always? 

Here among us, come to love us 
were you always?

"Holy Is This One" is part of the Our Roots Are In You Psalm collection. A full-album songbook with scores, charts and songleaders notes is available.

Music Resources

Download either version of the song at iTunesBandcamp, or CDBaby for about $1.



Download the Holy Is This One Accompaniment Pack:

  • piano score

  • ​lead sheet

  • guitar/bass chart

  • pdf of congregational line

  • songleader's notes


  • original recording

  • instrumental accompaniment track

  • jpg of congregational line

  • powerpoint & keynote slides


       Holy Is This One Accompaniment Pack

       Only $10.00

Pic by Griszka Niewiadomski

Crafton, Barbara Cawthorne. Meditations on the Psalms For Every Day of the Year. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing (a Continuum imprint), 1996. p. 701.

  • In the Hebrew Scriptures-- what Christians call the Old or Older Testament-- the Holy One is fully present with creation and to people. This is a story of incarnation centuries before the New Testament story of God's embodiment in Jesus Christ. 


  • The Revised Common Lectionary suggests Psalm 99 for Transfirguation Sunday. The text is full of awe and wonder for a God intimately among us. The psalm mentions the pillar of cloud from the Exodus story, connecting us across Testaments to the glory around Jesus in the stories of his baptism and transfiguration.


  • Verse 4 mentions Jacob whose name was changed by God to Israel, meaning "one who struggles (and prevails) with God."


  • Verse 6 mentions Moses, Aaron and Samuel, representing leadership in politics, priesthood and prophecy. All three had experiences of guidance in wilderness.

  • The phrase "Holy is He" occurs three times, in verses 3, 5 and 9. This expression of praise defines three distinct sections of the psalm: the first part declaring God's worldwide kingship, the second about God's justice in Israel, and third, some history to celebrate.


  • Notice that verses 5 and 9 are nearly identical, a kind of refrain to this prayer-song of ancient Israel. 

Psalm 99 Immersion

The pillar of cloud, from which God speaks to certain famous Israelites who then relay the divine message to the rank and file, is like that mysterious glass in the limousine windows: we can’t see in, but we can be seen.


Its purpose is not the same as that of the car windows of the rich and famous, though: in these old stories and poems, the hiddenness is to protect us, not God.


The ancients believed that a person would die if exposed to the countenance of God, and developed the idea of God thoughtfully shrouding himself in a cloud to protect mortal eyes from the full effect of his glory.

The Creation stories in Genesis, the Exodus, Jesus’ Baptism and the Transfiguration are moments of bewildering wonder in the Biblical tradition. Psalm 99 speaks to these sputtering whisper moments of transcendence.


I’m not sure many of us are amazed and bewildered these days. Poets, artists and musicians among us are vitally important in society to help us pay attention, to open our life to movement. To wake up.


Louis C.K. says if we use words like “amazing” to describe the flavor of potato chips, there’s really no place to go when we experience something transcendent. Are you

Pic by Adriana Cikopol

Pic via Deposit Photos

Pic by Christine Valters Paintner

gonna use that same potato chip word-- “amazing” --to describe something like seeing God face to face?


When is a time you felt awe? What language can be borrowed to describe that experience?


The Buddha woke up. And in that great tradition, we are all awakening and already awakened. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul seems bent on teaching that the Christ is being embodied in us. 


As much as some of us enjoy theology and doctrine, these are moments where words fail. and that's a hopeful thing.


Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Spiritual Practice

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour.


- William Blake, Augeries of Innocence

Pic by Griszka Niewiadomski

  • Psalm 99 is about awe and wonder. When is the last time you witnessed something breathtaking?


  • One aspect of awe is fear. Most of the time we think of fear as a bad thing and spend a lot of time avoiding it. What is your relationship with fear? How does it serve you or hold you back?


  • Verse 4 describes a king who loves justice. How does your surrounding culture view the work of justice?


  • Since the Holy One is certainly beyond human understanding and language, any words we use to describe God are symbols, metaphors and analogies-- our best efforts to do justice to the majesty, mystery and intimate presence of the Holy One. Psalm 99 uses the metaphor of a king over a kingdom to describe God's presence and influence. What are the helps and limits of such a metaphor?


  • What would it look like to have more wonder and awe in your life? How might you invite such experiences? What does this have to do with being part of a community, taking solitude, or saying Yes to new, unknown experiences?

Spiritual Practice

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fear relieved

-Amazing Grace, John Newton

  • The word holy describes something that inspires fear and joy at the same time.

    German Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto called it mysterium tremendum et fascinans -- something all at once mysterious, terrifying and compellingly fascinating. His book, The Idea of the Holy explores what he called encounters with the numinous.

    What numinous experiences have you had? How have they effected you?



  • Verse 8. You were hoping we wouldn't go there, weren't you? Here, God is named both forgiving and vengeful. How do you make sense of this tension? Does it support or detract from the "king" metaphor in the text?



  • Psalm theologian James Mays writes that the Holy One is "thrice holy: in supreme majesty, in justice and in responsibility." Which aspect of this Holy One do you resonate with most? We all have blind spots; which aspect might you have resistance to?
    Psalms in Interpretation series: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Publishing, 1994, 316.










Going Deeper

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