GREAT, AWESOME, AND HOLY
by Wayne S. Walker
“Let them praise Your great and awesome name–He is holy” (Psalm 99:3). Instead of “He is holy,” the footnote in the NKJV reads, “It.” I know almost nothing about Hebrew, but I do know that in both Greek and Latin the subject of a verb can be indicated simply by the ending on the verb, and if it is third person singular, in the absence of a specific pronoun, the subject might be either “he” or “it” since the endings for masculine and neuter are often the same. In this case, it makes little difference because the name of God stands for who and what He is so that whatever is true of God is true of His name and vice versa.
The Psalmist says that we should praise God’s name because it is great. God Himself is great. As children we are often taught to pray, “God is great, God is good, Now we thank Him for our food.” God’s name is great because God Himself is great. “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). “Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee, ‘How great Thou art, How great Thou art!'”
The Psalmist also says that we should praise God’s name because it is awesome. The old KJV reads, “Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy.” The word “terrible” literally means that which causes terror, and in former times the word “terror” was simply a synonym for fear or awe. Today, we use it more in the sense of being frightened or scared and to say that something is “terrible” has a negative connotation. Therefore, the newer versions use the word “awesome,” a term much abused among teenagers today but certainly applicable to both God and His name. “He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever: holy and awesome is His name” (Psalm 111:9).
Then the Psalmist says that we should praise God’s name because it is holy. And His name is holy because He Himself is holy. The word “holy” means sanctified or set apart. Of course, God wants us to be holy, even as He is holy. “…Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Of course, while we must strive for holiness in our lives, none of us will ever reach it completely because we have all sinned. However, God is perfectly holy because He is absolutely set apart from all evil. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8).