Psalm 2:11 says, "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." Then Psalm 114:7 says, "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob." One main point of Psalm 114 is that the presence of the Lord is not something to be treated lightly. These Psalms have been my meditation for quite a while, and I posted a line from one of my new songs to Twitter, "Lord, we long to know your presence, but we live with Adam's fear. Hide us in eternal mercy, as we tremble and draw near."
One friend responded to challenge this, asking how that squares with the confident approach to Christ that Hebrews 4:16 encourages, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." It is a good question.
Hebrews could, reasonably, be thought of as an extended commentary on the Messianic Psalms, and the more I have studied these Psalms in depth, the more evident it seems that the writer of Hebrews uses language that is saturated with these Psalms, even when there is not an identifiable quotation. As an example, consider a later passage in the book, Hebrews 12:18-28.
In this passage, we see an allusion to the theme of Psalm 114, the presence of the Lord. Here, we see a contrast between the fearful presence of God at Mount Sinai and the presence of God at Mount Zion. At first it would seem as if the fear of the first is absent from the second, but this would not be true to the context. The bottom line of this passage is that if it was a bad idea to refuse Him who spoke on earth, it is far worse to refuse Him who speaks from Heaven.
God's presence will shake heaven and earth until only that which is permanent and holy will remain. The kingdom of Christ, purchased by our Priest and King, Jesus Christ, is that which will remain. On this basis, the reader is enjoined to, "Serve God with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire." So how does this play out?
In Psalm 114 we see three historical events that highlight the presence of the Lord: the crossing of the waters, the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, and the provision of water from a stone. The first two events are separated from the last event by the portion quoted at the beginning of this article.
At Sinai we see fear, because we do not measure up to the holiness of God. At the parting of the waters, we see a path made, where there was no other way of escape, though it is tinged with trepidation. In the rock, which is Christ, we see the final provision that allows us to be reconciled to God and satisfied in Jesus. Even here, there is chastening for sin, as the presence of God shakes loose every sin, but there is also confidence because there is provision.
Provision gives confidence that mercy is available, but we still need mercy. Jesus Christ's provision is gracious, because we are yet deserving of His wrath, and we still need His grace. He is a priest forever, because we will always need Him. If He stops being priest, we will no longer be safe! Our approach to God, however, may not include sin, and the presence of God, though gracious and merciful, will purge our sins, just like Isaiah's needing the coal from the alter.
The picture is of a sinner, stepping toward God's presence, being made aware of their sin and putting it off. Where we find sin, there is separation from God and fear. For the believer, this is mitigated by confidence in the grace and mercy of Christ, but never forget that our sin will be consumed in the holy fire of God's presence. For the unbeliever, who does not reconcile with the Son, this is a fearful judgment where the wrath of God is poured upon them, and for the believer, it is a chastening and purging so that we may be presented as his holy saints, excellent in His eyes and His beloved bride.
Either way, we must submit to His rule, since He is the rightful King of the universe, who has every right to judge sin (and will one day judge the earth in righteousness), and let us rejoice with the trembling joy of ones who rightfully deserve condemnation and judgement but have been spared because the Son is merciful and gracious, knowing our weaknesses, and forgiving our sins.
It isn't either/or we both rejoice and tremble in the presence of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ!