“GOD IS HOLY, HOLY, HOLY:” BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

This is the first of a four-part study on “The Biblical Meaning of Holiness.”  In this study, we will first examine the holiness of God, and then look at holiness in terms of those things associated with God, and then what it means for us to be called to walk in holiness.  This series is not only important in understanding and knowing God, but also in understanding the calling that God has placed upon each of our lives.

THE FORGOTTEN CORE

Over the years, Christianity has so focused on “the love of God,” that they have forgotten “the holiness of God.”  God’s holiness is not just another quality or trait of God, like His love, His mercy, or His grace, but it is the ultimate expression of who He is, of His character and nature.  It is His essence, His very core of Being, it is what makes God “God,” and yet instead of realizing this and focusing on this, Christians are focusing on what they call “His love” to such an extent, that they are actually profaning Him by what they say, do, and allow within the church.

Christians say they want another move of God in America, but if they went back and looked at what was being preached and taught in America prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit first in Topeka, Kansas in 1901, and then on Azuza Street in Los Angeles, California, in 1904, they would find that what was being preached and focused on was the holiness of God, and us providing Him with a Holy Temple, a Holy environment, within our lives in order for Him to dwell, to move, and for Him to minister in and through us to those around us.  And if we want another move of God like that, we need to return to that message.  We need to return to the essence of God, which is that He is “holy, holy, holy.

GOD IS “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY”

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has a vision of God in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was “the year that king Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1).  In his vision, Isaiah saw the Lord

sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the Temple.  Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.  And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. (Isaiah 6:1-3)

The word “Seraphim” means “the burning ones.”  They burn with passion for God, and in their passionate love for Him, they cry out “Holy, holy, holy.”  Did you know that this word “holy” is the only word in all of the Bible that is used three times in succession to describe God?  Did you know that in Hebrew in order to emphasize something you repeat it?  And when a word is repeated three times in succession, it is being emphasized emphatically to the ultimate degree.  “God is love” (I John 4:8), but even more emphatically true than His love is that God is “holy, holy, holy.”

JOHN’S VISION OF GOD’S HOLINESS

In the book of Revelation, we see a New Testament version of what Isaiah saw and described.  In Revelation 4, John has a vision in which he is called up into heaven, and in this chapter, he describes what he sees:

And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, there were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.  And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast was like a calf, and the third beast has a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.  And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, which is, and is to come. (Revelation 4:6-8)

And it is this acknowledgement of the holiness of God that begins a crescendo of praise and worship of God to who He is, to His Majesty, His Power and Might.  For we read in the next three verses,

And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the four and twenty elders [dressed in white raiment with crowns of gold on their heads; see Revelation 4:4] fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:9-11)

When we hear or think about the holiness of God, does it provoke and draw from us worship and praise of our God, or do we emotionally and mentally run in fear of Him because He is “holy, holy, holy”?  Does the holiness of God draw us in worship, compel us to fall on our knees to praise, honor and glorify Him, or does His holiness fill us with fear as we think about the day when we will stand before Him, His Holy Presence?  What are we to think and how are we to respond to a Holy God?

“HOLY” – IT’S ENGLISH DEFINITION

But what does it mean to call God “holy”?  When we look at that word in the English, we gain some meaning, but as we shall see, it misses the essence of the word’s biblical meaning.   According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the English word “holy” means –

  • exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness;
  • Divine; and
  • devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity.

So when we read that “God is holy, holy, holy,” then in English we believe that the Bible is saying that God is “exalted” or “worthy” to the ultimate degree because He is “perfect in goodness and righteousness; that He is pure.”  But even though God is indeed “perfect in goodness and righteousness,” and He is pure, as well as “exalted” and “worthy,” this is not the essence of what the Bible means when it says that “God is holy.”

“HOLY” – ITS BIBLICAL DEFINITION

The word “holy” as it is used here in the Bible (both in Isaiah and in Revelation), the word “holy” is the English translation of the Hebrew word kadosh and the Greek word Hagios, which means “distinct, separate, set apart, other than, totally other,” or in other words, when we speak of the “holiness” of God, we are speaking of His transcendence, His distinctness, His otherness.  We can see God trying to get this idea across in the following passage:

To whom then will you liken God?  or what likeness will you compare to Him?… Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundation of the earth?  It is He that sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in: that brings the princes [“rulers of the earth”] to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth as vanity [“nothingness”]…To whom then will you liken Me, or is equal to Me? says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:18, 21-23, 25).

This question is repeated again 6 chapters later,

To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal, and compare Me, that we may be alike?  (Isaiah 46:5)

God here is saying that there is no one like Him, nothing in this world or universe like Him, there’s no other god like Him; He is unique, He is distinct, He is different, He is completely other than, and this is why He is called HaKadosh, “the Holy One.”

And because God is holy, He shows mercy like no other.  Because God is holy, He loves like no other.  Because God is holy, He is faithful like no other.  Because God is holy, He gives grace like no other.  And because God is holy, He is pure like no other, and because God is holy, He must judge sin.  God’s mercy, grace, and love flow out of the same essence as His need to judge sin.  And this is what many people do not understand.

SENNACHERIB’S BLASPHEMY AND INSULT

In Isaiah 36-37, there’s an account of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, coming against the city of Jerusalem to attack it and lay it in ruins during the reign of King Hezekiah.  Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem with a great army, and then he tries to do some psychological warfare by giving a message to King Hezekiah and to all the people in Jerusalem with the hopes on instilling fear in the people.   He gave them reasons to believe they’ were on their own with no one to rely on, but then he went so far as to say the following:

Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD [Heb. Y’hwah], saying, The LORD [Y’hwah] will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria…. Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, the LORD [Y’hwah] will deliver us.  Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?  Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad?  where are the gods of Sepharvaim?  and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?  Who are they among all of the gods of these lands, that have delivered  their land out of my hand, that the LORD [Y’hwah] should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? (Isaiah 36:15, 18-20)

I put the literal transliteration of God’s covenant name that He gave to Moses {Heb. Mosheh] on Mount Sinai after the word “LORD” in brackets, because Y’hwah is one of the two names that God gave to Moses at the burning bush, and it is the one that’s used the most in the Scriptures.  It is used 6,000 times in the Scriptures.  Most translators transliterate the name as “Yahweh,” even though the vowel under the vahv (w) is a qamats (a) and not an “e.” In most Bibles it is translated as “LORD” in all capital letters.

Notice that Sennacherib through his servant Rabshakeh is trying to convince the people of Israel that they cannot depend on the LORD to deliver them from him, because Sennacherib is arguing here that the LORD is no different than any of the other gods of the various cities that Sennacherib has defeated.  He tries to argue here that if their gods could not deliver them out of Sennacherib’s hand, then the LORD will not be able to deliver them out of his hand either.

HEZEKIAH’S PRAYER

When Hezekiah is given the report of what Sennacherib said, he takes the report to the Temple, and he spreads it out before God, and prays,

O LORD [Y’hwah] of hosts, God of Israel, that dwells between the cherubims, You are the God, even You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: You have made heaven and earth.  Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which has sent to reproach the living God.  Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, and have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.  Now there, O LORD [Y’hwah] our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD, even You only. (Isaiah 37:16-20)

Notice in this prayer, Hezekiah says that the kings of Assyria did, in fact, conquer the surrounding nations and threw their gods into the fire.  But why?  Because those gods, unlike the God of Israel were not actually gods at all, but were the creations of men.  However, their God was different.  Why?  Because out of all the man-made gods in the world, only Y’hwah, “the LORD” is the living God, and only He can truly save.

Y’HWAH’S RESPONSE

Then beginning in the next verse, Y’hwah, “the LORD” sends the prophet Isaiah with His response to Sennacherib, King of Assyria.  And this response is then taken out to the wall of the city, and it is read out to Sennacherib and his troops.

The virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised you, and laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head at you. (Isaiah 37:22)

Sennacherib came with his mighty forces against Jerusalem, and he ridiculed both Hezekiah and Y’hwah, the God of Israel.  In response, God turns around and ridicules Sennacherib, and says that the people of Jerusalem despise you, laugh at you, and shakes her head at you.  Why?  We read the answer in the next verse:

Whom have you reproached and blasphemed?  And against whom have you exalted your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high?  Even against THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL.  (Isaiah 37:23)

What was Sennacherib’s “reproach and blasphemy”?  It was to say that Y’hwah, the Holy One of Israel, was not any different than any of the other gods that Sennacherib had defeated.  In essence, that Y’hwah is not “distinct,” “not separate,” “not other than or transcendent,” that is, not holy.  So to say that the Holy One of Israel is no different than any other god worshiped today in these other religions of the world is a “reproach” and “blasphemy” to Him, because in saying this, one is saying that God is not, in fact, holy.

THE RESULTS OF HIS BLASPHEMY?

What was the result of Sennacherib’s insult and blasphemy?  We read in Isaiah 37:36-37,

Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand [185,000]: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.  So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt [lived] in Nineveh.

Although Sennacherib came boasting of his glories and triumphs, and that Jerusalem was just going to be another victory to add to his list of victories, it was he, instead, who went home with a major defeat: 185,000 of his troop was killed by one angel in one evening.  And why did this happen?  Because Sennacherib insulted and blasphemed the holiness of God.

GOD IS UNIQUELY HOLY

God is “distinct, separate, other than, transcendent” from the things of this world.  There is no one like Him.  His holiness is unlike anyone’s or anything in this world, in this galaxy, or even in the universe, or in all of creation, whether in this physical universe or in the spiritual realm.

He exists outside of time, space, and matter.  He is not confined as we are to these things, because He created them, and the Creator is always greater than the creation.  God can view the past, the present, and the future all at the same time.  To Him, time is ever present, and therefore, He is the great “I AM.”  He created all things merely by speaking them into existence.  There was no conflict or struggle in bringing them into existence; He merely spoke the word, and they came into being.  For example, in Genesis 1, we read,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called “Night.”  And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

And just as God created all things by speaking them into existence, we know if God speaks something, we know that it will happen.  Because God tells us in the Bible,

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall My word be that goes forth out of My mouth: It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it.  (Isaiah 55:8-11)

God is holy, and because God is holy, His words and ways are likewise holy.  It is not His deeds that make Him holy, rather He is holy, and as a result, all that He says and does is also holy.  We need to return to a biblical view of God, a clear view of the holiness and majesty of God.   And when we do, we will begin to see the move of God within our churches once more.

 

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