The word holy has always been kind of cryptic to me. I haven’t used it in any other situation other than church or spiritual conversations, and unfortunately these conversations don’t make up a majority of my conversations throughout the day, so I don’t use the term that often. And when a term isn’t used, it might as well be a word from a foreign language – you really don’t have an idea about what it means. A few months ago I did a Bible study with my wife called Downpour, written by James MacDonald (see the site here). The focus of the study is to come into a time of personal revival in your faith in Jesus Christ, but one of the first lessons he teaches is that of the holiness of God. He says that without the right view of God, we’re kind of looking at things all wrong from the get-go. So, since that time I have been mulling over what this holiness really is. I’m going to spend some time doing my research and writing out my findings and thoughts here.
The first part of my study here is going to be a word study. The word holy in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word qodesh, which means apartness, separateness, or sacredness (click on the word to see where I got this from). The first time it is used in is Exodus 3, where Moses comes upon the burning bush and God tell him “Do not come any closer…Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” As you can see, things that are set apart as holy are special. They are beyond the ordinary, different, and completely above regular, normal things. So, for God to tell Moses that the place he was standing is holy ground, then this obviously means that this is no mere mountain, but was a special place. I don’t believe that the mountain itself was anything special, but that it was the presence of God that made it holy. Another good example of holiness from the Old Testament is in Isaiah 6. Here, Isaiah is describing a vision he had of God on his throne in heaven. Flying above God were seraphs, which I gather are special angels that constantly worship God by saying “”Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The part that blew me away was their description – they had 6 wings, 2 covering their faces, 2 covering their bodies, and 2 with which they flew. MacDonald suggests an idea that I had not heard before, but that changed my view of God completely. He said that these 6 wings had much significance – the 2 covering their face were so that they could not look upon God, the 2 covering their bodies were so that God would not see them, and of course the 2 that they flew with were tools for serving God. This amazes me – even the highest order of angels in heaven must cover their eyes and themselves, because the holiness of God would overtake them otherwise.
In the New Testament, the word translated holy is the Greek word hagios, which means set apart, sanctified, or consecrated. This backs up our previous idea of what it is to be holy – to be completely different and set apart, placed above us and to be given reverence. Though God may have created us in His image, we aren’t like God and He’s not like us. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). God is more righteous than us, He knows more than us, He is more powerful than us, and He is above us – all of these can be summed up in one word: God is holy.
You can’t have a relationship with someone unless you know a little bit about them, and this is definitely true with God. So, it’s important that we understand what it means to be holy and how this affects us as His creation. Below I have given some examples of stories where people didn’t take the holiness of God seriously, and the consequences that came of it.
- Genesis 4: Cain kills Abel out of jealousy because God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s, and God curses Cain. God’s holiness demands only the best we have to offer, and the first of all we have.
- Genesis 6: God is grieved because he created man, since all men are evil (not living up to God’s absolute moral standard). God sends a flood to destroy everyone (except Noah and his family), and starts over.
- Genesis 19: God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their extreme wickedness
- Leviticus 10: “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’ ” (v. 1-3)
- Leviticus 24: “Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them. Then the LORD said to Moses: ‘Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death.'” (v. 10-16).
- 2 Samuel 6: David, after being made king of Israel, sets out to bring the ark of God back to Jerusalem. Instead of following the rules set out by God in the law, “they set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.”
- Acts 5: “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,” she said, “that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”
These are just a few examples of times when people did things that were completely in opposition to the holiness of God. It goes to show that God is to be feared – but with a holy fear, or a reverence, that takes all of Him into consideration. I think sometimes we focus completely on the grace and mercy of God – we forget that, although these are characteristics of God, God is also holy, and I think there is an unwritten law that keeps God from mixing with things that are unholy. Yes, it is true that we are not holy beings, but through faith in Christ we are made holy, and therefore we are reconciled to God. This isn’t to say that we can’t do and think unholy things after our conversion – we can and often do (or maybe I’m the only one…)! But that is the idea of sanctification – the continual process of being made holy on a daily basis.
God, help me to see you as you truly are. I know I don’t revere you like I should – help me to place you on the pedestal you deserve in my heart. Help me to remember the seraphim who, although they are with you in your throne room, still cannot look on you or be seen by you for fear of being consumed. That kind of holiness should cause me to fall to my knees in reverence and pray for your forgiveness, for I am as unholy as they come.