The Holiness of God

 

by Mike Ratliff

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3 ESV)

In the English translations of the Old Testament when we encounter the word “Lord” we are actually reading the Hebrew word “Adhōnāy.” On the other hand, when we read the word “LORD,” it is is completely different Hebrew word, “Yehōwāh.” “Adhōnāy” is actually a title for God meaning “sovereign one.” “Yehōwāh” is the sacred name of God. It was the name He used to reveal Himself to Moses at the burning bush. “Yehōwāh” is the unspeakable name, the holy name of God. The Hebrew scribes wrote it as “YHWH.” Therefore, it is referred to as the sacred tetragrammaton, the unspeakable four letters. “Adhōnāy” is the plural noun form of “Ādhōn,” which, when used in reference to God, means Lord. However, “Adhōnāy” is plural but singular in meaning. This speaks of the Holy Trinity, i.e. One God in three persons.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. (Psalms 8:1 ESV)

In this passage we see both “Yehōwāh” and “Adhōnāy.” David was actually saying, “O Yehōwāh our Adhōnāy, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Or in a word for word translation, “O God, our sovereign one, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalms 110:1 ESV)

Our Lord Jesus quoted this passage in Matthew 22:44,  Mark 12:36,and Luke 20:42 using it in reference to Himself as deity thereby making sure the Jewish leaders understood that the Messiah is God since they understood this passage to be Messianic. Here we again have both “Yehōwāh” and “Adhōnāy.” This is saying, “God says to my sovereign one: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, viewed God speaking to his Lord, the Messiah. Therefore, the Jews were wrong in believing that the Messiah was simply a descendant of David. Our Lord Jesus is both God and man. 

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11 ESV)

The Hebrew word translated as “holiness” in this passage is “qōdhēsh.” It is a masculine noun that means, “apartness, holiness, sacredness.” It is derived from the Hebrew word “qādhash,” which means, “to be clean, make clean, pronounce clean.” The Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, used the word “αγιος” or  “hágios” for holiness. This is the Greek word meaning chaste or pure. What does this tell us about the Holiness of God? Moses used the word “majestic” to describe God’s Holiness. Other translations use “glorious” here. God’s Holiness sets Him apart from creation. Creation is not holy. It is fallen because the focus of this creation, man, fell in Genesis 3. God’s Holiness not only sets Him apart from the ways of man who is sinful, it is the reason God is glorified in all He does. 

And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the LORD. And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron. These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh. And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to you.” (1 Samuel 6:15-21 ESV)

Count the number if times that the writer of 1 Samuel used the word “Yehōwāh” in this passage. I counted 8. Let’s focus on v20, which says, “Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?”  The Hebrew word translated as “holy” here is “qãdhōsh.”It is an adjective and used here to describe “Yehōwāh.” It means sacred, selected, pure, holy, consecrated, pious. It is used here to describe God, being completely separate from sin, therefore, He is the righteous judge of what is right and pure. Men do not determine these things, Our Holy God does. The Septuagint here renders “qãdhōsh.” as “hágios,” further enhancing the purity and perfect righteousness of “Yehōwāh” for those who know Him. 

The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he! The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them. In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them; they kept his testimonies and the statute that he gave them. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy! (Psalms 99:1-9 ESV)

Yes, our God is Holy and so let us Exalt Him and worship at His Holy mountain! The word the psalmist used for “God” in v9 is “Elōhīm.” This is the most common Hebrew word translated “God” in the Old Testament. This is a masculine noun in plural form. In this context, the psalmist is exhorting us to exalt “Yehōwāh” our “Elōhīm” because He is holy. The word holy defining mountain is “qōdhēsh” while the psalmist used “qãdhōsh” to describe God. His Holiness is the reason for us to exalt and worship Him. Look at the description of God’s Holiness and how faithful He is and how powerful He is. His Holiness is the center of all of His attributes. It describes Him and all of His other attributes. He is Holy, Holy, Holy. His love is Holy love. His righteousness is Holy righteousness. His omnipotence is Holy omnipotence. Think of His work in saving us and how He takes care of us through His providence. He expresses His love to us through these things, and it is all centered in His Holiness. 

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:1-13 ESV)

As we see in this incredible passage from Isaiah, he used both “Yehōwāh” and  “Adhōnāy.” He refers to “Yehōwāh” as God high and lifted up with the angels calling to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  The word Isaiah used for “Holy” here is “qãdhōsh.” The 3-fold repetition of God’s Holiness is called the trihagion. This emphasizes God’s separateness and independence from His fallen creation. It also refers to the Trinity. Isaiah refers to God as  “Yehōwāh” when he is speaking of His awesome Holiness. What was Isaiah’s response to seeing “Yehōwāh” high and lifted up? ‘And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”’ The Holiness of God always causes men to see their uncleanness. Their sin becomes apparent to them in such a way that it is like a judge declaring them guilty and condemned. This is part of God’s Righteous justice in which He is the only determiner of what is pure and right. This is also why, as Christians, we need to spend as much time as possible in prayer, worship, and digging for treasure in God’s Word (Thank you Nathan Pitchford for your book Hidden Treasure!) 

Isaiah used “Adhōnāy”twice in this passage. The first one was, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  It is no coincidence that Isaiah used “sovereign one” when he wrote the very words of God asking whom He should send on a mission. The Septuagint uses the Greek word “κυριου” or “Kurios” here for “Lord.” This, of course, is the word translated as “Lord” in the New Testament referring to Christ. It speaks of His authority and the great need for our obedience to His Lordship. What was Isaiah’s response to this question? Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”  This should be our response to our Kurios in all things. God gave Isaiah a task that would be very hard to bear for anyone. He was to prophesy, but he would be speaking God’s Words of repentance to people who could not understand what he was saying. He was to be God’s instrument for hiding the truth from an unreceptive people much like our Lord’s ministry when He taught in parables. 

God’s Holiness is taken for granted by most of us and that is a terrible sin on our part. He is Holy, Righteous, and Just. His ways are not our ways. He is high and we are not. He is separate from sin, but we are sinful. However, by His grace and mercy we can know Him and those who do have been changed forever. In fact, when their salvation is completed they will be glorified  and will be with the Son, their Kurios and saviour for all eternity. Let us who know Him not take His Holiness for granted, but let us strive to know Him deeper and better by drawing near unto Him in prayer, worship, and by studying His Word. 

Holy, Holy, Holy

Text: Reginald Heber 

Music: John B. Dykes 

 

1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

2. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

3. Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

4. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

Soli Deo Gloria!

21 thoughts on “The Holiness of God

  1. Pingback: The Holiness of God - Reformata

  2. Amen Mike!! Now that was a lesson :) BTW, Holy, Holy, Holy is our favorite song. Sounds like the Holy Spirit is trying to tell everyone something today. We listened to R.C. and several others, and guess what it was on??? Holiness. Plus all the other attributes of God, but focused on His Holiness. HHHHHMMMMMM Great post Mike!! We could read that one a few times to try to get everything you taught there!! :)

  3. Yes, as I began that series on Easy-Believism it was as if I was hearing sermons and reading articles all over the place about God’s Holiness and Sovereignty. I am convinced that those who try to major on God’s Love while viewing His Holiness as subject to that Love are in some form of idolatry.

    Yes, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is my favorite Hymn. Guess what I was listening to while I wrote this post.. I have several versions of that hymn in iTunes so. It is as if I cannot get enough of hearing about our wonderful God’s Holiness! Oh, I want so much to worship Him before the throne! Oh, for Him to be glorified!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  4. Nathan,

    Your book is wonderful blessing. Is it going to be available in some form for others to read? If it is for sale where can we get it? I would be glad to recommend it to all who come here. Let me know brother. Be blessed in the Lord.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. Thanks for this amazing reminder of the holiness of God. And think about it, the HOLY HOLY HOLY still chose to fellowship with mere men and provided the way to be reconciled to Him!!

    Amazing!!

  6. Unfortunately in this world, man does not realize nor even want to recognize what “holy” means. When you have “holy mackerel”, “holy cow” and all kinds of ‘holy expletives’ being cast at us from all quarters, the true meaning of “Holy” becomes difficult to grasp.

    One day when we see the Lord in all His splendor, the meaning of holiness will be clear. Every knee shall bow before our Holy Lord.

  7. Hi Mike,

    Right now, it’s available for sale at Lulu (it can be downloaded for free) here:

    http://www.lulu.com/content/2508351

    I’m wanting to have it published by some more major publishing company (such as Banner of Truth), to get it more widely distributed, but so far I haven’t been able to do so — so for now, it’s self-published with Lulu. I have been pleased with the excellent quality of the printed books, though, and like I said, I enabled free download, for anyone who doesn’t mind reading from a computer screen.

    Blessings from Calvary!
    Nathan

  8. Of course, the fact that the writer of Psalm 110:1 recognises the Messiah (Adhōnāy) as distinct yet inseparable from God (Yehōwāh) in holiness (qōdhēsh) has earth-shattering implications for Judaism, Christianity and all truth seekers.

    Understanding that God once walked the earth as flesh and blood, as Jesus the Christ — and that the purpose of that ministry was to reconcile all flesh and blood to Himself — the glory of earth fades into nothingness.

    Adhōnāy, purge me from all that is not from You.

  9. Pingback: A Circumcision Made Without Hands « Possessing the Treasure

  10. Pingback: A Circumcision Made Without Hands - Reformata

  11. This should be taught more in churches. People are too comfortable with careless behavior and sin, as if God will forgive them without repentance, and as if God will lower His holiness standards for them, just because they are “basically a good person.”

    I think sometimes that most people believe that their own personal holiness standards are enough for God, and He is so permissive and understanding that He will accept their standards as enough for Him. What they don’t realize is what real holiness is like, and how infinitely they fall short.

    We all should spend more time thinking about this, and check ourselves to see if we are falling short of what God requires.

    blessings
    marianne

    http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com/

  12. Pingback: God’s Holiness « Take Up Your Cross

  13. However, by His grace and mercy we can know Him and those who do have been changed forever. In fact, when their salvation is completed they will be glorified and will be with the Son, their Kurios and saviour for all eternity.

    Amen to that sentence! Right on Mike!

    IF we were really honest we would say we take eveything for granted about God. HIs holiness, sovereignty, and his love… you name it we do it wrong. Our idolatry is really everywhere. I may not have said it in these words on my previous threads, but discussions on Gods sovereignty and morality can be as much a power play as anything else is. Not pointing fingers so dont take it that way but I think this is an unrecognized reality in the Church. Maybe not by the Churches themselves but quite often its the take away and how its used.

    This is why we need the full Gospel completely preached on the pulpit. Gods sovereignty, Gods love and we need to take the manners of Jesus Christ seriously.

    But your right I think its appropriate to point to Gods sovereignty on the Cross as the cure for all of this.

    Thanks to God that he paid the price for my sins … because I am helpless without that.

    One of the things we need to remember also is that God came in flesh and lived a sinless life among men and his purpose was meant for the Cross

    Matthew 1:23 (New International Version)
    New International Version (NIV)

    23″The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[a]—which means, “God with us.”

    JS

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