Holy Holy Holy

by Mike Ratliff

1 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. 2 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. 3 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.

1 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!

1 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 a footstool for Your feet.” 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.

11 “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.

15 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. 16 And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.
17 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, 18 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.
19 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. 20 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?” 21 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.

1 The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name!
Holy is he!
4 The King in his might loves justice.
You have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Exalt the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
6 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.
7 In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
8 O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 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.

1 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. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 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!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 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.”
11 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,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump
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.

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!

5 thoughts on “Holy Holy Holy

  1. Jennifer, when I was a child we sang it every Sunday at the start of worship. Only the men would sing at the beginning then we would all join in on the second verse from that point on. Holy, Holy, Holy has always been my favorite Hymn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those are the only worship songs I like; that praise the attributes of God and are about Him.
    They are scarce these days.


Comments are closed.