God is holy. He is completely consecrated unto himself. He seeks himself as the only good. He is the Holy One above all else. His holiness distinguishes him from all that is common. In his holiness he cannot look upon sin; he cannot let sin go unpunished; he burns in just wrath against sin.
The Old Testament is rich with references to God’s holiness. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they were driven out of the garden and from their close fellowship with God (Genesis 3:22–23). God placed cherubim and a flaming sword to guard against their reentry (v. 24). That close fellowship with God was broken. As they were in their fallen nature, they could not look upon the holy God and live. God would not allow his holiness to be tainted. Aaron had to be dressed a certain way, as described Exodus 28. He had to do this so that when he went in and out of the holy place, he would not die before the holy God (v. 35). Moses asked God, “shew me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18). God replied to him, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (v. 20). Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire to the Lord that was not consecrated to him and were consumed by the fire of God (Leviticus 10). Those of Israel who were unclean had to remain outside the camp. The nation of Israel as a whole was to be separate from the rest of the nations around them, because they were set apart by God. All the instances of God’s commanding Israel to destroy every man, woman, and child in an enemy nation demonstrated further that Israel was set apart because of God’s holiness. The various instances of God’s destroying many in the camp because of their sins were because in his holiness he cannot look on sin unpunished. When Israel wrongly dragged the ark home behind oxen, Uzzah reached out to steady it. The Lord struck him dead on the spot because he had touched the ark that was consecrated unto God.
One of the most outstanding examples of God’s holiness in Scripture is seen in Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God in Isaiah 6. This passage is rich with the holiness of God. “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (v. 1). The Lord’s robe covered the ground of the whole temple. It filled the entire room, leaving no room for anyone to stand. We must imagine Isaiah standing on the threshold of the temple, unable to enter because of the all-filling presence of the holy God. Even the seraphim could not stand on this holy ground, but hovered above the all-covering robe with one set of wings, covered their faces with another set, and covered their feet with another set. If even the seraphim could not gaze on the glory of the holy God, how much more would man not be able to see God and live? The seraphim cried to each other, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (v. 3). God is the thrice holy God in the perfect unity of the Trinity. The posts of the door shook when the seraphim took up their song proclaiming the holiness of God (v 4). Nothing can stand secure in its own strength in the presence of the holy God. We read further that the house was filled with smoke (v. 4). Smoke represents a barrier to man, so that he inquires no farther than what God has revealed to him in his word. Smoke also signifies God’s judgment on sin as he burns in his just wrath against it. This idea of smoke agrees well with the following context of the Lord’s pronouncing judgment upon the people. “Woe is me!” cries Isaiah, “For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (v. 5). Isaiah is so shaken by this view of God that he says, “I am a dead man.” We read next: “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (vv. 6, 7). The only way we can stand in the presence of the Almighty is if our sin is taken away. The fact that the seraph takes a burning coal from the altar of God indicates that the purging of our sin comes from God alone. “All sinful uncleanness was burned away from the prophet’s mouth. The seraph, therefore, did here what his name denotes: he burned up or burned away. He did this, however, not by virtue of his own fiery nature, but by means of the divine fire which he had taken from the heavenly altar.” (Keil and Delitzch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 7, 128). This fire signifies God’s love in expiating Isaiah’s sin.
Who can stand in the presence of the Holy One? As Isaiah was purified by the coal from the altar, so also we must be made clean before standing in the presence of the Lord and beholding him as he is in his holiness. God alone accomplished this for us through the sacrifice of his Son. God bought us with a price, the price of his own dear Son, who willingly died and suffered in hell that we might live eternally with him in glory. Christ is the ultimate payment for all our sins, the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices. We are called to live with the knowledge of who God is in his holiness and what he has done for us in the death of his Son. As followers of Christ, this must be reflected in our lives. We must walk a holy walk. He is holy, therefore we must be holy.
More on this subject next month.