Holiness: The Old Testament.

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!” (Isaiah 6:5)

“We no longer live in a world in which God is conceived as being transcendent and holy. When people think about God today, they rarely conceive of him as “the Holy One of Israel,” but are more likely to think of him as a kind of buddy or friend. Though we are sometimes inspired in our worship to say “Wow!,” we are seldom induced to cry “Woe!” Dr. Michael Horton

Holiness is the chief attribute of God and a quality to be developed in his people. “Holiness” and the adjective “holy” occur more than 900 times in the Bible. The primary Old Testament (OT) word for holiness means “to cut” or “to separate.” Fundamentally, holiness is a cutting off or separation from what is unclean and a consecration to what is pure.

In the OT, the holiness of God refers to his transcendence over creation and the moral perfection of his character. God is holy in that he is utterly distinct (separate) from his creation and exercises sovereign majesty and power over it. His holiness is especially prominent in the Psalms (47:8) and the Prophets (Ezekiel 39:7), where holiness” emerges as a synonym for Israel’s God. Thus, the Scriptures ascribe to God the title “Holy” (Isaiah 57:15), “Holy One” (Job 6:10; Isaiah 43:15), and “Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 89:18; Isaiah 60:14; Jeremiah 50:29).

God’s holiness signifies that the Lord is separate from all that is evil and defiled (cf. Job 34:10). His holy character is the standard of absolute moral perfection (Isaiah 5:16). God’s holiness—his transcendent majesty and the purity of his character—are skillfully balanced in Psalm 99. Verses 1 through 3 portray God’s distance from the finite and earthbound, whereas verses 4 and 5 emphasize his separation from sin and evil, even as He establishes a relationship with sinful people like Abraham, Moses and Samuel.

God demands holiness in the lives of his people. Through Moses, God said to the congregation of Israel, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 11:41-45; 19:1-2).

The holiness commanded in the OT was twofold: 1) external, or ceremonial; and (2) internal, or moral and spiritual. Ceremonial holiness, prescribed in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT) included ritual consecration to God’s service. Thus priests and Levites were sanctified by a complex process of ritual consecration (Exodus 29), as were the Hebrew Nazarites, which means “separated ones” (Numbers 6:1–21). Prophets like Elisha (2 Kings 4:9) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) were also sanctified for a special prophetic ministry in Israel.

However, the OT also draws attention to the inner, moral, and spiritual aspects of holiness. Men and women, created in the image of God, are called by God to develop the holiness of God’s own character in their lives (Leviticus 19:1-2; Numbers 15:40). Therefore, holiness is not just an outward submission to ceremonial laws but also an inward consecration to live before God, and man, in a way which is righteously and morally pure.

Dr. Michael Horton concludes today’s blog with these thoughts.

“In general terms, holiness underscores the Creator-creature distinction. God is majestic, glorious, beyond reproach. In a certain sense, holiness characterizes all of God’s attributes. Yet, holiness typically refers in Scripture to God’s ethical purity, which is especially evident against the backdrop of human sinfulness. However, because of God’s mercy, God’s holiness not only highlights his difference from us; it also includes his movement toward us, binding us to him in covenant love. In this way, God makes us holy. Nevertheless, only in Christ can God’s holiness be for us a source of delight rather than of fear of judgment.”

“Therefore, God’s holiness is a marker not only of God’s distinction from the creation, but also God’s driving passion to make the whole earth his holy dwelling. Although God alone is essentially holy, he does not keep holiness to himself but spreads his fragrance throughout creation. God is holy in his essence; people, places, and things are made holy by God’s energies.”

Are you prone to evaluate worship, both personal and corporate, by the word “wow” instead of the word “woe?” It is revealing that most of what we define as worship of the thrice holy God of Israel is designed to stimulate and excite our senses regarding the magnificence of man rather than awaken our intellects, wills and emotions to the holiness of God.

Dear LORD, awaken us anew, or for the very first time, to the awe and wonder of your holiness. May our hearts be broken and contrite before you.

Soli deo Gloria!  






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