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The Holiness of God

The Holiness of God, Leviticus 10:1-3; 1 Chronicles 13:6-14; 2 Samuel 6:1-1

How do we preach on a subject as deeply profound as the holiness of God? This subject goes far beyond human intellect. After studying God's holiness for a lifetime, it still seems impossible to grasp the full meaning. Elmer Towns writes: “Holiness may be one of the most difficult of the attributes to completely understand and define.”

But…here goes!

The word “holy” means “moral and ethical wholeness, perfection, sanctification, godliness, and freedom from moral guilt.” The Hebrew word is, qadach, (qodesh, qadesh), meaning “set-apartness, separateness, sacredness, showing that God is altogether holy, sacred, set apart or separate from His creation.

The Greek word is, hagios meaning much the same thing that the Old Testament word. Hagios means “distinct, separate, set apart, pure, morally blameless.”

God is incomparable, infinite perfection.: “Who is like You, majestic in holiness?” (Exodus 15:11). “There is no one holy like the Lord. There is no one beside You” (1 Samuel 2:2). “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 33:11: ). “You alone are holy” (Revelation 15:4). “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts…” (Isaiah 6:33). And on the high Priest's breastplate, “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36).

The holiness of God is His essential property, it belongs to Him and only Him. It is not something He has, it is what He is, His very nature. It is related to His goodness. We use the word holy to define His purity. God's glory is essentially connected to His holiness. We usually think of God's holiness as an attribute, quality or characteristic. ie: God is a God of mercy; a God of love, a God of justice, a God of grace. God is good, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. God's holiness embraces all of these attributes and so much more.

The primary meaning is “to separate,” “To cut.” We often use the phrase, “a cut above.” Literally, it means “to rise above, to climb across, exceeding usual limits, to go above and beyond, to transcend.” God is transcendently separate. He is far beyond us in absolute greatness, consuming majesty, and exalted loftiness. He is a cut above the world and all that is in it, including man, whom He has made “a little lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7-9).

Listen to what Bible teachers say about God's holiness:

Thomas Watson, “Holiness is the sparkling jewel of God's crown.”

Matthew Thiessen: “The holiness of God means that He is absolutely separate from and exalted above all His creation and that He is equally separate from moral evil or sin.”

A.W. Tozer: “We cannot grasp the true meaning of divine holiness. It stand apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The nature of man is blind to it. He may fear God's power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he can never imagine.”

Tony Evans: “The holiness of God is His intrinsic and transcendent purity, the standard of righteousness to which the whole universe must conform. God does not conform to any standard created by others. He is the standard. Therefore, He demands that His creation conforms to His standard.”

Roger Shinn, Handbook of Christian Theology: “To declare that God is love is to announce something revealed or discovered, something that has often been questioned or denied. But to deny God's holiness is to deny the sacred nature that constitutes deity.”

His holiness can be seen in His name:

•Psalm 111:9: “Holy and reverent is Your name.”

•Isaiah 57:7: “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy.”

•Luke 1:49: “For He who is mighty has done great things for me; and Holy is His name.”

His holiness can be seen in His words:

•Jeremiah 23:9: “My heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine has overcome, because of the Lord, and because of His holy words.”

His holiness can be seen in His works:

•Psalms 145:17: “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works.”

Responses to the holiness of God:

•Genesis 3:7-10: Adam hid himself.

•Exodus 3:6: Moses hid his face.

•Job 40:3-5: Job saw his own uncleanness.

•Isaiah 6:1-7: Isaiah saw his own sinfulness.

•Ezekiel 1:28: Ezekiel fell on his face.

•Matthew 17:5,6: The Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration fell on their faces.

•Revelation 1:17: John: “…and when I saw Him I fell at His feet as dead.”

•Revelation 4:10: “The twenty-four elders fell down before Him who sits on the throne.”

•Revelation 5:13: “Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them. I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’”

•Revelation 7:9,10: A multitude of Gentiles: “…crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

•Revelation 7:11,12: The angels. “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God…”

Admittedly, we cannot completely understand God's holiness. We know that God is eternal. It is easy to understand His love. It is easy to understand that God is truth. However, nowhere in Scripture is God called, “Love, Love, Love,” "Eternal, Eternal, Eternal,” “Grace, Grace, Grace,” or “Truth, Truth, Truth.” But He is called, “Holy, Holy, Holy” twice in the Scriptures, Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. And in both occurrences it is spoken or sung by heavenly creatures.

God requires His people to be holy.

•Exodus 19:6: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” •Leviticus 10:3: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”

•Leviticus 11:44: “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy for I am holy.”

•Leviticus 20:7: “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God.”

•1 Peter 1:15,16: “He who has called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct; because it is written, ‘be holy, for I am holy'”.

And now let us consider two Old Testament passages that make God appear to be cruel, brutal and unfair to His children.

Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:13: “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censor and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

These men were priests, the sons of Aaron, who was a prophet, the high priest, and the brother of Moses, so they were Moses nephews. In Exodus 19:9, God instructed Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. If anyone had a close relationship with God, it was Moses and Aaron. You would think that God would have cut them a little slack because of who they were.

For one transgression at the altar God reacted swiftly and violently, killing them on the spot. It wasn't as if they had profaned the altar with prostitutes as was the custom among the heathen nations. They were not offering human sacrifices as the followers of the Ammonite god, Molech. They offered profane fire. We don't know exactly what they did, or how they profaned the altar. They may have been drunk, Verse 8,9. Or as verse 19 suggests, perhaps they But they failed to distinguish between the holy and the unholy.

Many explanations have been offered as to God's actions in this situation:

Immanuel Velikovsky, a scientist friend of Einstein's wrote: “A meteor shower bombarded the earth with great volumes of petroleum, filling the earth's fissures with great deposits of oil. Nadab and Abihu found some oil lying around and wondered what it was, so they decided to mix it with the burning substances at the altar. When they put it in the fire, boom, it ignited and exploded.” His view was that this was just a tragic accident of children playing with fire.

The Bible views this as a supernatural judgment of God. The Scripture makes it clear that this was no accident. It must be ascribed to the judgment of God.

Specific instructions had been given to the priests regarding the instruments of the altar. Exodus 30:9,10: “You shall not offer strange incense on it, or burnt offering, or meal offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.”

In other words, Nadab and Abihu knew the rules! They were acting in clear defiance of God. Theirs was an act of blatant rebellion, an inexcusable profaning of the holy place. They committed the sin of arrogance, an act of treason against a holy, righteous and just God.

Look at their grieving father, Aaron. He remained silent. What else could he do? The debate is over The evidence is in. God has rendered the verdict.

Our concept of justice is that the punishment must fit the crime. If the punishment is more severe than the crime, we shout “unfair!” But this is an example of God's punitive justice.

Nadab and Abihu could not have pled ignorance (ignorance of the law is no excuse). They knew they were not allowed to offer an unauthorized offering on God's altar. They had sinned against a holy God, but they never dreamed that their sin was so serious as to bring immediate judgment from God's hand.

How can we profane the holiness of God? Are we just a little bit flippant about God's holiness? The more we learn about His holiness, the more unworthy we will find that we are. It is hard to comprehend how God would even give me a thought, but He gave me His Son! On those occasions when I have just caught a glimpse of His holiness, all I wanted to do was bury my head in the dirt, because I am so unclean and unworthy. With Isaiah we pronounce a curse on ourselves, saying, 'Woe is [to] me.' I have seen the Lord.' (Isaiah 6). The more we learn about God's holiness, the more we see ourselves as totally unworthy.

Now let’s examine another Old Testament passages that make God appear to be cruel, brutal and unfair to His children: 1 Chronicles 13: 6-11; 2 Samuel 6:1-11

Here's what happened: When David became king, he moved quickly to consolidate his kingdom. The Ark of the Covenant was in the hands of the Philistines and it was said that the glory had departed from Israel.

The Ark was constructed and ornamented by the strict design of God Himself. A chest of acacia wood, overlaid with gold inside and out. It had a gold molding around it, four rings were fastened to its feet so that poles could be inserted through rings to carry it. The poles were made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. The lid, called the “Atonement cover,” was made of pure gold. Two cherubim, fashioned of hammered gold were mounted on each end of the chest, facing each other with their wings spread outward.

So the day came when David was to take the glory back. He said, “Let us bring the Ark of our God back to us, for we have not inquired at it since the days of Saul” [1 Chronicles 13:3]. The whole assembly agreed. It was to be housed again in the “Sanctus Sanctorum,” the “Holy of Holies.”

1 Chronicles 13:7-10: So they carried the Ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart. Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might. with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets. And when they came to Childon's threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the Ark; and he died there before God.”

This act of divine judgment even angered King David, a man after God's own heart. “And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzza…” (verse 11).

How could we possibly believe that a kind and merciful God of love could be capable of such an “unfair” act on a man who was just trying to help? After all, doesn't the Bible say “The Lord is merciful and gracious,

Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8)? Well it didn't take His anger long to reach the boiling point with Uzza. He touched the Ark and wham, God exploded in anger!

Again, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, efforts have been made to excuse God from accusations of brutality and unfair treatment of His children One critic of the Bible said, “Uzza had so much respect for the sacred Ark and was so overcome with fright that he had a heart attack and died on the spot.” He was literally scared to death!

Picture the crowd that day: It must have looked a lot like a Thanksgiving Day parade, with people dressed up in their finest, with a salvation Army type band leading them. They danced, shouted, sang, praised and in general reveled in the return of God to their midst. The glory was returning to the Holy City. You could hear the sound of harps, lyres, tambourines, drums, cymbals, and trumpets. It must have sounded like Meredith Wilson's “76 Trombones.”

The oxen suddenly stumbles, the cart totters precariously, the chest slid from its moorings and was in danger of falling into the dirt, being covered with mud and filth. It was unthinkable that this precious, sacred object would be desecrated by falling in the dirt.

Surely, Uzza's reaction was instinctive. He did what any pious Jew would have done to keep the Ark from falling. It was not a premeditated act of defiance toward God as with Nadab and Abihu. It was a reflective action. In fact, from our vantage point we would probably say, “Hooray, Uzza, you did good!” You would think that Uzza would hear a voice from heaven saying, “Thank you, Uzza.” But God didn't do that.

What was Uzza's sin? To answer, we must look back at Jewish history to the formation of the priesthood and the special commands that God gave them:

To be a priest in Israel you had to be of the Tribe of Levi. All priests were Levites, but all Levites were not priests. One special family was the Clan of Kohath. The Kohathites were consecrated by God to do a highly specialized task, they were trained for one basic job–to take care of the sacred articles of the Tabernacle. “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things” (Numbers 4:4. The Tabernacle was a portable tent. When the Israelites moved they carried the tent with them. All the sacred articles were to be covered by Aaron and the priests. “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die”( Numbers 4:15). They were not even permitted to look at the sacred things, “But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die” (Numbers 4:20). More than likely, Uzza was a Kohathite. That's why he was assigned to the moving of the Ark. So he knew exactly what his duties were. He had been thoroughly trained in the discipline of his calling. He understood that touching the Ark was a capital offense. They could only touch the poles and rings. No provision was ever made for shortcuts or lazy man-made methods of doing God's work.

What was the Ark doing on an ox cart in the first place? The Ark was never moved on an ox cart!

Uzza touched the Ark. A sin of presumption, an act of arrogance. He assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. It was not the earth or even the dirt or mud that desecrated the sacred object! It was the touch of man! The earth is an obedient creation, it does what God tells it. It brings forth fruit in its season. It obeys the laws of nature that God set in motion when he created it. There is nothing polluted about the ground as God created it (Granted we have polluted and ruined it). So God did not want His holy Throne touched by what was contaminated by evil. Romans 3:10-12: “There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no not one…” And verse 23: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Then look at Isaiah 64:6: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Man rebelled against a holy God, and this unholy revolt brought the whole creation to ruin. Uzza was not an innocent man. He was not punished without warning. He violated a law with which he was very familiar.

In the New Testament Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5:1-11] were struck dead on the spot for lying to God.

The reason we are so anxious to shout “foul,” “unfair,” is that we do not understand the justice of God, His divine righteousness, this word means: “Right,” that which is just and fair. “Righteous, means that which is upright. “Righteousness, is uprightness toward God. It also means to conform to a rule. God plays by the rules.

Possibly we don't understand the awfulness of sin. Sin is cosmic treason against a perfectly pure God. It is a supreme act of ingratitude toward the one to whom we owe everything. One who has given life itself. When we sin we are saying, “God, Your law is not good. It does not apply to me because my judgment is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do whatever I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

Adam's sin plunged the world into darkness. Romans 5:12: “Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). And, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The Bible speaks of holy ground, holy Sabbath, holy place, holy linen coat, holy house, holy tithe, holy censors, holy bread, holy seed, holy covenant, holy convocation, holy nation, holy anointing oil, holy jubilee, holy field, holy water, holy ark, holy city, holy word, holy ones and Holy of Holies. The things that are holy are set apart, separated from common-place, consecrated for the Lord and His service. We believers have been set apart for holiness!

Only God can sanctify something. Only God can give the touch that can change things and people from e commonplace to something set apart, something different, we are special.

When God sets things and people apart, they are set apart for purity. They are to be used in a pure way. They are to reflect purity. We are Holy ones, because we have been set apart, separated to God. We have been called to a life that is different. “I urge you, my brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God––This is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

We need to get a fresh glimpse of a Holy God, to see God glorious in His holiness. Why? Because then we will see our unholiness. If you get a real look at God, you will get a real look at yourself. A.W. Tozer said: “Quite literally, a new channel must be cut through to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our sickness, to flow in.”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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