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Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord!

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)

God is holy. This is a foundational truth that is crucial to having an accurate understanding of who God is. A wrong understanding of God’s holiness does not only equate to a misconstrued view of God, but also a misconstrued view of ourselves. For it is only when we come to realize the meaning of God’s holiness that we come to acknowledge both our smallness and our sinfulness. And acknowledging that then produces a deep reverence for His greatness and perfection. Understanding God’s holiness, then, is of first importance if we are to have the right view of God, the right view of ourselves, and the right view of worship.

No human being has ever seen the fullness of God’s holiness. And to add to that, no human being could actually stand before God face to face in the unveiled presence of His holiness and make it out alive - that’s how all-consuming His glory is. If you recall in the book of Exodus, Moses makes an audacious request to God to show him God’s glory. And God tells Moses that he cannot see God’s face in all His glory, for man shall not see Him and live (Exodus 33:20). What God did instead, was to give Moses a short glimpse of His glory by allowing him to see His back. And from that glimpse, Moses ended up bowing down and worshipping God.

Moses was one out of a few who had a glimpse of God’s glory. Another person who had such a glimpse was the prophet Isaiah and we read the story of his encounter of God’s glory in Isaiah 6. In this passage, Isaiah describes that in the year that King Uzziah died, he had a vision of the Lord. King Uzziah reigned in Jerusalem for more than fifty years, in which, for the most part, the nation enjoyed success. But it did not end well with King Uzziah for he had sinned by entering the temple and burning incense - a function which God had reserved only for the priestly office. As punishment for his sin, God struck him with leprosy, which later on led to his death. After King Uzziah’s death, Israel was looming with dread. They were filled with fear at the thought of what was going to happen to them now that their king had died. It was in this time that the prophet Isaiah went to the temple to seek the Lord. And this was when the Lord had given Isaiah a vision of Himself.

Isaiah narrates the vision saying, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1) What Isaiah gives us here is an image of God’s resplendent glory. In contrast to their dead human king, their true King, God Himself, was alive. And despite the uncertain circumstances, God was still on His throne, sovereignly ruling over all things. Then Isaiah continued by proclaiming God’s exalted position in showing that He was high and lifted up and by emphasizing the splendor of God’s glory by describing His majestic garments.

Isaiah goes on saying, “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.“ (Isaiah 6:2). In order to understand the picture Isaiah is giving here, we need to understand what a seraphim is. A seraphim is a group of angels whose primary vocation is to worship God before His glorious presence. Now, Isaiah tells us that the seraphim had three sets of wings, that is, six wings in total. It is interesting that Isaiah described to us the bodily structure of the seraphim in order for us to grasp the astounding glory of God. For just as God intentionally designed that humans would have lungs and fishes would have gills, He intentionally designed that the seraphim would have six wings - and God’s unique design for them was to serve a very specific purpose. With two wings the seraphim flew, with the other two wings the seraphim covered their feet, and with the other two wings the seraphim covered their face. Why did the seraphim have to cover their feet and their faces? It was because these angels who were beholding the Lord in His holy presence had to shield themselves from the blazing glory of God. For in their creatureliness, they could not withstand the direct and full manifestation of God’s great and awesome glory.

Isaiah continues to tell us about the seraphim and says, “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ “ (Isaiah 6:3). Even more great than the seraphim’s unique design was the seraphim’s astounding message: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts”. The seraphim repeated the word “holy” three times to describe the LORD, that is, referring to Yahweh. This was not just for repetition’s sake, but for emphasis’ sake. No other attribute of God is spoken of in this manner of triple repetition in the Bible. And indeed, it is to show us that it is of great importance in knowing who God is. For in knowing God’s holiness, we recognize His moral perfection, acknowledge His absolute supremacy, and realize His unrivaled existence.

In Isaiah’s glimpse of God’s holiness, his only response was this: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Seeing the Lord’s holiness, Isaiah saw his wretchedness and became broken and contrite over his awful sins against a holy God. Thankfully, the passage does not stop at the awareness of Isaiah’s sinfulness. We are told that one of the seraphim flew to Isaiah, and having a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, he touched Isaiah’s mouth and said “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6-7). What a marvelous event this must have been for the prophet Isaiah. Standing before the holy Lord, he did not only acknowledge his sin, but was also told by the seraphim that his guilt has been taken away and his sins have been atoned for. Isaiah was so filled with awe that his only response to the Lord cleansing him of his sin was to commit to serve the Lord by being God’s spokesman to His people when he said, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

Dear believer, understanding God’s holiness is of first importance if we are to have the right view of God, the right view of ourselves, and the right view of worship. God’s holiness speaks of his infinite transcendence and absolute perfection. It sets Him as the great and perfect Creator completely apart from us who are small and sinful creatures. In seeing God’s holiness, we come to see how awesome He is, how depraved we are, and how we ought to revere Him. God’s holiness must be our starting point if we are to make sense of how we are to live before His sight and for His name. For it is only when we understand God’s holiness that we will also understand the holy calling He has given us.

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