Holy, Holy, Holy
Sinclair B. Ferguson defined God’s holiness this way: “it means He is separate from sin. But holiness in God also means wholeness. God’s holiness is His ‘God-ness.’ It is being God in all that it means for Him to be God. To meet God in His holiness, therefore, is to be altogether overwhelmed by the discovery that He is God, and not man.”
“To meet God in His holiness”…that was the experience of the prophet Isaiah we read about in Isaiah chapter 6. We would rightly suppose that Isaiah, having been called by God to be a prophet, was a righteous man relative to his peers. As a man of faith, he understood something about God’s Holiness and was mindful, to some extent, of his own shortcomings. But nothing in his understanding or experience could have prepared him for what happened on the day he saw the Lord.
We are not given the specific manner in which it came to pass, but Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.” Monarchs of that day were elaborately attired, but in this case the train of the Lord’s robe “filled the temple!” Above the Lord stood the seraphim, a special class of angels given the task of attending to God’s holiness. Each angel had six wings. With two wings they flew. And with two wings they covered their feet, reminding us of how God once told Moses to remove his shoes for in God’s presence the place where he stood was “holy ground.” And with two wings they covered their eyes, reminding us again that God once told Moses “no man can see my glory and live.”
The most striking and most important thing in Isaiah’s vision was what he heard, as the seraphim cried out unto one another, back and forth, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory!” The Hebrew language often used words three times in order to emphasize what was being spoken of. But even more emphasis was forthcoming in what Isaiah saw next, when foundations of the threshold shook and the house was filled with smoke!
Isaiah was completely overwhelmed and cried out, saying, “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’s vision of God’s unearthly holiness demanded a radical reassessment of himself, “Woe is me! For I am lost!” The focus on the unclean “lips” is interesting. In contrast to the lofty and worshipful chorus of the seraphim, Isaiah became painfully aware of the woeful and sinful inadequacy of his own speech and that of his people. As a result of his vision Isaiah was humbled before God, who wouldn’t be! It is a good thing to meet God in His holiness, for in the light of God’s holiness, our sinfulness is exposed and we are compelled to look to Jesus for salvation.
R.C. Sproul, “The Bible doesn’t say that God is mercy, mercy, mercy or love, love, love or justice, justice, justice or wrath, wrath, wrath, but that He is holy, holy, holy. This is a dimension of God that consumes His very essence, and when it is manifest to Isaiah, we read that “at the sound of the voices of the seraphim the doorposts, the thresholds of the temple itself shook and began to tremble” (Isaiah 6:4). Do you hear that? Inanimate, lifeless, unintelligible parts of creation in the presence of the manifestation of the holiness of God had the good sense to be moved. How can we, made in His image, be indifferent or apathetic to His majesty?”
Heavenly Father. You are high and exalted above all in the awesomeness of Your holiness, just as Isaiah saw you! Forgive us for growing far too unaware and comfortable in the unholy climate in which we now live. Open our eyes, that we might rightly esteem ourselves in view of Your majestic holiness and our great need. Thank you for opening a door for us to be made holy through the sin-cleansing blood of Your Son, the Lamb of God. Help us to pursue holiness, without which we cannot see You.