ISAIAH was overcome with awe at the scene before him—a vision from God. It seemed so real! Isaiah later wrote that he actually “got to see Jehovah” on His lofty throne. Jehovah’s flowing raiment filled the huge temple in Jerusalem.
Isaiah was also awed by what he heard—singing so powerful that it shook the temple to its very foundations. The song was coming from seraphs, spirit creatures of very high rank. Their mighty harmony rang out in words of simple majesty: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies. The fullness of all the earth is his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3, 4) Singing the word “holy” three times gave it special emphasis, and rightly so, for Jehovah is holy to the superlative degree. (Revelation 4:8) Jehovah’s holiness is emphasized throughout the Bible. Hundreds of verses associate his name with the words “holy” and “holiness.”
What vision did the prophet Isaiah receive, and what does it teach us about Jehovah?
Clearly, then, one of the primary things that Jehovah wants us to grasp about him is that he is holy. Yet, many today are put off by the very idea. Some mistakenly associate holiness with self-righteousness or false piety. People who struggle with a negative view of themselves may find God’s holiness more daunting than appealing. They may fear that they could never be worthy of drawing close to this holy God. Hence, many turn away from God because of his holiness. That is sad, for God’s holiness is really a compelling reason for drawing close to him. Why? Before we answer that question, let us discuss what true holiness is.
What Is Holiness?
That God is holy does not mean that he is smug, haughty, or disdainful of others. On the contrary, he hates such qualities. (Proverbs 16:5; James 4:6) So, what does the word “holy” really mean? In Biblical Hebrew, the word is derived from a term meaning “separate.” In worship, “holy” applies to that which is separated from common use, or held sacred. Holiness also strongly conveys the idea of cleanness and purity. How does this word apply to Jehovah? Does it mean that he is “separate” from imperfect humans, far removed from us?.
We live in a world where true holiness is a rarity. Everything about human society alienated from God is polluted in some way, tainted with sin and imperfection. We all have to war against the sin within us. And all of us are in danger of being overcome by sin if we let down our guard. (Romans 7:15-25; 1 Corinthians 10:12) Jehovah is in no such danger. Completely removed from sinfulness, he will never be tainted by the slightest trace of sin. This reaffirms our impression of Jehovah as the ideal Father, for it means that he is completely reliable. Unlike many sinful human fathers, Jehovah will never turn corrupt.
Holiness is intrinsic to Jehovah’s very nature. What does that mean? To illustrate: Consider the words “man” and “imperfect.” You cannot describe the former without invoking the latter. Imperfection pervades us and colors everything we do. Now consider two very different words—“Jehovah” and “holy.” Holiness pervades Jehovah. Everything about him is clean, pure, and upright. We cannot get to know Jehovah as he really is without coming to grips with this profound word—“holy.
“Holiness Belongs to Jehovah”
Since Jehovah embodies the quality of holiness, it may rightly be said that he is the source of all holiness. He does not selfishly hoard this precious quality; he imparts it to others, and he does so generously. Why, when God spoke to Moses through an angel at the burning bush, even the surrounding ground became holy as a result of its connection with Jehovah!
Can imperfect humans become holy with Jehovah’s help? Yes, in a relative sense. God gave his people Israel the prospect of becoming “a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) He blessed that nation with a system of worship that was holy, clean, pure. Holiness is thus a recurring theme of the Mosaic Law. In fact, the high priest wore a golden plate across the front of his turban, where all could see it glittering in the light. Engraved upon it were the words: “Holiness belongs to Jehovah.”
So a high standard of cleanness and purity was to distinguish their worship and, indeed, their way of life. Jehovah told them: “You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) As long as the Israelites lived by God’s counsel to the extent possible for imperfect humans, they were holy in a relative sense.
This emphasis on holiness was in stark contrast with the worship of the nations surrounding Israel. Those pagan nations worshiped gods whose very existence was a lie and a sham, gods who were portrayed as violent, greedy, and promiscuous. They were unholy in every possible sense. The worship of such gods made people unholy. Thus, Jehovah warned his servants to keep separate from pagan worshipers and their polluted religious practices.
When it came to holiness, what contrast existed between ancient Israel and the surrounding nations?
At its best, Jehovah’s chosen nation of ancient Israel could provide only a dim reflection of the holiness of God’s heavenly organization. The millions of spirit creatures who loyally serve God are referred to as his “holy myriads.” (Deuteronomy 33:2; Jude 14) They perfectly reflect the bright, pure beauty of God’s holiness. And remember the seraphs that Isaiah saw in his vision. The content of their song suggests that these mighty spirit creatures play an important role in making Jehovah’s holiness known throughout the universe. One spirit creature, though, is above all of these—the only-begotten Son of God. Jesus is the highest reflection of Jehovah’s holiness. Rightly, he is known as “the Holy One of God.”—
Holy Name, Holy Spirit
What about God’s own name? As we saw in Chapter 1, that name is no mere title or label. It represents Jehovah God, embracing all his qualities. Hence, the Bible tells us that his “name is holy.” (Isaiah 57:15) The Mosaic Law made it a capital offense to profane God’s name. (Leviticus 24:16) And note what Jesus made the first priority in prayer: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9) To sanctify something means to set it apart as sacred and to revere it, to uphold it as holy. But why would something as intrinsically pure as God’s own name need to be sanctified.