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Glorious in Holiness

God’s Holiness in the Law

3 min

In the song of victory sung by the Israelites at the Red Sea, they extolled the Lord with these words of praise: “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

“Glorious in holiness” is one of God’s essential attributes that sets Him apart from all false gods. Many of the gods of the ancient pagans, including the famous gods of Greece and Rome, did not even claim to have the attribute of holiness!

God’s holiness is so far beyond our normal experience that we cannot fully comprehend divine holiness. God does not merely measure up to a standard of holiness—He is the standard! He defines holiness, and holiness characterizes Him. In fact, “The Holy One” is one of God’s most important names. The title “The Holy One of Israel” is used of the Lord over thirty times in the Scriptures.

In his classic work, The Existence and Attributes of God, the Puritan writer Stephen Charnock describes well how holiness qualifies God’s other attributes:

His justice is a holy justice. His wisdom is a holy wisdom. His arm of power a “holy arm” (Psalm 98:1), His truth or promise a “holy promise” (Psalm 105:42). His name, which signifies all his attributes in conjunction, “is holy” (Psalm 103:1).

—Stephen Charnock

The word holy is translated from the Hebrew word קֹדֶשׁ qodesh which means “set apart.” This special word has both a negative and a positive aspect. Holiness is “set apart” from all that is unclean, unholy, and defiled. But holiness is, in a positive sense, “set apart” to a purpose and a destiny that is good, pure, and clean.

God expressly defines Himself as holy. When God called Israel to make a distinction between the clean and the unclean and to set themselves apart from the world to be dedicated to Him alone, He based this command upon the divine attribute of holiness. “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).

Notice that God did not say “Ye shall be holy as I am holy.” If this were the case, we could never hope to attain His standard of holiness. Rather, we are set apart to God because God Himself set us apart from all other gods and all other religions. He is holy. Therefore, we should be holy also, set apart from the world and unto God.

Some attributes of God are defined by theologians as “non-communicable attributes.” These attributes, such as eternality, omnipotence, and omniscience, are ones that we as human beings can never even hope to imitate or share. But holiness is among the “communicable attributes,” attributes, such as love, goodness, and mercy, that we should seek after and imitate to the best of our feeble human abilities.

God’s holiness pervades and overwhelms everything about Him. When the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush, the Lord ordered Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Garments worn by the high priest in the service of God were designated “holy garments” (Leviticus 16:4). The sanctuary of the chamber where the incense was burned was called the “holy place” (Exodus 26:33). And the inner sanctuary, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept behind a thick curtain, the place where atonement was made upon the Mercy Seat, this place was called “the most holy place” (Exodus 26:34) or, as it is rendered literally from the Hebrew, the “Holy of Holies.”

The Lord laid out very careful statutes to guard the sanctity of the Holy of Holies. No man could enter there except the high priest, and he only went in once every year on the Day of Atonement. Sin could not enter there, and any trespasser who defiled the holy sanctuary or the holy instruments and furniture could be slain for his presumption. When Uzzah reached out and touched the Ark of the Covenant on its journey to a new resting place, according to II Samuel 6:7, “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.” Events like these serve as sobering reminders of how God values holiness.

No Temple is necessary now since Christ our High Priest has come and completed His perfect sacrifice. God’s dwelling place is no longer the Temple; rather He has chosen to dwell with His people in our own hearts! Thus, our bodies are referred to in the New Testament as the “temple of God.” The Apostle Paul wrote: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (I Corinthians 3:17).

A constant awareness that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in our earthly bodies ought to transform the way we think and the way we live. Wherever we go, we are carrying the “holy of holies” with us! Our speech should be holy speech. Our deeds should be holy deeds. Our thoughts should be holy thoughts. Living in the presence of the Holy One of Israel, we are always standing on “holy ground,” and we are called to reflect His holiness in daily life.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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