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Worshipful Silence Before a Holy God

4 min

A proper response to many of God’s attributes involves joy, adoration, singing, and praise. All these responses are appropriate, and the Bible commands them in their proper place. But there is another kind of response that the Bible commands, and it is particularly connected to the divine attribute of holiness.

In Zechariah 2:13, the prophet wrote, “Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.” There are times when our only appropriate response to the holiness of Jehovah is reverent silence. An old Christmas hymn elegantly expresses this truth as it begins with the solemn admonition: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand.”

Silence seems old-fashioned and almost inappropriate in modern worship. Sometimes contemporary worship is loud, energetic, and vibrant. But older generations and previous centuries remind us that silence has been and still remains an important part of Christian worship. This solemn silence is not the abstract, blank meditation of Eastern mysticism. Rather, it is the hushed silence that comes from a grateful heart subdued by or in awe of the holiness of God. This holy hush comes upon a man when he is confronted by the absolute purity of a holy God.

The Hebrew term that Zechariah used in this verse is הָסָה hasa, and it is a good example of Biblical onomatopoeia, a term for a figure of speech that mimics a natural sound. “Ugh!” is an English example since it sounds very similar to a grunt. Notice that this Hebrew term hasa sounds very much like our similar English interjection, “Hush!” The prophet Zechariah proclaimed in a very stark, vivid way to “hush” before the Lord, because He is raised up out of His holy habitation.

The same term is used in Numbers 13:30 when Caleb hushed (“stilled”) the murmurings of the disbelieving multitude and urged them to trust the Lord, to believe His promises, and to “go up at once, and possess it [the land]; for we are well able to overcome it.”

The Hebrew command to hush is used elsewhere to remind us to keep silence in the presence of the Holy One. The prophet Habakkuk used language very similar to that of Zechariah when he stated, “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

The holy presence of God in Isaiah Chapter 6 subdued the prophet Isaiah into silence. Isaiah beheld a vision of the Lord high and lifted up. According to Isaiah 6:3, he heard the six-winged seraphim chanting, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” In response, the prophet cried out: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (verse 5).

The prophet Daniel had a similar experience after an encounter with the holy Lord. One day along the bank of the river Hiddekel, Daniel saw “a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5–6). Daniel testified a few verses later (verse 15) of his response to such a scene and to the voice, “I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb.”

Likewise, Job was silenced before the holiness and majesty of Jehovah when the Lord asked him a series of questions concerning great mysteries. According to Job 40:4, he humbly and wisely responded, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.”

All these men of God were hushed when they encountered the holiness of God. The Apostle Peter was a man who was prone to speak his mind on numerous occasions. He boldly confessed Christ Jesus as “the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), but there were other occasions when he spoke when instead he should have been silent. One such occasion happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. After beholding a transformed, glorious Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah, Peter quickly commented about a need for three tabernacles. After Peter spoke, a voice came from an overshadowing cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Mark 9:7). Peter needed to close his mouth and open his ears! He needed to hush in the presence of the holiness of Christ.

Have you learned the patience of being silent in the presence of God? Do your children ever observe you sitting silently in God’s presence during family worship or even possibly see you in your time alone with Him? When you go to church to worship God, do you spend every available free minute chatting with your friends, or do you slip into your pew a few minutes before the start of the service to quiet your soul in preparation for worship? In the early morning, do you turn on the television or the radio to hear the news, or do you allow the Lord to speak to you in the quiet, still hours of the dawn?

There is certainly a time to sing, as well! The Bible commands us on certain occasions to “shout” and to “make a joyful noise” unto the Lord. But understand that there are also times that we need to hush. Be still and be silent in the glorious, magnificent presence of the Holy One in His holy habitation.

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

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