The Severity of God's Holiness: Wrath Deserved

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In Isaiah 6:1-5, we read:

(1) In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (2) 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. (3) And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (4) And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (5) And I said: “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!”

I hope that the meaning of this passage permeates your life. Upon seeing God, Isaiah notices two things:

  1. God’s holiness. The majesty of God filled the temple, and angels proclaimed the glory the holy God. Often, we think of God as this aged man, sitting on a throne, somewhat feeble. Behold the Ancient of Days; He is anything but this decrepit figment of our depraved imagination. Diametrically opposed to this view, He is glorious and holy! Society’s miniscule command of the lexicon has dulled our understanding of so many words. Chiefly, we forget the importance of the word “holy.” Shall we continue to anesthetize ourselves to God’s chief attribute? The seraphim are even emphasizing it, repeating it three times, the Hebrew analogue of boldface! Let’s begin to delve into the meaning of “holy.” To be holy means to be set-apart. The ramifications of such a statement should astound us. Piper says, “God’s holiness is his infinite value as the absolutely unique, morally perfect, permanent person that he is, who by grace made himself accessible in Jesus Christ.”
  2. The human condition. To understand the holiness of God equips us to understand the righteousness of God. “God’s passion for his holiness is greater than his passion for you,” Piper continues. Anything that is unrighteous, namely fallen creation, deserves the omnipotent, holy, righteous wrath of the Sovereign God. Furthermore, when faced with the glory of God, we should feel our utter wretchedness. Isaiah understands this as he cries out, “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!” Not only does Isaiah have unclean lips, but he also dwells in the midst of those with unclean lips. Without first understanding that our sin is primarily about our relationship with the Holy God, we will never understand who we are. We, like Isaiah, are sinful, and we are mired in sin. Our unclean lips our just an outpouring of our hearts, hardened and cold to our God. Not only are we are dead in our transgressions, but we are also in the midst of so many corpses that the stench of death is now commonplace. We are ambivalent to our condition.

Observe the glory of God’s mercy in Isaiah 6:6,7:

(6) Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that
he had taken with tongs from the altar. (7) And he touched my mouth and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin
atoned for.”

Oh, great and glorious is our God, but we would be hopeless before a Holy God if he were not merciful. All people should see Isaiah as an example and cry out to God for mercy. “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30, 31). Isaiah later proclaims, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah
55:6). I pray that you listen to a man who has been in the presence of our Holy God and lived. Isaiah later gives us hope, “[L]et the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).