Holy is His Name
Text: Psalm 99
Near the end of his life, Joshua delivered a farewell speech to the people of Israel. “"Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." So the people answered and said: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God." But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good." And the people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD!" So Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him." And they said, "We are witnesses!" "Now therefore," he said, "put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel." And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!"” (Joshua 24:14-24).
Is it not odd that after the people declared that they would serve God because of the things God has done for them that Joshua responds “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God.” What is it about holiness that makes God so difficult to serve?
The word “holy” translates a Hebrew word referring to something or someone dedicated to the service of a god. In the ancient world of idolatry, people did not associate moral ideas with holiness. Immoral people could be serve a god and they would still be called holy people. For example, if you look up the literal translation of “temple prostitute” found in Genesis 38:21 and I Kings 14:24, you would find that the phrase is actually “holy woman” and “holy man” respectively. The fact that prostitution was wrong rarely crossed the pagan’s mind.
However, when the Bible applies holiness to God and His people, it is used in a different sense. For example, when God is declared to be holy, as in Isaiah 57:15 or I Peter 1:16, it cannot mean that God is dedicated to Himself; that just would not make sense. Holy does include dedication when it is applied to people and things, but it involves more that mere dedication. Holiness also means holding something or someone as extra special. God said He selected the people of Israel to be a holy nation (Deuteronomy 7:6). Being holy, Moses said God “will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the LORD your God, just as He has spoken” (Deuteronomy 26:19).
But God also valued righteousness as a part of holiness. “The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9). God told Israel that righteous action on their part would cause them to become a holy people.
God’s righteous acts declare that He alone is truly holy (Revelation 15:4). Therefore, if we are to treat God as holy (to hallow Him), we must do it through righteous living. “God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16).
Perhaps you can grasp the idea of holiness by looking at the word which has the opposite meaning, “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (Leviticus 10:10). The word translated here as “unholy” is the Hebrew word for “profane.” “Profane” means to pollute or treat something as common and of no value. When people throw trash down in a park, they are polluting it – they act as if the park as having no more value than a garbage dump. When God warn Israel not to profane His name (Leviticus 22:32), He is saying that He will not be treated as if He is just another in a long list of gods. That is why Joshua warned the people repeatedly not to serve other gods. If they did so, they would be treating God as a common household idol. There would be no distinction between the real God and the fake idols.
People can profane God’s name by breaking God’s law. “Lest I be full and deny You, and say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:9). People break rules all the time. Just ask your parents or your teachers how often you have ignored what they have asked of you. I’m sure you would get an ear full of examples. But consider this: would God be treated as someone special if we treated His rules just like we treated any other rule?
Holiness is making a distinction between what is special and what is ordinary. It was a failure to make a distinction that caused God to be angry with Israel. “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:26).
If you ever look at Hebrew or Greek as it was originally written, you would quickly realize that they did not have punctuation marks in their languages. When we want something noticed, we will write it in bold or underline it or put it in italics to make the reader notice the words. In older languages, repeating things served the same function as emphasizing the text. Read Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 and notice how the angels address God. He is not just holy, He is not just extra holy (holy, holy), He is extra-extra holy (holy, holy, holy). One commentator said that by using holy three times in a row, the angels are saying that God is infinitely holy.
1. Why are some parts of our language known as profanity? How are some of these words or phrases profane?
2. Why would making and worshiping an image of God profane God? See Isaiah 17:7-8 and explain this passage.
3. Can an unholy person treat God as holy? Why?
4. Can the way we approach worshiping God impact whether we view God as holy?
5. See Leviticus 11:44-45. Peter quotes this verse in I Peter 1:14-16. What is Peter’s point?
6. Read Psalm 99 again. What is it about God that makes Him holy?
• Find songs that speak of God’s holiness. Ask some of the boys in the class to lead a song.
• Create a poster that would explain the idea of holiness to others.