by Ken Green
“And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’ ” (Isaiah 6:3)!
The very first rule, the commandment that earns the #1 spot, states who God is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2–3).
The world and much of the church have lost sight of this high and exalted view of God. We’ve grown cozy with God. We forget who He really is. We embrace the comfort of His nearness and ignore the fearfulness of His holiness. We emphasize the security of His love at the expense of His transcendence.
God is not “the man upstairs.” He’s not a mild, old grandfatherly type with a white beard. God dwells in unapproachable light. The Bible teaches that no one can see God and live. He is high and lifted up. He is ineffable glory.
We need a realistic view of God. Isaiah 6 helps us get it. God gave Isaiah a glimpse, just a glimpse, of who He is, and the prophet fell flat on his face. That singular experience marked Isaiah’s whole life, and his vision is one we desperately need today.
God is infinite holiness — immeasurable, unalterable, unfathomable, ineffable holiness. Isaiah wrote, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). He is seated. He is not pacing back and forth. He is not wringing His hands. He is not struggling or searching. He is seated, settled, secure, certain. Why? Because He is in absolute control.
And standing above are the seraphim who serve Him. They are calling back and forth in an unceasing, antiphonal chorus. They could call out, “Merciful, merciful, merciful God!” or “Loving, loving, loving God!” But the words God chose to be spoken about Him are of His holiness. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
When the Hebrew people want to emphasize a word, they repeat it. Nowhere else in all of Scripture is an attribute repeated three times. Only this and only of God: He is “holy, holy, holy.”
The smoke rose quickly to veil Isaiah’s vision lest he be consumed in an instant by the moral perfection, the utter terror, the majestic power, and the unsearchable, unspeakable, infinite holiness of God.
When we grasp who God is, we also see our sinfulness. God’s infinite holiness casts our dirty sinfulness into stark relief. Isaiah was broken by this. “Woe is me!” he cried “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” (Isaiah 6:5)! The phrase means, “I’m dead. Done for. Silenced.
Bankrupt. Ruined.” Before the holiness of Almighty God, we realize how unclean we are.
How tragic if the story ended there. But once Isaiah saw God for who He really is, the poor prophet was primed for mercy. Then one of the seraphim flew to Isaiah, lifted a burning coal to his lips, and purged him of sin. We are only prepared to receive and comprehend the grace of God when we have understood His infinite holiness and our filthy sinfulness. Any presentation of the gospel that leaves that out is incomplete. It’s the holiness of God that casts us upon His mercy. Only when we have a right view of the holy God do we begin to see clearly.