1, 2. What vision did the prophet Isaiah receive, and what does it teach us about Jehovah?
ISAIAH was overcome with awe at the scene before him—a vision from God. It seemed so real! Isaiah later wrote that he actually “got to see Jehovah” on His lofty throne. Jehovah’s flowing raiment filled the huge temple in Jerusalem.—Isaiah 6:1, 2.
2 Isaiah was also awed by what he heard—singing so powerful that it shook the temple to its very foundations. The song was coming from seraphs, spirit creatures of very high rank. Their mighty harmony rang out in words of simple majesty: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies. The fullness of all the earth is his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3, 4) Singing the word “holy” three times gave it special emphasis, and rightly so, for Jehovah is holy to the superlative degree. (Revelation 4:8) Jehovah’s holiness is emphasized throughout the Bible. Hundreds of verses associate his name with the words “holy” and “holiness.”
3. How do mistaken views of Jehovah’s holiness lead many to turn away from God instead of drawing close to him?
3 Clearly, then, one of the primary things that Jehovah wants us to grasp about him is that he is holy. Yet, many today are put off by the very idea. Some mistakenly associate holiness with self-righteousness or false piety. People who struggle with a negative view of themselves may find God’s holiness more daunting than appealing. They may fear that they could never be worthy of drawing close to this holy God. Hence, many turn away from God because of his holiness. That is sad, for God’s holiness is really a compelling reason for drawing close to him. Why? Before we answer that question, let us discuss what true holiness is.
What Is Holiness?
4, 5. (a) What does holiness mean, and what does it not mean? (b) In what two important ways is Jehovah “separate”?
4 That God is holy does not mean that he is smug, haughty, or disdainful of others. On the contrary, he hates such qualities. (Proverbs 16:5; James 4:6) So, what does the word “holy” really mean? In Biblical Hebrew, the word is derived from a term meaning “separate.” In worship, “holy” applies to that which is separated from common use, or held sacred. Holiness also strongly conveys the idea of cleanness and purity. How does this word apply to Jehovah? Does it mean that he is “separate” from imperfect humans, far removed from us?
5 Not at all. As “the Holy One of Israel,” Jehovah described himself as dwelling “in the midst of” his people, sinful though they were. (Isaiah 12:6; Hosea 11:9) So his holiness does not make him distant. How, then, is he “separate”? In two important ways. First, he is separate from all creation in that he alone is the Most High. His purity, his cleanness, is absolute and infinite. (Psalm 40:5; 83:18) Second, Jehovah is entirely separated from all sinfulness, and that is a comforting thought. Why?
6. Why can we find comfort in Jehovah’s absolute separation from sinfulness?
6 We live in a world where true holiness is a rarity. Everything about human society alienated from God is polluted in some way, tainted with sin and imperfection. We all have to war against the sin within us. And all of us are in danger of being overcome by sin if we let down our guard. (Romans 7:15-25; 1 Corinthians 10:12) Jehovah is in no such danger. Completely removed from sinfulness, he will never be tainted by the slightest trace of sin. This reaffirms our impression of Jehovah as the ideal Father, for it means that he is completely reliable. Unlike many sinful human fathers, Jehovah will never turn corrupt, dissolute, or abusive. His holiness makes any such thing quite impossible. Jehovah has on occasion even sworn oaths by his own holiness, for nothing could be more trustworthy. (Amos 4:2) Is that not reassuring?
7. Why can it be said that holiness is intrinsic to Jehovah’s nature?
7 Holiness is intrinsic to Jehovah’s very nature. What does that mean? To illustrate: Consider the words “man” and “imperfect.” You cannot describe the former without invoking the latter. Imperfection pervades us and colors everything we do. Now consider two very different words—“Jehovah” and “holy.” Holiness pervades Jehovah. Everything about him is clean, pure, and upright. We cannot get to know Jehovah as he really is without coming to grips with this profound word—“holy.”
“Holiness Belongs to Jehovah”
8, 9. What shows that Jehovah helps imperfect humans to become holy in a relative sense?
8 Since Jehovah embodies the quality of holiness, it may rightly be said that he is the source of all holiness. He does not selfishly hoard this precious quality; he imparts it to others, and he does so generously. Why, when God spoke to Moses through an angel at the burning bush, even the surrounding ground became holy as a result of its connection with Jehovah!—Exodus 3:5.
9 Can imperfect humans become holy with Jehovah’s help? Yes, in a relative sense. God gave his people Israel the prospect of becoming “a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) He blessed that nation with a system of worship that was holy, clean, pure. Holiness is thus a recurring theme of the Mosaic Law. In fact, the high priest wore a golden plate across the front of his turban, where all could see it glittering in the light. Engraved upon it were the words: “Holiness belongs to Jehovah.” (Exodus 28:36) So a high standard of cleanness and purity was to distinguish their worship and, indeed, their way of life. Jehovah told them: “You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) As long as the Israelites lived by God’s counsel to the extent possible for imperfect humans, they were holy in a relative sense.
10. When it came to holiness, what contrast existed between ancient Israel and the surrounding nations?
10 This emphasis on holiness was in stark contrast with the worship of the nations surrounding Israel. Those pagan nations worshiped gods whose very existence was a lie and a sham, gods who were portrayed as violent, greedy, and promiscuous. They were unholy in every possible sense. The worship of such gods made people unholy. Thus, Jehovah warned his servants to keep separate from pagan worshipers and their polluted religious practices.—Leviticus 18:24-28; 1 Kings 11:1, 2.
11. How is the holiness of Jehovah’s heavenly organization evident in (a) the angels? (b) the seraphs? (c) Jesus?
11 At its best, Jehovah’s chosen nation of ancient Israel could provide only a dim reflection of the holiness of God’s heavenly organization. The millions of spirit creatures who loyally serve God are referred to as his “holy myriads.” (Deuteronomy 33:2; Jude 14) They perfectly reflect the bright, pure beauty of God’s holiness. And remember the seraphs that Isaiah saw in his vision. The content of their song suggests that these mighty spirit creatures play an important role in making Jehovah’s holiness known throughout the universe. One spirit creature, though, is above all of these—the only-begotten Son of God. Jesus is the highest reflection of Jehovah’s holiness. Rightly, he is known as “the Holy One of God.”—John 6:68, 69.
Holy Name, Holy Spirit
12, 13. (a) Why is God’s name aptly described as holy? (b) Why must God’s name be sanctified?
12 What about God’s own name? As we saw in Chapter 1, that name is no mere title or label. It represents Jehovah God, embracing all his qualities. Hence, the Bible tells us that his “name is holy.” (Isaiah 57:15) The Mosaic Law made it a capital offense to profane God’s name. (Leviticus 24:16) And note what Jesus made the first priority in prayer: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9) To sanctify something means to set it apart as sacred and to revere it, to uphold it as holy. But why would something as intrinsically pure as God’s own name need to be sanctified?
13 God’s holy name has been impugned, besmirched with lies and slander. In Eden, Satan lied about Jehovah and implied that He is an unjust Sovereign. (Genesis 3:1-5) Since then, Satan—the ruler of this unholy world—has made sure that lies about God have proliferated. (John 8:44; 12:31; Revelation 12:9) Religions have painted God as arbitrary, remote, or cruel. They have claimed to have his backing in their bloodthirsty wars. The credit for God’s marvelous acts of creation has often been given to blind chance, or evolution. Yes, God’s name has been viciously maligned. It must be sanctified; its rightful glory must be restored. We long for the sanctification of his name and the vindication of his sovereignty, and we delight to play any part in that grand purpose.
14. Why is God’s spirit called holy, and why is blaspheming the holy spirit so serious?
14 There is something else intimately associated with Jehovah that is almost invariably called holy—his spirit, or active force. (Genesis 1:2) Jehovah uses this irresistible force to accomplish his purposes. All that God does, he carries out in a holy, pure, and clean way, so his active force is well named holy spirit, or spirit of holiness. (Luke 11:13; Romans 1:4) Blaspheming the holy spirit, which involves deliberately working against Jehovah’s purposes, constitutes an unforgivable sin.—Mark 3:29.
Why Jehovah’s Holiness Draws Us to Him
15. Why is having godly fear a fitting response to Jehovah’s holiness, and what does such fear involve?
15 It is not hard to see, then, why the Bible makes a connection between the holiness of God and godly fear on the part of man. For example, Psalm 99:3 reads: “Let them laud your name. Great and fear-inspiring, holy it is.” This fear, though, is not a morbid dread. Rather, it is a profound sense of reverential awe, respect in its most ennobling form. It is fitting to feel that way, since God’s holiness is so far above us. It is brilliantly clean, glorious. Still, it should not repel us. On the contrary, a proper view of God’s holiness will draw us closer to him. Why?
As beauty attracts us, so should holiness
16. (a) How is holiness associated with beauty? Give an example. (b) How do visionary descriptions of Jehovah emphasize cleanness, purity, and light?
16 For one thing, the Bible associates holiness with beauty. At Isaiah 63:15, heaven is described as God’s “lofty abode of holiness and beauty.” Beauty attracts us. For example, look at the picture on page 33. Are you not drawn to that scene? What makes it so appealing? Note how pure the water looks. Even the air must be clean, for the sky is blue and the light seems to sparkle. Now, if that same scene was altered—the stream clogged with garbage, the trees and rocks defaced with graffiti, the air befouled with smog—we would no longer be attracted to it; we would be repelled. We naturally associate beauty with cleanness, purity, and light. These same words can be used to describe Jehovah’s holiness. No wonder that visionary descriptions of Jehovah enthrall us! Beaming with light, dazzling as gemstones, glowing like fire or the purest and brightest precious metals—such is the beauty of our holy God.—Ezekiel 1:25-28; Revelation 4:2, 3.
17, 18. (a) How was Isaiah initially affected by his vision? (b) How did Jehovah use a seraph to comfort Isaiah, and what was the significance of the seraph’s action?
17 However, should God’s holiness make us feel inferior by comparison? The answer, of course, is yes. After all, we are inferior to Jehovah—and that is an understatement of epic proportions. Should knowing that alienate us from him? Consider Isaiah’s reaction upon hearing the seraphs proclaim Jehovah’s holiness. “I proceeded to say: ‘Woe to me! For I am as good as brought to silence, because a man unclean in lips I am, and in among a people unclean in lips I am dwelling; for my eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of armies, himself!’” (Isaiah 6:5) Yes, Jehovah’s infinite holiness reminded Isaiah of how sinful and imperfect he was. Initially, that faithful man was devastated. But Jehovah did not leave him in that state.
18 A seraph promptly consoled the prophet. How? The mighty spirit flew to the altar, took a coal from it, and touched the coal to Isaiah’s lips. That may sound more painful than comforting. Remember, though, that this was a vision, rich in symbolic meaning. Isaiah, a faithful Jew, well knew that sacrifices were offered daily at the temple altar to make atonement for sins. And the seraph lovingly reminded the prophet that although he was indeed imperfect, “unclean in lips,” he could still come into a clean standing before God.* Jehovah was willing to view an imperfect, sinful man as holy—at least in a relative sense.—Isaiah 6:6, 7.
19. How is it possible for us to be holy in a relative sense, imperfect though we are?
19 The same holds true today. All those sacrifices offered on the altar in Jerusalem were only shadows of something greater—the one perfect sacrifice, offered up by Jesus Christ in 33 C.E. (Hebrews 9:11-14) If we truly repent of our sins, correct our wrong course, and exercise faith in that sacrifice, we are forgiven. (1 John 2:2) We too can enjoy a clean standing before God. Thus, the apostle Peter reminds us: “It is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:16) Note that Jehovah did not say that we must be as holy as he is. He never expects the impossible from us. (Psalm 103:13, 14) Rather, Jehovah tells us to be holy because he is holy. “As beloved children,” we seek to imitate him to the best of our ability as imperfect humans. (Ephesians 5:1) So achieving holiness is an ongoing process. As we grow spiritually, we work at “perfecting holiness” day by day.—2 Corinthians 7:1.
20. (a) Why is it important to understand that we can be clean in the eyes of our holy God? (b) How was Isaiah affected when he learned that his sins had been atoned for?
20 Jehovah loves what is upright and pure. He hates sin. (Habakkuk 1:13) But he does not hate us. As long as we view sin as he does—hating what is bad, loving what is good—and strive to follow in Christ Jesus’ perfect footsteps, Jehovah forgives our sins. (Amos 5:15; 1 Peter 2:21) When we understand that we can be clean in the eyes of our holy God, the effects are profound. Remember, Jehovah’s holiness at first reminded Isaiah of his own uncleanness. He cried out: “Woe to me!” But once he understood that his sins had been atoned for, his outlook changed. When Jehovah asked for a volunteer to carry out an assignment, Isaiah promptly responded, although he did not even know what would be involved. He exclaimed: “Here I am! Send me.”—Isaiah 6:5-8.
21. What basis do we have for confidence that we can cultivate the quality of holiness?
21 We are made in the image of the holy God, endowed with moral qualities and the capacity for spirituality. (Genesis 1:26) There is a potential for holiness within us all. As we continue to cultivate holiness, Jehovah is happy to help. In the process, we will draw ever closer to our holy God. Further, as we consider Jehovah’s qualities in the chapters to come, we will see that there are many powerful reasons for drawing close to him!