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, ESV)!
On God’s Top Ten list, the very first rule, the commandment that earns the #1 spot, states who He 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 Church has lost this high and exalted view of God. We’ve grown so cozy with God that we forget who He really is. We have embraced the comfort of His nearness and ignored His holiness. We have emphasized the security of His love at the expense of His transcendence. God is not “the man upstairs.” He’s not a mild, old codger 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 right view of God. One of the clearest pictures in all of Scripture is found in Isaiah 6. 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.
Do you want to know what God is really like? God is infinite holiness—immeasurable, unalterable, unfathomable holiness. Isaiah wrote, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). Seated. Not pacing back and forth. Not wringing His hands. Not struggling or searching. He was seated, settled, secure, certain. Why? Because He is in absolute control.
And standing above the seated God are the seraphim who serve Him. Picture two lines of angels, one on either side of the King, calling back and forth in an unceasing, antiphonal chorus. Think of all the words they could say about God. They could call out, “Merciful, merciful, merciful God!” or “Loving, loving, loving God!” But the words God chose to be spoken about Him, in His presence, for all time, are of His holiness. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Through countless eons of time and even at this exact moment, the angels are calling out God’s holiness.
When the Hebrew people want to emphasize a word, they repeat it. If someone fell into a pit, that would be one thing, but if it were a deep pit, they would call it a “pit pit.” Nowhere else in all of Scripture is an attribute repeated three times. Only this and only of God: He is “holy, holy, holy.”
And the smoke rose quickly to veil Isaiah’s vision lest he be consumed in an instant by the moral worthiness, by the utter terror, by the majestic purity and power, by the unsearchable, unspeakable, infinite holiness of the triune God.
For when we grasp who God is, as the first commandment tells us to do, we see something else clearly too: our sinfulness. God’s infinite holiness casts our dirty sinfulness into stark relief. You cannot gaze upon the holiness of God without being overcome. 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 literally, “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,” begins verse 6, a little transition word full of hope. 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.
This post originally appeared on Dr. James MacDonald’s daily devotional Our Journey and was republished with permission.
James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, leads the church-planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship, teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio and television programs, and is a gifted author and speaker. You can find out more about James and his ministries at WalkintheWord.org.