In Isaiah 6:3 we read that seraphim in the heavenly temple cried out “Holy, holy, holy is YHWH of hosts – the whole earth is full of His glory”. Then, in Revelation 4:8, we find four strange beasts declaring day and night, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord GOD Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”. These two passages are the only places in Scripture where we see YHWH called holy with a triple exclamation. In fact, no other attribute is declared in triple form like this. Clearly He is the Holy one! But that begs the question – what is meant by “holy”?
The dictionary tells us that holy means:
1 Dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred.
1.1 (of a person) devoted to the service of God.
1.2 Morally and spiritually excellent.
Although these definitions are true, I personally don’t think they fully explain, or fit exactly, with the Scriptural use of the word. I think most christians who use the word have these definitions in mind – in particular, to be morally and spiritually excellent, when speaking of YHWH’s holiness. I agree that those definitions are part of YHWH’s character, but wouldn’t righteousness be the word to explain that? All that YHWH is and does is morally and spiritually right, and without sin He is totally righteous!
I believe there is more to the definition of holy. In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is the word “qodesh/קדוש” that is used. Aside from the definitions above, qodesh has the meaning of separateness/apartness, which we can put together as being set apart. The Greek word used for holy has the same meanings behind it.
YHWH is holy above all else – He is set apart from all things and entities! He is not simply better than His creation, but totally above it. He is truly set apart.
That brings us to an interesting phrase that many would know, from 1 Peter 1:16 “… Be ye holy; for I am holy.” As I see this now, this is saying that we (believers) are to be set apart just as He is set apart. But, set apart from what? The world! We are not of this world anymore. We are a new creation now, and we are to be set apart from the world’s way of thinking and the world’s way of doing things, just as v15 says, “… so be ye holy in all manner of [behaviour].”
Something that many seem to miss at the beginning of the verse in 1 Peter 1:16, are the words “it is written”. You see, Peter is actually quoting this from the “Old Testament” Scriptures. To be more precise, he is quoting from the book of Leviticus – perhaps one of the least read OT books by most christians. It is generally considered outdated in christianity because these laws and instructions have been supposedly removed by the Messiah. I don’t think Peter thought so!
There are five times that YHWH tells us to be “holy as He is holy” in Leviticus (11:44 & 45, 19:2, 20:7 & 26). Some of the subjects that surround these commands are surprising. The most common theme found in the context is referring to clean and unclean animals (three times). Really!? Are we to be set apart even by what we eat? Apparently so!
In Deuteronomy 26:16-19 we read that the law, as given in the five books of the Torah, are the way we are to live holy lives. It is YHWH’s instructions on living that truly sets us apart from the world around us. We don’t have to, nor should we, make up differences of our own choosing to set us apart. We are told how we are to live and our choice is whether to believe and follow – or not.
Finally, it is worth considering the opposite to holy. If we are to be holy/set apart, then what is it that we need to avoid? Well, the opposite to “holy” is “profane”, and profane means “common and ordinary”. When we conduct ourselves no differently to the common, ordinary people in the world around us, what are we saying about our GOD? We are making Him look common and ordinary too! But remember: YHWH our GOD is set apart from all else. He is holy, holy, holy!!
“And you shall be holy unto Me: for I, YHWH am holy, and have severed you from other people, that you should be mine.”