STUDY 4: THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Note: There is a study here - http://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/knowing-god/1204-the-holy-one.html - that looks at God as ‘the holy one’ in a wide range of texts from both Old and New Testaments.

We have already seen in Isaiah’s vision that God is holy – indeed he is ‘holy, holy, holy’, that is, exceedingly holy. This is one of the main themes of Isaiah’s message.  The impression of that vision remained with him right through his ministry - he repeatedly refers to God as ‘the Holy One of Israel’, and, less frequently, ‘the Holy One’.  This divine title occurs elsewhere only in three Psalms and twice in Jeremiah. It is apparent that Isaiah’s vision of the holy God deeply impacted him, and remained forever embedded in his heart and mind. God, for Isaiah, is ‘the Holy One’, ‘the Holy One of Israel’.


A.    THE MEANING OF ‘HOLY’

Before we look at what Isaiah says about ‘the Holy One of Israel’ we need to understand what ‘holy’ means.

In popular, contemporary, thinking ‘holy’ means something like ‘very, very good’ in a moral sense. The word is assumed to be about morals and ethics. While morals/ethics are involved they are not the focus of the word ‘holy’. The essential meaning concerns separateness. What is ‘holy’ is ‘separate’ – distinct from everything else. Unique. One of a kind. Not one of many. Not ordinary. Not common. Not for common use.

Thus:

God is holy - Hebrew qadosh – there is no one else and nothing else like him.

And, because God is ‘holy’, everything that belongs to God is also ‘holy’ (Hebrew qodesh) – in that it is set apart/dedicated by God for his own unique use and purpose. It is no longer ‘ordinary’, no longer for ‘common’ use.

Check these verses and identify what made a person or object ‘holy’ (sacred). Was it a moral/ethical quality, or was it being consecrated/dedicated by God for his special use and purpose?
Exodus 28:41; 29:21

Exodus 29:37

Exodus 30:10

Exodus 30:22-33

Exodus 30:34-38

Commenting on Isaiah 6:3 EJ Young wrote:

‘As used here, qadosh signifies the entirety of the divine perfection which separates God from His creation. God is the Creator who exists in absolute independence of the creature. He is the Lord, and not a man. Although the creation depends upon Him, He Himself is entirely independent thereof. This is the heart and core of Isaiah’s theology. Also included in the word holy is an ethical element, the thought of complete freedom and separation from what is sinful. The prophet seems to acknowledge this when in reaction to the cry he confesses his own sinfulness and unworthiness. The One upon the throne is God, who exists distinct from and in complete independence from those whom He has created, and from all His creation. He is also One whose eyes are purer than to behold iniquity, and who will in no wise clear the guilty.’ (EJ Young p242f).

Somehow or other we need to deliberately change our thinking every time we see the word ‘holy’ – we have to stop ourselves thinking it refers to only a moral quality, and refocus on its essential meaning of ‘separateness’. In relation to God, ‘holy’ means that there is absolutely no other ‘god’, nor anything else in the whole universe, that is like him. He is absolutely and utterly unique. This uniqueness is contained in God’s self-description in Deuteronomy 6:4:

‘Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’

In the context of the syncretism and idolatry of Judah and Israel this one truth – that God is ‘the Holy One’ – is extremely important.


B.    ‘HOLY’ MEANS THAT GOD IS THE ONLY GOD

As already indicated, the key element in holiness is separateness, uniqueness. Not only is there no other God like God, there actually is no other God. God is one-of-a-kind. He does not belong to a group of things called ‘god’.

This is a key concept in Isaiah.

B.1 God is the only God
Isaiah has no doubt that God alone is God.

Study these verses. How do they express the truth that God is the only God?
41:10-13

 

44:6-8

 

45:4-7

 

45:18-25

 

46:8-10

 

B.2 God is absolutely different from idols
Yet there are objects and concepts that people call ‘gods’, worshipping them and serving them as if they were of the same kind as God. [Note that the term ‘idol’ is generally used to refer to a man-made physical object which people worship as God. While this definition of ‘idol’ is true, we should not lose sight of the fact that there are also non-physical idols – ‘gods’ (concepts of ‘god’) – created and defined by human minds that are just as surely human substitutes for the true God as any physical idol. It is probably true to say that every human being has an idolatrous concept of ‘god’ – whether created by human hands or by human minds – until they are confronted by the one true God.]

Check these Isaiah references. Describe the contrast between God and idols.
2:8

 

41:7

 

40:18-20

 

41:21-29

 

44:9-20

 

46:1-7

 

For deeper thought
It is often said ‘there’s only one God and all roads lead to God’. This statement is usually made in the context of multi-culturalism, ‘tolerance’ and non-discrimination, and multi-faith ecumenism. Similarly, it is also said that ‘God’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ are simply Christian terms for what other religions term Allah, Krishna, Shiva and so on. In other words, they are simply different ways of referring to the same religious entity.

[1] From the verses in B.1 and B.2 above, explain:
[1a] What is unbiblical about ‘all roads lead to God’?

 


[1b] What is unbiblical about the belief that the gods of other religions are the same as the God of the Bible, but using different names?

 

 

[2] How does Isaiah’s affirmation of the utter uniqueness of God stand in contrast to and conflict with the contemporary secular mindset?

 

 

[3] What difficulties does this generate for you as a 21st century Christian?

 

 

[4] Importantly, how can you be sure that your ‘God’ [your concept of God] is indeed this holy, one-of-a-kind God so clearly revealed in Isaiah, and not a counterfeit concept of God created by your own imagination?

 

 

[5] How does the existence of multiple and varied ‘god concepts’ all around the globe confirm that the one true God does exist? [Hints: (1) Think in terms of ‘counterfeit’ – the existence of a ‘counterfeit’ is evidence of the existence of the real thing. No one counterfeits a $75 note! (2) Think of the human history recorded in Genesis 1 to 11: there was true knowledge of the true God in Genesis 1 and 2; this knowledge was corrupted in Genesis 3; when the inhabitants of the earth were scattered in Genesis 11, that corrupted, knowledge of God was taken all over the world. People everywhere have a residual awareness of a powerful, personal, supernatural being(s) – even when they are intent on denying his existence.]

 

 

 

C.    ‘HOLY’ MEANS THAT GOD IS INCOMPARABLE

There is simply no one and nothing like God. Any comparison, any attempt to liken God to something else, inevitably falls short. In Isaiah 40 two questions are asked:

‘To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?’ [verse 18]
‘ “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.’ [verse 25]

And twice the question is asked ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard?’ [verses 21, 28]

Isaiah 40:12-31 expresses amazement at the deep ignorance of God evident in Isaiah’s hearers. It is an incongruous ignorance – an ignorance that should not have existed, an ignorance totally at odds with God’s historic revelation of himself to his people in word and in action from the very beginning of their history. While other nations had not had the benefit of God’s intentional revelation of himself through history and through proclamation, Israel and Judah ought to have known what God was like. They ought to have lived with a constant awareness of his power, his sovereignty, his utter holiness. They ought to have known that he was far above comparison with any so-called ‘god’, with any political power, with any element of the created world.

Read Isaiah 40:12-31. From these verses what do you learn about God’s

Incomparable power and strength


Incomparable wisdom


Incomparable significance


Incomparable sovereignty


 Incomparable creative, sustaining energy


Rather than anything or anyone being comparable to God, everything and everyone else can only be contrasted to him:

God is uncreated: all else is created.
God is independent: all else is dependent.
God is self-existing: all else is derived.
God is uncaused: all else is caused.

These and similar thoughts, however, are best addressed in the next study: The LORD Almighty.

 

D.    THE PRACTICAL RELEVANCE OF GOD’S HOLINESS

Isaiah refers to God as ‘the Holy One of Israel’ in several clear contexts:

D.1 In relation to the sin of Israel.
It is ‘the Holy One of Israel’ against whom Israel has sinned. This highlights two things: [1] the incongruity of sin in the presence of such a Holy God, and [2] the incongruity of the people of Israel sinning when their historic relationship to this Holy God is considered.

‘Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt,
      a brood of evil doers, children given to corruption!
    They have forsaken the LORD;
      they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
       and turned their backs on him.’ [1:4]

It is precisely because God is ‘the Holy One of Israel’ that Israel’s sin incurs such scathing condemnation right through the Old Testament. Who, in their right mind, would forsake, spurn and turn their backs on the God who is the only God? Who in their right mind would substitute man-made gods for the one, true God?

If God was just one among many gods then which ‘god’ to serve is merely a matter of human choice. If God was a mere man-made object or concept, then it would not matter at all which of these ‘gods’ a person decided to worship. But the holiness of God, the fact that he is the only God, makes forsaking him for something else that is called ‘god’, an incredibly foolish and irrational choice.

To forsake God, is to demonstrate that any previous claim to knowledge of God was false, and that any claim to faith in God was also false. No one, really knowing, really believing in this God, would forsake him.

Study these verses from Isaiah. Explain the incongruity between the fact that God is ‘the Holy One of Israel’ and the sin and faithlessness of the people.
5:18-25


30:6-16
 

31:1-3

D.2 In relation to mercy and redemption.
Yet it is also precisely because God is the Holy One of Israel that he promises to act towards them in mercy and redemption:

‘“Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
       O little Israel,
       for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
       your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.’ [41:14]
    ‘so that people may see and know,
     may consider and understand,
     that the hand of the LORD has done this,
     that the Holy One of Israel has created it.’ [41:20]

Study these texts from Isaiah. Identify the acts of correction, redemption and restoration that the Holy One of Israel undertakes for his people.
30:15

 

43:3-6

 

43:14,15

 

45:11-13

 

48:17

 

54:5-7

 

55:5

 

60:9,14

 

Did you notice that the basis for these redemptive acts is not any merit in Israel? If human merit was the cause, then there would be no redemption, no restoration. God’s redemptive acts are an expression of who he is in himself: because he is ‘the Holy One of Israel’, because he is the sovereign LORD, because he is the Creator, the Redeemer, these are the things that he does.

D.3 In relation to repentance.
When Israel comes to a place of repentance, it will be to the Holy One of Israel that they turn, and in him again will they glory.

    ‘they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob,
     and will stand in awe of the God of Israel’ [29:23b].

Study these texts from Isaiah. How do they express the truth that true repentance is (a forsaking of all other so-called ‘gods’, and) a turning or returning to the one true God, the Holy One of Israel?
10:20

 

17:7,8

 

29:19

 

29:22

 

55:5-7