© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 27 January 2018
5A5. God’s nature expressed as holiness:
In grace, God gloriously set the Israelites apart to live exclusively for Him, as His own holy nation Israel
5A5(title) God’s nature expressed as holiness
When God’s creation was completed after six days, it all expressed His absolute goodness or perfection Gen 1:31. God then gave the seventh day a unique, separate status by resting from His finished work of creating Gen 2:2. For this reason He also blessed it and made it “holy” Gen 2:3. This was was the only occurrence of the word “holy” in all of Eras 1 to 4!
This separateness and holiness of the seventh day and God’s then resting, were highly significant. They emphasised that despite the magnificence of His completed creation Gen 2:1 God’s own perfection was infinitely superior to it all. Although expressing His own nature, all of His creation was not equal to Him in any way and would never change Him or be a substitute for Him [1A5]. This vast significance given by God to the seventh day is probably why He also blessed it!
However, in Era 5 God’s holiness becomes a major theme. the words “holy”, “holiest” or “holiness” occur in the NIV 173 times in speeches by God!1 These are translations of derivatives of the Hebrew verb qadash (“to be holy” or “to make holy”), as follows:
qodesh (112 occurrences) holy things, places, offerings
qadosh (34 occurrences) a holy, consecrated, God-like person or people; a holy place
qadash (25 occurrences) to be, consecrate, make, keep, set apart, dedicate, honour as holy
miqdash (2 occurrences) a sanctuary or holy place
50 of the occurrences of qodesh were in the form of 25 repetitions (qodesh qodesh). The NIV translates these as “most holy”, for example Ex 26:33-34, 29:37, 30:36, Lev 2:3, 7:6, 14:13, 27:28, Num 18:9,10.
This all raises a crucial question. What was meant by God’s own nature being “holy” and expressed as “holiness”?
5A5(sub-title) In grace, God gloriously set the Israelites apart to live exclusively for Him, as His own holy nation Israel
5A5(a) In grace, the Israelites continued to be God’s chosen people, even after living 400 years as aliens in Egypt
Jacob and his extended family had migrated from Canaan and settled in Egypt Ex 1:1,5. After 400 years they had multiplied greatly, yet continued to be a distinct ethnic minority within Egypt Ex 1:7. But they came to be distrusted as aliens by the Egyptians Ex 1:8-9,10 who severely oppressed them as slaves Ex 1:11,14.
Yet, in grace, they were still God’s chosen, unique, separate people because of His Covenant with Abraham Gen 17:7, Ex 2:24. He was concerned for them Ex 2:25 and intended to deliver them from their slavery, in fulfilment of His ancient prophecy to Abraham Gen 15:13,14. Under His Covenant with Abraham, God had also promised to bring them to Canaan and give it to them Gen 12:6,7, 15:18. There they would live as His own people in their own land Gen 17:8.
5A5(a)(i) God’s initial encounter with Moses
Moses as a baby had a miraculous escape from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s attempted genocide of Israelite boys Ex 2:1-10. But as a young man zealous for his own people he murdered an Egyptian and had to flee for his life to Midian Ex 2:11-15. He married and settled there for a long time Ex 2:16-23a.
Eventually God encountered Moses by means of a miraculously burning bush near Mount Horeb (or Mt Sinai) Ex 3:1. This included several key features of God’s later involvements with the Israelites, when He:
# encountered Mosesin a dramatic, miraculous, visual way Ex 3:2-3
# did not initially speak to Moses directly, but by means of an intermediary angel Ex 3:2a
# identified Moses specifically, by name Ex 3:4
# set a boundary of separation to prevent Moses from approaching Him Ex 3:5a
# identified a specific place as holy Ex 3:5b
# identified Himself specifically, by name Ex 3:6a
# caused Moses to be overwhelmed by the realisation of being confronted by God Ex 3:6b
# gave specific commands to Moses about what he was to do Ex 3:10
In summary, God manifested His presence to Moses in a dramatic, overwhelming way. He set some basic restrictions on how Moses was to respond to His presence. He then commanded Moses as to his role in fulfilling His purposes for the Israelites.
5A5(a)(ii) God gloriously set the Israelites apart
God used Moses in delivering (“redeeming”) the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt Ex 4:18 – 6:12, 6:28 – 11:10, 12:21-41. This was the beginning of the separation of the Israelites from the Egyptians Ex 12:50-51. But the Pharaoh changed his mind and began to pursue them Ex 14:5-6.
At the miraculous Red Sea crossing, God gloriously destroyed the pursuing Egyptians Ex 14:17,30. This was the definitive setting apart of the Israelites from Egypt. Moses and the Israelites then celebrated with a great song of worship Ex 15:1-18.
The Israelites worshipped God because He had powerfully saved and finally separated them from the Egyptians Ex 15:2,6. They made references to the majesty of God’s holy nature Ex 15:11b.They also prophetically declared that He would terrifyingly manifest Himself THROUGH them TO other nations Ex 15:14-15,16 and would lead them as His own redeemed peopleto live in His holy place Ex 15:13,17.
5A5(b) The Israelites were to live exclusively for God, as His own holy nation Israel
Three months after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites reached Mt Sinai Ex 19:1. There God declared His intentions for the Israelites. He told Moses they would become His own unique, holy nation IF they fully obeyed His Covenantal requirements Ex 19:5-6.
Moses much later reaffirmed that the Israelites were treasured by God as His holy people Deut 14:2, 26:19, 33:3. God’s ultimate intention was to make Himself known THROUGH them TO all other peoples, provided they carefully observed all His requirements Deut 4:5,6,7, 28:9.
5A5(c) God began testing the Israelites’ willingness to live exclusively for Him, as His holy people
5A5(c)(i) The holy sabbath
Having set the Israelites apart for Himself, God began calling them to obey His commands. Despite God miraculously enabling them to cross the Red Sea, they very soon grumbled about their lack of food Ex 16:2,3. God then promised to provide food for them, but this would involve Him testing their strict obedience to His precise instructions Ex 16:4,5. He was intending to make Himself known TO them Ex 16:6,8a,12b. Yet would they live exclusively for Himby responding with obedience, or disobey Him as some did? Ex 16:19-20.
Every six days God would provide food for them to collect Ex 16:21-22. But He commanded that every seventh day be set apart for rest from collecting this food, as a weekly “holy sabbath to the LORD” Ex 16:23,25-26. Yet some again disobeyed Him Ex 16:27. This was a clear violation of the holiness of the sabbath and caused God to challenge Moses Ex 16:28. He then told Moses that the sabbath, like the daily food, were His generous gifts to them. He was intending them to have rest as well as His provision Ex 16:29.
Later God made this into a permanent commandment for the Israelites. They were always to keep the sabbath day holy or separate by doing no work Ex 20:8-9,10. It followed the pattern of God’s rest, His holy day, after completion of His perfect creation Gen 1:31, 2:2-3 [1A3(m)(i)].
Again this was intended by God to make Himself known TO them and their descendants, and even THROUGH them by making them holy! Ex 31:13.
5A5(c)(ii) At Mt Sinai
At Mt Sinai, after stating His intentions for the Israelites, God solemnly instructed Moses how to consecrate them to be met by Him Ex 19:10-11. They were forbidden even to touch the mountain Ex 19:12. Moses obeyed God’s instructions Ex 19:14-15.
The people continued to be terrified of God and His manifestations and kept away Ex 20:18-19,21. But Moses explained that this was intended by God. It was to test and impress on them the seriousness of obeying Him Ex 20:20 (see also Ex 19:9).
This whole encounter between God and the Israelites had many parallel features to the initial interaction between God and Moses at the burning bush. These were:
# God’s overwhelming manifestations of His presence
# the designation of a place as holy and subject to solemn restrictions
# the giving of His specific commands to the people
# their required responses to Him
5A5(d) God’s Covenantal laws
The central principle of God’s Covenantal Laws was that because God Himself is holy, the Israelites also were to “be holy” Lev 11:45, 19:2, 20:26, 21:8. They specified how Israel was to revere and honour God appropriately in their worship and community life, as well as in their families and individually. In this way they would express God’s own nature by being like Him. It was how they were to share with Him in accomplishing His primary purpose.
Therefore the core response by the Israelites was that they were to voluntarily discipline and restrict themselves to live according to God’s requirements, as specified by all His Covenantal Laws.
5A5(d)(i) God’s perfection understood as holiness
The Covenantal laws were all designed by God to be expressions of the perfection of His nature. Yet they were to be understood, complied with andexperienced by people as “holy”. For this reason “perfection” has been replaced by “holiness” in 5A5(title), compared with the titles in 1A5, 2A6, 3A4 and 4A4.
Being perfect, God Himself far exceeded all potential to be fully known by people. This is what began to be acknowledged by the word “holy”. Like “glory” [5A3(b)] it was a word used about God in trying to describe the indescribable!
5A5(d)(ii) Holy days, places, things and rituals
God required that anything dedicated to Him must be holy. To meet this requirement, He commanded how particular days, places, ceremonial garments, equipment and rituals were to be observed [see 5A10].
5A5(d)(iii) People consecrated for holy tasks
God’s holiness also required that everything to do with Him could only be handled by specific people. These were chosen by Him and consecrated to carry out rituals and tasks strictly in the ways He specified. When two of Aaron’s four sons, even as consecrated priests, violated God’s procedure for presenting offerings, He fiercely demonstrated His holiness! Lev 10:1,2,3. Holiness was something that not even Levites could claim for themselves! Num 16:3,4-5,6-7,18,19,23-24,32,35-37,38.
5A5(e) Could the Israelites actually be holy, obeying all God’s Covenant laws?
The Covenant laws were in effect a “counsel of perfection”. That is, they defined the totally correct ways that God should be completely honored and obeyed in every aspect of Israel’s worship and community life at all times.
However, despite God’s mighty acts of power in the exodus saga [5A4] the Israelites had already complained and disobeyed God many times [5A4(g, h(i)), see 5B28 and 5B30]. Even Moses and Aaron had been judged severely for their single failure to honour God as holy Num 20:9-10,11,12,13, 27:12-13,14.
So would the Israelites and their descendants be holy, totally faithful to God? How could this be achieved? Or would they continue to disobey God and fail to fulfil His intentions for them?
5A5(e)(i) God provided remedies for their failures to obey His Covenant laws
The Covenant laws also contained many provisions for dealing with unholiness [see 5A10]. The Israelites’ sins and failures could be overcome and not be the basis for their permanent alienation from God. These provisions included specific sacrifices and offerings for sin and guilt, even when Israelites had sinned unintentionally! Lev 4:2,13,22,27.
5A5(e)(ii) God’s Spirit did enable some people to carry out holy tasks
In Era 5 there are 11 references to people being faithful to God because they were enabled by the Spirit of God [5A1(c)(iii)]. So although not described as the “Holy” Spirit until much later Psalm 51:11, Isaiah 63:10,11,12-13 the Spirit of God did enable people to be holy, as follows:
5A5(e)(ii.i) God spoke about His Spirit three times
These three occasions were when:
5A5(e)(ii.ii) Eight other mentions of the Spirit that were not in speeches by God
God not only chose the Israelites and set them apart for His purposes. He also selected various individual Israelites and others, and by His Spirit enabled them to carry out holy tasks. These eight occasions were:
# Seven times when the Spirit of the Lord “began to stir” or “came upon” various leaders or “judges” of the Israelites, enabling them to win battles or otherwise overcome enemies Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25, 14:6,19, 15:14.
5A(f) What of the future?
God declared prophetically to Moses that the Israelites would in future completely turn away from Him! Deut 31:16,20. Joshua knew the jealousy of God for His holiness, so he solemnly warned the Israelites not to rebel against Him Josh 24:19.
Yet would their leaders’ exhortations and warnings, or the drastic penalties for unholy behaviour, be sufficient deterrents for the Israelites? Or would even God’s enabling of various people by His Spirit to carry out specific holy tasks or speak holy, prophetic things result in totally holy responses? Would the Israelites in true repentance use the holy ways God had provided for dealing with their sins and guilt?Only time would tell…
1. These are in Exodus (38 times), Leviticus (88), Numbers (34), Deuteronomy (10) and Joshua (3).(Return to reading).