Theme: The Lord on His Throne
In this week’s lessons, we learn of God’s holiness, and of what our response ought to be in light of it.
Scripture: Psalm 99:1-9
“His awful holiness!” That is a good phrase of J.J. Stewart Perowne’s, because it is exactly what the first stanza is intended to impress on the worshiper. It begins by picturing the Lord sitting upon his throne in heaven, much like an earthly monarch might receive visitors to his court while sitting on an earthly throne. But this is no ordinary throne room and no ordinary throne. This is heavenly Zion, and God is enthroned not between some brass ornaments or even the legendary gems on India’s famous “Peacock Throne,” but between the awe-inspiring figures of the cherubim. Before this “holy, holy, holy” God the nations might well “tremble” and the earth “shake” (v. 1).
Visions similar to this are found elsewhere in Scripture, in Psalm 18 and Ezekiel 1 and 10, for instance. The best known of these is in Isaiah 6. Isaiah says that he received this vision “in the year that King Uzziah died.” Uzziah was a good king who had reigned for fifty-two years. So his passing must have been a great blow to the people and have ushered in a time of anxiety about the future. What would happen to them now that this good king was gone? It was at this fateful time that God gave Isaiah a peek into heaven, which was a way of assuring Isaiah and others that although the earthly king was gone, the heavenly king was nevertheless still reigning on his throne.
Isaiah says that he saw
the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Is. 6:1-4).
This is close to what the psalmist describes in his vision of the Lord in verses 1-3.
The important idea in each of these visions is holiness, of course. But holiness is not an easy concept to understand or define. In fact, it is impossible adequately to define. The most common mistake we make is to think of it primarily in terms of human righteousness. That is, we think of it as moral perfection, purity or right conduct. Holiness involves this element, as we will see. But it is far more than this. At its root, “holy” is not an ethical concept at all. Rather it is what is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from all else. It is what sets God apart from his creation. It concerns transcendence.
We see this root meaning of holy in the meaning of the words “saint” and “sanctify.” which are nearly identical to it. “Holy” comes from the Germanic languages. “Saint” comes from the Romance languages. But both have to do with separation. In the biblical sense, a saint is not a person who has achieved a certain level of goodness (as most people think), but rather one who has been “set apart” by God. That is why all Christians are saints. They are the “called-out ones” who form God’s church. Similarly, “to sanctify” something is to set it apart for God’s service.
Holiness, then, is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. It has at least four contributing elements, which we will look at in-depth tomorrow.
Why does Perowne call holiness “awful”?
How does verse 1 help us to worship God better?
What is the most common error in defining holiness? Compare this idea with how the Bible defines it as it relates to God.
Read about the visions in Psalm 18, Ezekiel 1 and 10, and Isaiah 6. What do these examples teach about God’s holiness?
Reflection: What does Isaiah’s vision do for the people? How does Psalm 99 similarly help you?
Application: What changes do you need to make in your life in order to live better as one who has been set apart for God’s glory?
Key Point: Holiness is what is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from all else.