(with apologies to P. Earnhart)
Thirty times, the prophet Isaiah refers to God as “the Holy One”. The word “holy” is often used to imply purity and righteousness, but at its root, the meaning is “to be set apart”. Therefore, when using this term to describe God, it is referring to the quality of His uniqueness. It refers to the fact that He is above and beyond all else, transcendent and incomparable! It is no wonder that Isaiah twice asks the question, “To whom will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” (Isaiah 40:18, 25). It is an unanswerable question!
“Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises…” sang the children of Israel when delivered at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:11). What is God like? He is like nothing that we have ever known. “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Notice the rebuke in Psalm 50:21: “You thought I was altogether like you”. He is not like us. He is holy!
Isaiah 40 reveals several ways in which God is seen to be holy.
God is holy in His creation. He holds the oceans in His palm and measures the span of the universe with His hand. That is an overwhelming thought when one merely considers our own milky way. When one realizes there are millions of such galaxies in the universe and that it would take a billion years to cross the universe traveling at the speed of light, it is incomprehensible! The power of God in creation is beyond words to describe it. However, the wisdom God displayed in creation is just as amazing. The magnitude, order and intricate detail of the universe is staggering.
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?
Who can create like Jehovah? No one!
God is also holy in His rule over creation. All the nations combined is to Him as “a drop in the bucket”, as “less than nothing and worthless” (40:15-17). And all men are to him as “grasshoppers” (40:22); they are as withering grass before His breath (vv. 6-8) and their gods are pathetic (vv. 18-20). Before this great God all mountains will be cut down and all valleys elevated (v. 4). There is nothing that can withstand Him.
Who can rule the nations like Jehovah? No one!
God is holy in righteousness. He is absolutely pure. “But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the God the holy one is sanctified in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16). The very concept of righteousness comes from Him (Psalm 119:142, 172). And out of His absolute justice judgment upon unrighteousness burns like a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29)
Who is righteous like Jehovah? No one!
There is a hymn by John Needham (c. 1786) that discusses all this and points out yet another way in which God is seen to be holy. The first three verses discuss His wisdom, knowledge, and power as seen in creation.
Awake, my tongue, thy tribute bring
To Him Who gave Thee power to sing;
Praise Him Who is all praise above,
The source of wisdom and of love.
How vast His knowledge, how profound!
A deep where all our thoughts are drowned;
The stars He numbers, and their names
He gives to all those heavenly flames.
Through each bright world above, behold
Ten thousand thousand charms unfold;
Earth, air, and mighty seas combine
To speak His wisdom all divine.
Do you want to see God’s wisdom and power? Just look at creation. There is evidence of immense power and wisdom all around us so that truly, “they are without excuse” who deny God and refuse to obey, Rom 1:18-21. So yes, God is holy in power, knowledge and wisdom. But this is prologue. The writer of this hymn is just setting you up for his real point in the fourth verse. Do you want to see even greater wisdom and greater power?
But in redemption, O what grace!
Its wonders, O what thought can trace!
Here, wisdom shines forever bright;
Praise Him, my soul, with sweet delight.
Who can forgive like Jehovah? No one!
God is holy in His grace and mercy. One wonders who could possibly stand before such power and righteousness. The answer is astounding: “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place with him who has a contrite and humble spirit…” (Isaiah 57:15). God’s holiness is redemptive. Those He declares “laden with iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4) are invited to “Come… and let us reason together… Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:18).
Whoever could have imagined a God like this? He is holy indeed. He is incomparable.