It has been said that the most significant attribute of God is His holiness. Revelation 4.8 looks forward to life after death when all of God’s family will exclaim holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty. Note that when singing praise we will not proclaim God’s eternalness or wisdom, but His holiness. This is the crown of His attributes. Passages throughout the Old Testament demonstrate this:
- Exodus 15.11 – Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
- Psalms 111.9 – He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
- 1 Samuel 2.2 – There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
How We Learn About the Holiness of God
We can learn more about the holiness of God in Isaiah 6. When Isaiah came into the presence of God, he was shattered to the core of his being. Between us and God is an absolute gulf of holiness and unholiness. We are unholy. He is holy. Like Isaiah, we should be shaken to the core when we see ourselves in comparison to God. It is not until we know or understand our own sin that we will ever begin to grasp the holiness of God. The Bible teaches that God does not conform to a holy standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy. God never does anything wrong. He never makes a mistake. He never makes something happen in our life that is not the right thing. He always does right.
God’s holiness is demonstrated in His hatred of sin. See Habakkuk 1.3. God cannot tolerate sin or evil. He is totally removed from it. Sin will never abide with Him. If you’ve ever wondered why God acted so swiftly and severely in punishing the sin of Adam and Eve, the answer lies in His holiness. Sin is not something He can overlook.
But it is not just the externals God is concerned with. When reading Amos 5.21-23 we find that God loved all the things mentioned here. He instituted the feast days and solemn assemblies. These were designed in order to give the hearts of His people an avenue by which to express the love and appreciation of a surrendered heart. However, Israel missed a key piece of understand that is applicable in all generations. When good deeds come out of impure hearts, God hates them. God does not want people doing right things with a wrong attitude.
There are several other ways God has revealed His holiness. For example, His holiness is seen in creation. God made man upright, Ecclesiastes 7.29. We have been created in His image, Genesis 1.26-27. When God made us, we were absolutely holy. How? In God there is no untruth, 1 John 1.5. When He acts or speaks, it must be according to truth. He always acts without doing error. God did not create sin and He will never make anything that will lead us to the wrong conclusion.
God’s holiness is seen in moral law. Despite mankind’s best efforts to stamp it out, His law prevails, Romans 7.12. Moral law demonstrates that God is a holy God. By giving us this law, He proved Himself to be a righteous, moral, holy being.
What This Has to do with Sacrifice
God’s holiness is demonstrated through sacrifice. There was a purpose for animal sacrifices during Old Testament times. Death is the result of sin, Romans 6.23. When someone sins, death is the penalty, Hebrews 9.22. The sacrifice served as the substitute death that each human really deserved.
When offering sacrifices, respect for God’s holiness was an absolute necessity. This is seen in Leviticus 8-10. Before engaging in spiritual duties, priests had to go through a cleansing process.
- Leviticus 8.6 – they were washed with water.
- 8.7-10 – describes more steps in the process.
- 8.14-32 – describes various sin offerings to atone for sin. Sin offering; burnt offering; and ordination offering.
What does this say? A Levite count not enter the priesthood until he had been cleansed, washed and forgiven of sin.
Priests were also clothed for service.
- Leviticus 8.7 – Coat (undercoat). Sash. Robe. Ephod. There was also an artistic band that held the ephod.
- 8.8 – breastplate.
- 8.9 – turban; golden plate; holy crown.
These were special coverings. These garments that symbolized their rule, purity, virtue, and identification with God. Priests were God’s representatives. They were called to holiness and separation. Everyone knew that they belonged to God. There was a spiritual significance to all of this. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy, Psalm 132.9, 16.
Priests were prepared for service. Leviticus 8.23-26 describes what took place after all the preparation, cleansing, and clothing. The 7 day wait was a time of waiting – a time of heart preparation. It was a time symbolic of spiritual preparedness and readiness. Leviticus 9.23-24 describes what happened on the 8th day. Priests needed time to take into consideration the seriousness of the priesthood.
Priests were ordained to obedience. There is a reason why the record in Leviticus 8-9 has been left for us. Priests were called, cleansed, clothed, and underwent a time of preparation. Then, they were to go out on their ministry. This is why Leviticus 10 shouts off the pages of our Bibles as to the need to move with respect in regards to the holiness of God. Nadab and Abihu were struck down in front of the whole assembly. Notice what God immediately says afterwards: I will be treated as holy, 10.3 NASB. There is much speculation as to what strange fire was. Was it offered from the wrong altar? If it did not come from the right source, God would reject it. Was the incense prepared incorrectly? Exodus 30.34-38 spelled out a specific way to make it. Did they offer it at the wrong time? Exodus 30.7 says the sacrifice was to be made at the morning and evening.
Or, was it the way they conducted themselves? This was a day of celebration. Let’s keep on reading through the first few verses of Leviticus 10. Do these passages give us a clue as to why God killed them?
- 10.3b – Aaron held his peace after Nadab and Abihu killed.
- 10.5 – their bodies were carried out.
- 10.6-7 – Aaron and sons told not to grieve and to stay inside the tent of meeting.
- 10.9-10 – Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,
Why the sudden reference to no drinking before going into the tent of meeting? Had Nadab & Abihu allowed themselves to become drunk? Was their conduct unholy?
What This Means for New Testament Christians
1 Peter 2.9 identifies Christians as spiritual priests. We have been called to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2.5. As we move today, we are called to approach God with total realization of His holiness. Think about what we’ve just learned about the Old Testament priesthood in Leviticus 8-10. How does this apply to New Testament Christians?
We have been cleaned from sin. We could not be called a priesthood today had we not been cleansed from our sin, Acts 22.16; Titus 3.5; Colossians 2.12. God has purified us for Himself – a people for His own possession…zealous for good works, Titus 2.14.
We have been clothed for service. Just as priests were covered with special coverings and garments that symbolized their rule, purity, virtue, and identification with God, so have we. Christians have been clothed with the garments of salvation, Isaiah 61.10. Paul said, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Galatians 3.26-27.
We are to prepare our minds. Will we make time to take in the seriousness of our spiritual commitments? See 1 Peter 1.13. We must make regular time to prepare our hearts. With our great privileges come great responsibility. We need to make time to think deeply about the spiritual commitment we have made and prepare our heart.
We are to live in obedience. Just as priests were ordained to obedience, so are we. Christians have been called to obedience. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”