Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory! (Isaiah 6:3)
I must admit I read over this passage quite glibly. But when I stop and think about it for 5 seconds, it is unparalleled in human history!
Clearly Isaiah had one of the most astonishing encounters ever experienced by a human: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v.1).
And overhead were angelic seraphs. But rather than sweet, cherubic voices, they thundered in such a way that “at the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (v.4).
To the 21st century ear stuck in western culture, the antiphonal response of the seraphim seems rather monotonous – why “holy, holy, holy”?
I believe the answer is found in the Hebrew usage of repetition as a communication or literary technique, to demonstrate intimacy and to bring strong emphasis.
Consider the poignancy of the following, paying particular attention to the context of each:
- God’s appearance to Moses, calling “to him from within the bush, Moses! Moses!” (Exodus 3:4)
- David’s grieving: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! …O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam.18:33)
- on the Damascus road Paul “fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)
- and the most grievous of all, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matt.27:46)
But rather than mere repetition, in the Isaiah vision the holiness of God is elevated to the 3rd degree. And it is again in the New Testament scene when John sees the 4 living creatures in heaven’s throne-room: “Day and night they never stop saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)
Can this mean anything other than this: God’s holiness is the dimension of His character that overarches all others?
Takeaway: If I am called to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44,45; 1 Peter 1:16), what is the one thing right now that the Lord is working to change in my life?