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The Majesty and Holiness of God

“While all this emphasizes the condescending, friendly nature of Jehovah’s approach to and abode with the people, and brings, as it were, an echo of the Abrahamic mercies, yet there is another side to it, which was only partially brought out in the patriarchal period.  The tabernacle still bears another name.  It is ‘a holy place’, ‘a sanctuary’, Mikdash.  It is something difficult to understand the bearing and full reach of this term, because in the New Testament usage the conception of ‘holiness’ has been more or less narrowed, and monopolized by the ethical sense.  The older application, out of which the ethical one has sprung, denotes the majesty, the aloofness of God, not however, as something arbitrarily assumed or maintained, but as something inherent in and inseparable from the divine nature.  One might almost say, God’s holiness is His specific divinity, that which separates Him from every creature, as distinct in place and honor.

The sate of mind in the creature answering to this is the feeling of profound reverence and fear.  The effect may best be seen from such a context as Isa. 6.  It is more in evidence in Old Testament revelation and religion than in the New Testament, although in the latter also it is sufficiently present to show that the tendency of modern religion toward an exclusive stress upon the love of God is unwarranted [cp. 1 John 4:18].  The awe or fear inspired by the holiness of Jehovah is not first due to the sense of sin.  It is something deeper, lying behind that, although the consciousness of sin is profoundly stirred and intensified by the feeling of this deeper fact.  A comparison between the seraphim, who experience only the sense of the majesty of Jehovah, but have no sin, and the prophet, who has both, is very instructive [Isa. 6].  The sanctuary-character of the tabernacle is expressive of both elements in the idea.  The people, though in favor with God, must yet remain at a distance, in fact are confined to the court, excluded from the tabernacle proper.  Only the priests may enter, but this is due to the necessity of their ministering within, not to their being outside of the reach of the divine holiness in its exclusive effect.  Even the expiation that continually takes place, and whereby the ethical disqualification is in a measure removed, cannot overrule this anterior principle that a proper distance must be maintained between God and man.

The coexistence of these two elements, that of trustful approach to God and that of reverence for the divine majesty, is characteristic of the Biblical religion throughout.  Even the religious attitude exemplified by Jesus retains it, for if He teaches us to address God as Father, He immediately adds to this the qualification ‘in heaven’, lest the love and trust towards God should fall to the level of irreligious familiarity with God.  Especially the presence of the cherubim upon the ark in the most holy place gives a majestic expression to the majesty-side of the divine holiness.  These cherubim are throne-attendants of God, not ‘angels’ in the specific sense of the word, for the angels go on errands and carry messages, whereas the cherubim cannot leave the immediate neighborhood of the throne, where they have to give expression to the royal majesty of Jehovah, both by their presence and their unceasing praise [Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8,9].  The second, more ethically colored aspect of the holiness idea is exhibited likewise in the tabernacle.  It is, as already stated, in part responsible for the exclusiveness observed.  Positively it finds expression in the demands of purity made of the priests and in the ceaseless expiation of which the tabernacle is the scene”(Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, 1948, Banner of Truth, pg. 150-151).