To any of His creation that are able and willing to listen and take heed, God says something very important in Leviticus, chapter 11. We’ll turn over there and see what this important thing is. Leviticus, chapter 11, verse 44:
Tozer – The Holiness of God (Part 4 of 4) by ChristianSongs
“For I am the Eternal your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy: for I am holy.” That is also repeated in the New Testament in I Peter, chapter 1 and verse 16.The Bible begins and ends with discussion of holy things and holiness. In the very second chapter of Genesis, near the beginning of the Bible, mention is made of something that God made holy, that He sanctified, set apart, and made holy. And then, in the last three chapters of Revelation near the end of the Bible, there is discussion of the importance of holiness and of the very different fates that await those who are holy and those who are not. It is important that those God deals with understand holiness. In this sermon, we’ll look into the Scriptures with the goal of increasing our understanding of holiness and its importance to God and to us.
There is plenty of talk in the Bible about holy things. It’s a very religious sounding word. My guess is that most of us in this room have not used the word “holy” in our everyday conversation in the last week. It’s just not something that we find ourselves talking about; that’s a religious word, isn’t it? That’s a, that’s a spiritual word or a religious word and we just don’t use it very often, but the Bible is full of talk about holy things. It talks about holy men, it talks about a holy nation, a holy Temple, holy garments for the priests, holy gifts, a holy altar within the Tabernacle, the holy Tabernacle itself, the holy Temple, holy anointing oil, holy offerings, it goes on and on. Holy crown. A holy crown, that was on the mitre that the High Priest Aaron wore. The Holy Sanctuary, the holy name of God, the holy tithe, holy water, holy vessels, holy Ark, Holy City. You know, it just goes on and on, a lot of talk about holy things and holiness, but what is the meaning and, especially, what is the relevance to us of holy or holiness? Let’s begin by just a very brief look at the languages that the Bible is written in.
In the Hebrew language the word that is most often translated into the English “holy” is pronounced “qodesh.” We could anglicize it as “kaw-dash.” “Qodesh.” And the underlying meaning of “qodesh” is clean, clean and sanctified, another religious sounding word. Sanctified. But, I think most of us understand that the underlying notion of sanctified is that which is taken away from a group of things that are kind of all alike and it’s special and it’s set apart over here to be different than all the rest. It’s set apart. It’s sanctified. It’s clean. So you get the mental imagery. A lot of things are dirty but an occasional thing is made separate and it’s clean, that’s the underlying meaning of the Hebrew word “qodesh.”
In the Greek word, the word that is most often translated in the English Bible “holy” would be translated or pronounced “hagios.” In English you would spell it “hag-ee-os.” “Hagios.” And the underlying meaning there, of that word, is “an awful thing.” Now, in everyday language, awful is a word that has taken on a different meaning than it originally meant. Well, your singing was awful! When we say that we don’t mean it is a tribute to your singing, but the notion of “awful” is that which is full of “awe,” an awful thing, something that should be treated with such great respect that it borders on awe; a kind of special, deep respect. An awful thing, great respect. Even awe wonderment, but certainly not indifference. Something that is “hagios” to God should certainly not be treated with either disrespect, which almost goes without saying, nor be treated with indifference by those seeking to please God.
So, we have the notions of clean, separate from that which is dirty, set apart from everything else, and a special clean thing, and to be treated with great respect, even awe. There is a pure (clean in other words), there is a pure, unchangeable, eternal, undefiled moral standard in the universe. It, and those things that represent it and emanate from it are the clean, the pure, and that which is incapable of being improved and should be treated with great respect, reverence, even awe.
Now these things I have just been describing, this which is holy consists of…here would be my attempt to put all these notions together by looking a little bit at the languages, and just looking at numerous scriptures on “holy.” I’m kind of giving you the bottom line before we get into the body of the sermon. Here would be my definition of “holy,” and I’m not saying it’s the final word on it, because it’s a huge concept, but I would define “holy” this way: That which is “holy” consists of the Person and the will and the plan and the ways and the mind and the desired outcome of the Godhead.
I’ll repeat that. A lot to it but trying to just encapsulate with language what the Bible shows us is “holy.” That which is “holy” consists of the Person, and I’ll begin there, the Person, the will, the plan, the ways, the mind, and the desired outcome of the Godhead, the Godhead; that is the Father, in the pre-eminent sense, and Christ. So all that is holy, that constitutes what is holy, there’s more, and those created things that God has separated for special purpose. It’s all of that, it’s the Person, the will, the plan, the ways, the mind, the desired outcome of the Godhead, in the pre-eminent sense that’s the Father, but also Christ, and those things that God has separated for special purpose in working out His plan of salvation. That rather lengthy definition, I think, will serve us as we go on into this sermon.
The Person, the will, the plan, the ways, the mind, the desired outcome of the Godhead and those created things that God has separated for special purpose in working out His plan of salvation: that is holy. It starts with the Person of God.
These are holy and they are separate from all else. There’s everything else and then those things that I just tried to describe with those words, and anything else, anything else that is unholy, by resistance to, or departure from the standard of God, is defiled. It’s unholy. It’s unclean. It’s polluted. It is to be abhorred by those who serve God because it is unholy. There is a certain blackness and whiteness. There is a sort of, there’s a certain binary nature to this all. There’s very little, well actually, there’s nothing in between. There’s holy and there’s unholy. There’s dirty and there’s clean. So anything that is unholy, by resistance to or departure from that standard of God is defiled, is dirty, is unclean, is polluted, is unholy and should be abhorred by those who would serve God.
You know the very use of the word, the first time the word “holy” appears in our English Bible, the very first use, and it’s often the case when you’re studying a subject that you can get some special insight by the first time that God causes the term to be used in His Word, the first use of the word “holy” in the English Bible is Exodus:3:5. I suspect many of you know exactly what that is.
Exodus:3:5 – Where Moses was told to take off his sandals because the ground on which he stood was holy ground. What made it holy? Well, the presence of God was there, in a way that it had not been, before that bush was burning without being consumed. God, the Holy God, the personification of this pure standard, was there in a very special way and that made the ground holy. It was different than other ground. Other ground you could walk on with your sandals and treat it as common, but this ground was special and it should be treated in a special way, and as long as you’re going to be standing on the ground, and as long as the norm is to have sandals on your feet, you could treat the ground with greater respect by doing something other than wearing sandals, and so Moses was told to treat it specially, that is to take off his sandals in recognition of the special nature of that ground, made special by the special presence of God. So quite obviously, it was the presence of God that made that ground holy.
Now one of the next mentions of the word “holy” or uses of the word “holy” in the Bible is Exodus 16. Let’s look at that one.
Exodus:16:23 – Moses passing on information to the congregation of Israel from God and Moses “said to them, ‘This is what the Lord has said,’ “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.” Incidentally, this was before they got to Sinai and the seventh day of the week was holy before they got to Sinai. Why was the Sabbath holy? Quite obviously for the same reason that the ground was, because God put His presence in it in a special way that He did not put in the other days of the week and those twenty-four hours are set apart and made special, made different, made clean by God’s special treatment of it and His expectation of our special treatment of it, but fundamentally by His special presence in the Sabbath. He sanctified it at creation.
I mentioned to you that the early, that the Greek word that is most often translated “holy” in the English language was “qodesh,” that’s a noun form. The verb form of that exact same word, the verb form of the exact same word is used back in Genesis 2. I begin by saying the Bible begins and ends with discussions of holiness and holy things. I mentioned in Genesis 2 there is mention of something made holy. Well, we now know what that was, but that’s the verb form of “qodesh,” Genesis 2, in describing the creation of this special day.
Genesis:2:1 – “The heavens and the earth and all the host of them were finished,” in those first six days, special days in one way, but common when compared to the specialness of the seventh day.
Vs. 2 – “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had done; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” And then verse 3.
Vs. 3 – “And God blessed the seventh day” and “qodeshed” it, He hallowed it, He sanctified that day because in it He rested from His work, which God had created and made. So that’s why we should not be surprised that in Exodus 16, long before you come to Mount Sinai, that the Sabbath day is stated as being holy. It had been made holy clear back, much earlier.
The Father and Christ are engaged in the creative work, not the work any longer of making heaven and earth or refashioning matter, so that it’s a hospitable climate for mankind and the creatures that we have now to live in, but in the creative work, the spiritual creative work, that’s what they’re doing now. They actually began that on the seventh day, the first Sabbath. But they are engaged in the creative work of bringing all the universe, ultimately, into a state of clean and undefiled conformity to their will, to their way, to their holiness, to make all things, ultimately, holy.
We are now in a sort of messy interim, a messy in between time, an interim in which the holy and the unholy co-exist. This is what I would call a messy in-between time or interim. We are in an interim between the eternal past when the Ancient of Days that we now know as the Father and the Logos that we now know as Christ existed in a state of complete holiness and there was nothing else in the universe in opposition to that holiness, or there was not inconformity with that holiness.
Just allow your mind to go, as much as our finite minds can, way back yonder in past eternity before matter, before the angelic beings were created, and there were the two, the Godhead, the God family and there was total holiness because there wasn’t anything else and then, however far you want to go back before you get there, then you can have an eternity that preceded that, that was just like it, as much as is revealed to us. So there has been a past eternity of complete holiness, of nothing in opposition or lack of conformity to the moral purity of the Godhead.
Now in the future eternity, which is what the creative work of the Godhead is now involved in, there will again be complete holiness. “All things will be made new,” it says in Revelation:21:5, and they will be made holy in Revelation:22:19. Now you can’t get any nearer to the end of the Bible than the last chapter, so let’s notice that. It began in talking about things made holy and special and it ends with a discussion of holiness.
Revelation:22:19 – “If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life,” from the, what kind of city that will be there and our dwelling place forever? “The holy city,” a completely purified state of existence and environment conducive to holiness because all opposition and nonconformity to holiness will have been removed.
Now in this context, I’m going to leave aside the eternal fate of Satan and the demons, that’s another subject, some people always want to bring that question up. Just so you’ll know, I still believe that the weight of evidence and this is the official teaching of the church, I still believe the weight of evidence in the Bible, even though we might not perfectly understand it, is that they will eternally exist. It doesn’t have to make sense to our finite minds, why would God do this? I think the weight of evidence of what He tells us will happen is that, and it has to be good enough for us. But I am leaving that aside, that God is capable of so removing their polluted presence from the family of God that, with that one exception, the whole creation will have been made holy.
Vs. 19 – “The holy city,” which will be the eternal dwelling place of the family of God and, again, that doesn’t preclude the development of the rest of the universe, as we can see it in telescopes, from also being developed into that same state of purity and holiness as well.
But you know, back to now, we’re in the in-between, between that past total holiness and future total holiness and we are in the messy interim where holiness and unholy-ness co-exist. With the knowledge of God…I was going to say with His approval, I don’t want to be misunderstood, God doesn’t enjoy un-holiness, but it has been according to the plan of God to let this messy interim happen and it all plays into God’s eternal plan to develop a holy family out of this mess that we find ourselves in. Indeed, it is God’s most basic purpose that those He is working with, in bringing them to the point where they can be given eternal life as a part of His family, it is His most basic purpose, that those He is working with come to discern, during this messy in-between time, that we come to discern the difference between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy.
It’s all around us but it takes spiritual discernment to see the difference. Often un-holiness disguises itself as holiness and part of the purpose of God is to bring His children to the point where they, like He, can discern the difference between the clean and the unclean, the holy and unholy, and that’s part of it, that’s a big challenge; but, even more than that, to come to abhor the one and love the other. To resist the one and embrace the other and all of that is a part of bringing many sons to glory. To come to discern the difference between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the defiled, the godly and the satanic, and He wants His children to come to willingly embrace, willingly embrace. Now there’s a difference between embracing and willingly embracing. Okay, God, You’re bigger than I am, I have to embrace this but I don’t want to, no, to come to willingly embrace the holy and to emulate the holy and actually to become holy and also to hate and overcome that which is unholy. That’s really the enterprise we find ourselves involved in.
As in all things, Christ the Captain, has shown the way. He showed the way and He set the example.
Hebrews:1:9 – Describing the Son it says, “You have loved righteousness,” You didn’t grudgingly give in to it, but You loved it, “and hated lawlessness,” didn’t begrudgingly resist it, but hated it. Now the honest ones among us will realize that that is something we still struggle with because we are conflicted, it talks about “the flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit wars against the flesh,” even among the firstfruits in progress. So, we are not there yet, but that’s the goal and it’s to become more of that. And, it says, “therefore,” because of that, because You have loved righteousness and holiness and hated lawlessness and un-holiness, “therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions.”
Hebrews:5:14 – As I said, it is God’s most basic purpose that those He is working with come to discern the difference between the clean and the unclean and come to willing embrace and emulate the one and hate and overcome the other. What does this say? “Solid food belongs to those who are full of age, that is by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” to come to see the difference between good and evil and as I say un-holiness is often masqueraded by its chief proponent as holiness and evil dresses itself up as good and darkness dresses itself up as light; that is one of the great challenges the firstfruits face.
Leviticus:10:10 – But discernment is part of it, then the embracing versus the revulsion is the other part of it and both are part of the process of spiritual creation. Leviticus:10:10. Well, He’s actually talking about the priests. Let’s start the thought in verse 8.
Leviticus:10:8 – “The Lord spoke to Aaron,” this describes the nature of a priest of God, and it certainly would apply to a spiritual priesthood as well as it would to a physical priesthood, the words would apply equally to both, verse 9 says:
Vs 9 – “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, especially in the service of God.” The context is the two sons, Nadab and Abihu, of Aaron who in fulfilling their priestly duties were drunk and they took holy fire, or they took unholy fire and indifferently treated it as holy fire and vice versa and God destroyed them on the spot. The follow-up lesson: Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, take your service to God, and in dealing with holy things take it very seriously and soberly and treat it with the respect and the awe that it is due. “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting,” which is exactly what Nadab and Abihu had done, “lest you die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.”
Vs. 10 – “That,” this discernment that I want you to have leads to what, “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.” In the parallelism of the language there we actually see the underlying meaning of holy, that which is clean, and unholy, that which is defiled, polluted, unclean. It’s very important for the priests to set the example, the religious leader to set the example in discerning the difference between the two because one is the essence of God and the other is not, and to set the example in leading the people to grow in that same discernment.
Ezekiel 22 – Now the priests, many of them, in ancient Israel failed to do that and there were very great consequences as a result. Ezekiel 22. This is part of an extended passage that talks about why Israel was led to go into captivity. Why did the whole enterprise seem to fail? Here God brings this special people out of slavery, puts them into the Promised Land with the idea that they are going to be the model nation for the whole rest of the world. Kind of in the middle of it all, it just seems to fail and fall apart and break down, and then there’s captivity, and then it seems like the whole thing is crushed. Well, He gives some insight as to what were the “big ticket item” transgressions that led to this horrendous state of things. It says, “Her priests,” this is verse 26 of Ezekiel 22.
Ezekiel:22:26 – “Her priests have violated my law, and profaned my holy things.” They did not set the example for the entire nation of treating with awe and deep respect the clean, the holy, the special, the sanctified. And the ripple effect, the example effect, the leavening and polluting effect went clear out throughout the nation and – disaster! “They have not distinguished,” that’s their job but they didn’t do it, “they have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy: nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean,” and again, it’s not coincidence that right in this context that it mentions holy time. “And have hidden their eyes from my Sabbath, so that I am profaned among them.” It also mentions this failure of the descendants of Aaron to distinguish and lead the people in distinguishing between the holy and the unholy.
That same failure is mentioned in the book of Malachi and certainly Malachi does have many end-time applications. Malachi:2:8.
Malachi:2:7 – Pardon me, verse 7, you probably wrote your eight down, why does he keep backing up? I don’t intend to. Malachi:2:7. Now it talks in theory, you know, what the designated role of a religious leader is, a priest, it says, “The lips of a priest should keep knowledge,” should teach the difference between holy and unholy, clean and unclean, “and people should seek the law from his mouth.” But what if that class, what if that group of people that God has set apart in that leadership role fail? “For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”
Vs. 8 – “But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”
Vs. 9 – “Therefore I have made you contemptible.”
And then in chapter 3 of Malachi and verse 18 we again see the end result, what God wants the end result to be of the process of working with a human being in a special way, of having taken a human being out from the mass of humanity and, in that sense, spiritually cleansed them, sanctified them, set them over here, put them in a special category of those God is working with.
Malachi:3:18 – “Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between the holy and the unholy. It’s this discernment between one who serves God and one who does not serve God. Discernment is certainly a part of it. The embracing of the one and the revulsion and the resistance of the other is an equally important part of it.
Knowledge alone doesn’t cut it. Knowledge applied, knowledge internalized, embraced, is what counts. Those who will ultimately join the God family must have developed within them a willing love and respect for the holy and a revulsion for the unholy. And, again, the honest ones among us will know that we are not there yet, completely, in the way Christ was perfectly. But that’s the goal, that’s the end result that God has in mind in working with human clay.
Isaiah:17:7 – A verse that sort of looks to the future of when the pottery has been shaped and fired in the furnace and a beautiful glaze on it, it’s a finished product. This is a verse that kind of describes the finished product that we have been talking about. “In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel.” You see that awe of holy things. He will by nature take off his sandals because he will know the difference between the holy and everything else and he will treat the holy with awe and respect because that will be a part of his character. Then he will truly be a spiritual, or she will truly be a spiritual, sibling of Jesus Christ, Who it says, loved righteousness and hated evil. Therefore, God exalted Him high above all else.
Isaiah:58:13 – “If you turn away your foot,” the very same metaphoric language that we saw back in Exodus, something to do with your feet, turn away your feet or unshod your feet, if the way you live, the way you stand is different in regard to holy things, than it is to unholy things, in recognition of the holiness of God and the holiness of His things, you see, this person has begun to embrace the holy, discern the holy and treat it with awe and respect. “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and you call the Sabbath a delight,” now this person has gotten to the point where they have not only discerned the difference, but they have embraced the difference and loved it. “And call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, or finding your own pleasure, or speaking your own words;”
Vs. 14 – “Then you will have peace and joy in your relationship with God,” because there won’t be that resistance to the holy things of God which causes tension in a relationship between an unholy created being and a holy Creator. But that tension, that resistance begins to break down and this person takes delight in their Creator because they have embraced the holiness of God and the holy things of God and are treating both with the proper respect and awe. This, again, is kind of a picture of the finished product.
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and you call the Sabbath a delight,” not out of a begrudging admission that it’s the imposed standard, that’s the first step in our coming out of total carnality, toward being like Jesus Christ and, again, we have to acknowledge that, but we will not treat the holy things of God and, specifically in this case, the Sabbath as a negative thing, full of don’ts, full of prohibitions, but it will become a thing…this is a goal, I’m certainly not there yet.
There have been times in my life when I’ve been closer to it than other times and I’ll tell you, it’s true, that the relationship that I have with the Sabbath is an uncannily accurate barometer and measure of my relationship with God in general. I think that’s the reason why God made the Sabbath. It’s just a weekly barometer of our relationship with our holy Creator. It is a weekly test for us regarding holiness and it’s a gauge of how much we’ve come to love the holy and respect the holy, or whether we just tolerate it and endure it.
So, certainly, I think all of us would do well to ask God to give us more of the mind of Christ in this regard, to embrace and love the holy things of God, including the Sabbath. I think that has many ramifications, even with regard to our behavior and our demeanor at Sabbath services, and even of the room. You know, that ground was just regular old ground any other time, but when Moses was there and that bush was burning and God was there in a special way, it was special. This is just a regular old room, but when we come before God’s presence, it just seems like maybe all of us could, me included, we could think about it a little bit more, the specialness of what we’re involved in, the two or three hours that we’re here, and just treat with maybe a little more respect, bordering on awe, the whole enterprise.
Now, even a single instance, this is an important point that should make all of us feel uneasy, but some of what God tells us is not intended to comfort us. Much of what He does comforts us, but sometimes He does intend to make us feel uneasy, at least to make us think seriously and soberly. I want to show you that the Scriptures show us something. Even a single instance of treating the holy with disrespect can have very serious and long-lasting consequences in a person’s life. I’m not saying it can’t be repented of. It’s a different issue. But it can have serious and long-standing consequences, showing us that it is important to God. Even a single instance of treating the holy with disrespect, being cavalier about the holy things of God can have very serious consequences because these matters are so central to the purpose and the plan of God in expanding His kind, that we come to embrace holiness. He does not take it lightly when I, or you, treat the holy, the clean, in a cavalier way, or in an overtly disrespectful way. When the holy and clean is sullied or made dirty by our indifference or our carelessness, or even our willful disrespect, there are consequences.
Now let’s go back again to the book of Exodus. I want to show you, exactly, scripturally what I’m talking about here. Exodus 17. It starts out on kind of a happy note, well, in the midst of unhappiness, it starts out with a happy note.
Exodus:17:1 – “Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim: but there was no water for the people to drink.”
Vs. 2 – Therefore, because they were carnal, because they had an uncircumcised heart, they did what carnal people do. They complained, they contended with Moses, they gave vent to their frustration, they said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Eternal?'” What an audacious thing for him to say in defense. But he had the perception to realize what they were really doing.
Vs. 3 – “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, ‘Why is this that you have brought us up?'” That you, nowhere is God in the picture, where is God in their thoughts, where is God in their attitude? ‘Why is it that you, Moses, have brought us up out of Egypt with the intent to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'” Now, in retrospect, we cluck our tongues and say how blind! But, have we ever been guilty of giving vent to the same attitudes?
Vs. 4 – “So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.'”
Vs. 5 – “And the Lord said to Moses,” now, He gave Moses specific instructions, holy instructions, to be followed specifically, “‘Go before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel; take in your hand your rod, with which you struck the river, and go.'”
Vs. 6 – “‘Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.'” Moses exactly, scrupulously, followed God’s directions. “And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” Water came out and the crisis passed.
Fast forward, about thirty-eight years. This was at the beginning of their wilderness wanderings. Now fast forward, Numbers, chapter 20, near the end of the wilderness wanderings, close to forty years, maybe thirty-eight or so years later. Most of the generation was to die in the wilderness wanderings because of their rebellion in not trusting God and not going up into the Promised Land because they listened to the ten spies that were pessimists and were material in their vision, not to the two who were optimists and spiritual in their vision. And so, most of those people were dead and now the next generation hadn’t learned the lesson from their parents. Numbers 20, we’ll begin with verse 1.
Numbers:20:1 – Amazingly, they’d been wandering all around but they’re right back in the same place and in the same condition, thirsty. “The children of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month: and the people stayed in Kadesh.” They’re at the same place! “And Miriam died there, and was buried there.”
Vs. 2 – “And there was no water…and they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron.”
Vs. 3 – “And the people contended with Moses.” Now, how tired of this routine must Moses have been after all these years? How exasperating! All of the repressed exasperation finally bubbled up, as we are going to see. A single event. So many times he patiently fell on his face, said God what should I do? So many times he even asked God, kill me, let them live, be merciful, repent of the evil you are about to do, that’s the very language he used, and he saved that generation. How many times had Moses got it right? But verse 3, this, maybe, just may have been the one that broke the camel’s back. “The people contended with Moses, and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!'”
Vs. 4 – “‘Why have you brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here?'”
Vs. 5 – “‘And why have you, Moses, made us come up out of Egypt?'” And silently he’s thinking if you only knew how many times I saved your bacon. I interceded on your behalf to God when He was going to wipe you all out and start…he was thinking these things. I am convinced he was. “‘It is not a place of,'” well, they go on and on here. Let me…verse 6.
Vs. 6 – “So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of the meeting, and they fell on their faces.” So far, so good, Moses, one last time, is going to get it right! “And the glory of the Lord appeared to them.”
Vs. 7 – “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,”
Vs. 8 – “‘Take the rod.” Now that’s exactly the way the instructions are started back in Exodus 17. Moses is thinking, God, You change not, You’re the same, yes, yes, I’ve heard it all. Did he tune Him out? Did he get careless? What exactly happened? “‘Take the rod.'” I know, I know, I’m supposed to hit the rock. These wretched Israelites for thirty-eight years they’ve been just a, you know, a boil on my backside. “‘Take the rod, you and your brother Aaron, gather the assembly, speak to the rock.'” Oh, the instructions are different. They start the same. Is Moses paying attention? Is Moses treating these instructions from God as holy, as to be treated with awe? Yeah, yeah, I know the routine. “‘Speak to the rock.'” Don’t speak to the people, don’t hit the rock, speak to the rock, that’s different than thirty-eight years before, it’s supposed to have the same result. Did he get a little careless? Did he give vent to thirty-eight years of built up frustration, of repressed desire to see these people get what they really had coming? “‘And it will yield its water, thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock: and give drink to the congregation.'”
Vs. 9 – “So Moses took the rod from before the Lord.” I could see him racing out there, face red, flushed with anger, exasperation.
Vs. 10 – “And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said, ‘Listen, you rebels!'” He was not given authority to speak to the people that way. He was not told to hit the rock and yet the next thing, “‘Must we bring water for you out of this rock?'” In Moses’ words, where is God?
Vs. 11 – “And Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock,” not once but twice, that’s what he had done thirty-eight years ago. Moses, that’s not what God told you to do this time. Now to save the day, God did cause the water to come out of the rock, but verse 12.
Vs. 12 – “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe me, to hallow me,'” he gave way just this once to his nature and he did not hallow, he did not follow the holy instructions of God. He treated them in a cavalier manner. He said they could be amended slightly. I’m going to dramatically show to these people who’s… “‘Because you did not hallow me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them,'” a fairly significant result, from a one-time, but a major one-time, treating of something holy as unholy.
Moses had not, we could conclude, built up points with God from his many years of faithful and humble service in following the instructions; in this one case, his carelessness with holiness cost him. Eternally? No. He will be in the first resurrection in an exalted position, but at least in the physical life, because treating of the holy things of God with a cavalier irreverent attitude is so important, God had to make a point and God recorded it for us to learn from.
Surely, Moses repented and expressed sorrow, but there are times when “I’m sorry,” though good is not enough to change God’s judgment as far as the repercussions in this lifetime. God’s holiness, and our relationship to it, is pre-eminent over our comfort or over our will or our desire for “everything to be okay.”
I’ll show you a second example of this: II Samuel 12. As I’ve said, this should sober you. It sobers me. This is the God we’re dealing with. It says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Yes, there is enormous mercy, there is enormous patience, there is forgiveness, but the record of the Scriptures is that there are consequences that sometimes don’t go away in this life for a cavalier approach to holiness. II Samuel 12, verse 13.
II Samuel 12:13 – David is confronted by Nathan the prophet and he says (in verse 7), “‘You are the man, David.'” And David repents. Verse 13. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.'” And what is the result of repentance? Well, it’s forgiveness. “And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.'”
Vs. 14 – However, there are consequences and they’re not going to go away and you can pray until you’re blue in the face and in this case, David, the child is going to die. “Because of this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child who is born to you shall surely die.'”
Vs. 15 – And then, “Nathan departed to his house.” David prayed. He begged God. He fasted. Is there any way this could work out another way? The child is innocent, what did the child do? He argued with God. He pleaded with God and, then, the child died.
And then the servants came and they found David and they thought that he would be nearly insane with grief, but they found him composed and accepting of what had happened.
Vs. 22 – “He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and I wept,'” I know God. I know that there are times when God has even changed His mind after issuing a judgment, so I dipped myself into that water and tried to swim in it. “‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?'” God’s mercy is such that sometimes it surprises us, but not in this case.
Vs. 23 – “‘But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'” There are very serious consequences for those God is dealing with, to either fail to discern, or once having discerned, to treat contemptuously and in a cavalier manner, the holy things of God.
To Israel collectively and to us in our carnality, with an uncircumcised heart as they had, an unconquered heart, as sometimes we give way to, God seems a certain way. The carnal mind treats the Holy God a certain way. Let me characterize it for you. The unconquered heart, the uncircumcised heart, the dirty heart, the unholy heart treats God kind of like a crazy old uncle who lives in the basement. He may be generous, but he is embarrassing. He embarrasses the rest of the family. He’s intrusive. He gives away but he won’t go away. That’s how the unholy heart treats God. He gives away good things, which we like, he may be generous but he won’t go away and leave us alone. He gives away candy and money but he smells bad and he talks all the time and he’s old-fashioned and he embarrasses us when our friends come around. He won’t go away and leave us alone to enjoy the candy and the money with our friends. That’s the way the unholy and uncircumcised heart thinks about God.
Deuteronomy:5:29 – God, Himself, is not surprised by all this. In that sense He was fully aware that He was creating this messy interim between a past holy, undefiled eternity and a future holy, undefiled eternity. During now, He says, “Oh that they did have such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep my commandments always,” that they would not only discern the difference between good and evil but embrace the one and hate the other, “that it might be well with them, and their children forever!”
Joshua 24 – Now, this is just before Joshua’s days of leading the people of Israel are over. This is another generation removed from what we were just reading about at the end of wilderness wanderings. And Joshua in his, sort of, his farewell address speaks pointedly to that generation.
Joshua:24:14 – “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river, and in Egypt; serve the Lord.”
Vs. 15 – “And if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
So the people said, okay, that crazy old uncle Josh, you know, he’s talking all that holy talk, okay, we’re going to do it Joshua, no problem!
Vs. 16 – “And the people answered and said, far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods;” yeah, yeah, let’s get on to the good stuff, okay, we’ll be holy. But, Joshua wouldn’t let it go.
Vs. 17 – “For the Lord our God, is he who brought our fathers out of the land of Egypt,” and we know what God’s done and God’s been good to us, “from the house of bondage,” blah, blah, blah.
Vs. 18 – “And the Lord drove out from among us all the people,” blah, blah, blah, blah. They were giving the party line that they thought Joshua wanted to hear and then he’d go on and go away and leave them alone and they could have their land and settle in and get on with what they wanted to do. “We will serve the Lord; for he is our God.”
Vs. 19 – Joshua just, was like a skunk at a garden party, he threw cold water. “You cannot serve the Lord; for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God: he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.”
He kind of brought them back to reality. Look at yourselves. Don’t you know what kind of a heart you have? You’re deceiving yourselves. You don’t realize that it isn’t easy to serve the Holy God. It can’t be done just with a little effort. It can’t be done with your own horsepower. You need help. I mean that’s what he’s saying, at least to us he’s saying that. I love that. You can’t serve God. They’ve just given him this nice flowery oration about, we’ll covenant with God, all these wonderful things and he says, you can’t serve Him. Well, of course then, they argued with him and he kind of let it go after that, but he did make a statement, which I think is meaningful to us. It’s not easy and we can’t do it on our own horsepower.
So what do we do in the presence of all this?
Ecclesiastes:5:1 – It all begins with attitude, with an approach. It doesn’t begin with head knowledge; it doesn’t begin with doctrinal perfection. Now that’s one of the things that is achieved along the way, but it begins with an attitude, with a heart, an awestruck heart at the holiness of God. And here in a couple of verses of Ecclesiastes 5 it gives an expression to this.
Vs. 1 – It says, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God.” Now, again, as we read through this I wonder if all of us couldn’t find some application, even in our thoughts and behavior on the Sabbath day at Sabbath services. Just “walk prudently when you go to the house of God, and draw near to hear, rather than to give the sacrifice of fools.” You know the old proverb, God gave us two ears and one mouth, maybe we should learn we should listen twice as much as we speak. Hear our speech, if it’s proud speech, it is categorized as “the sacrifice of fools.” So, “walk prudently,” be careful, kind of look around, listen real carefully.
Have an attitude of learning. The one time Moses didn’t follow this advice, look at the results. After all that heartache and that patience, nearly forty years, he was not able to go into the Promised Land. He says, “So, walk prudently when you go to the house of God.” It’s a humble attitude. It’s a poor in spirit attitude. It’s an “I don’t bring much to the table” attitude. God brings everything to the table attitude. “And draw near to hear, rather than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they do not know that they do evil.”
Vs. 2 – It goes on, “Do not be rash with you mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God: for God is in heaven, and you are on earth: therefore let your words be few.”
Isaiah 58 – I mean that is just such an eloquent description of an attitude of holiness. It starts with a willingness to be taught by God. Isaiah 58. Now, you know, we can’t go into all the “yeah, buts,” we also have to be sure that we don’t let other people take us astray. I mean that’s, again, another topic but it’s talking about the attitude. I would say don’t go to God with a ‘tude, unless it’s the right one.
Isaiah:58:3 – Now here’s an attitude. This is violating what was just said in Ecclesiastes. Here’s a person who does outward things and expects God to respect that. “Why have we fasted,” why do we go to all the trouble to do this God and You don’t seem to give us what we want? See the attitude? “Why have we fasted? You know, why have we…? Fill-in-the-blank. “Why have you not seen?” Why aren’t You a little quicker on the draw to give us what we want? I mean, that’s why we fast isn’t it, to make God do what we want? “Why have we afflicted our souls, and you take no notice? In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and you exploit all your laborers.” Nothing really fundamental about your life has changed except you’ve gone hungry for a day.
Vs. 4 – “You fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness:” don’t fast that way to me and expect Me, you know, that I’m going to be impressed, that’s what God is saying, “to make your voice heard on high.”
Then we go over to verse 13. Oh! We were there, weren’t we? But, it’s altogether. He keeps coming back to this.
Vs. 13 – “If you turn away you foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day:” now I am utterly unable to give you a laundry list, but that is the whole point, isn’t it? A laundry list of twenty-three things, that if you will do on the Sabbath, it will fulfill this, because it starts in the heart. What you can do and can’t do isn’t the point. God’s Spirit will convict and lead for somebody who wants to treat holy things in a holy manner. So, we don’t stand up here and give you the twenty-three things that if you do and the nineteen things if you don’t do, will fulfill this, because it’s not subject to that kind of a discreet list. It’s from the heart. It has to come from an educated heart. I don’t mean that the heart and the conscience are the guide in all things, but from an educated, a biblically educated and spiritually enlightened heart, some things will become obvious.
Psalm:123:1 – This is the attitude being described back there in Ecclesiastes, chapter 5. “Unto you I lift my eyes.” Now the picture we have already is somebody standing humbly, looking up at a superior force, at a superior Source of purity and holiness. See, I’m looking up, not looking around or down or within, I’m looking up. “Oh you that dwell in the heavens.”
Vs. 2 – “Behold, as the eyes of servants,” just this beautiful language, in just a few words it explodes with insight, you see, “as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,” just blinking with alertness to see what the Master, what the Boss wants, and eager to rush in and do it. That should be the approach we come to God with and naturally, of course, it’s the opposite of the approach we come to God with in our carnal state. As Adam our forefather did, we run from Him or hide from Him, but this is looking, this, if we can see a slight change in the expression of God, oh, I, maybe He wants that, you see, and then we do it.
Well, that’s Christ’s attitude, the perfect Servant. If any of us think we have fully arrived at this, I think we’re deceiving ourselves, but it’s the goal. You see, “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the Lord God, until he has mercy on us.” It’s wanting to treat the things that are holy with holiness in a way that will please God.
We are only holy and we appreciate His holiness when He puts His Holy Spirit in us; that’s kind of the bottom line, as we wrap this up. Human beings can’t be holy unless they are made holy by God, unless His presence is in them, like it was in that ground, like it was in the Sabbath and is in the Sabbath. If the Holy God dwells in us, then God sees a bit of Himself in us by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. If God, the Holy God, lives in us through His Spirit, He makes us holy. That’s what it means to be sanctified, another religious word, but that’s what it means to be sanctified and it only happens to those God has chosen to justify and then to sanctify and to make holy through the indwelling presence of a bit of Himself. And then, our behavior and our thoughts should be brought more and more, over time, and it’s a bumpy road and sometimes, sometimes there are down times, but the overall trend, over time should be more and more conformity to the holiness of God; more and more discernment between the clean and the unclean, more and more embracing of the one and more revulsion of the other. In God’s sight, those He has set apart from the mass of humanity, who are involved in that process, who are trying, are holy.
Okay, a few final verses, most of them in the New Testament, to show this.
Romans:15:16 – Paul is talking about his work among those God called in the Gentile world and he said: “That I might be a minister,” this is Romans:15:16, “that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles,” these who have been separated from the great mass of humanity and brought over to this special state of being firstfruits, works in process, in the Church of God, “that this offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by,” what? “by the Holy Spirit.” Christ in them, their only hope of glory. “Sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
I Corinthians 6 – The same author, Paul talking about the same subject.
I Corinthians 6:19 – Earlier we talked about some of the things in Exodus and Leviticus that God described as holy: the holy Tabernacle, the holy Temple, the holy vessels, the holy showbread, the holy offerings, you know, well, “Do you not know,” verse 19 of I Corinthians 6, “that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own?”
Vs. 20 – “For you are bought at a price: therefore glorify in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” It’s the indwelling presence of the Holy God that, and only that, that could make us considered to be holy.
Hebrews:2:11 – To justify means to remove guilt and to take away the penalty of sin, but to sanctify means to make holy, to make special, and that is possible only for those who are set apart and made that way by the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. So, here it says in Hebrews 2 and verse 11: “For both he who sanctifies,” Who does the setting apart, “and those who are being sanctified are all of one: for which cause he (Christ) is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Christ says if it’s good enough for My Father, it’s good enough for Me. If He calls them His children, I call them My brothers and sisters. Of course, He is intimately involved with the process; it’s not just that He is a bystander. He is the Captain of this whole process and He’s the High Priest that makes it possible and through the Holy Spirit He dwells in us. He’s intimately involved in the process of bringing more brothers and sisters into the family.
Let’s go to I Peter 3 and verse 11. It’s talking about those who are in this process of being made holy, of being brought to the point where God will give eternal life in His family. “Let him turn away from the evil,” you see, “and do good.” Just a simple religious sounding sentence, but, again, first comes the discernment, to be able to discern the difference between good and evil and then to turn away from the evil rather than to give in to it.
But who gets the credit? Well, it’s an obvious answer, but just a few scriptures to show a person involved in this process has nothing to feel arrogant and proud and “better than others” about. Who gets the credit? Over in Acts, chapter 3, early on there in the church’s history, wonderful healings, wonderful miraculous goings-on through the hands of the apostles, through their bodies, through their sermons, through their words, an incredible healing takes place here that Peter is involved with.
Acts:3:11 – “And the lame that was healed held on to Peter and John,” this is Acts:3:11, “all the people ran toward them in the porch which is called Solomon’s porch, greatly amazed.”
Vs. 12 – “So when Peter saw it,” I mean, they were looking at Peter. Peter! You just healed this man. Wow! What a religious force you are, Peter! “He said, ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? And why are you looking at us?'” “Why are you looking intently at us as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” Then he went on to give all the praise and credit to God Who had done it through him, but that’s the whole approach, isn’t it?
II Corinthians 4:7 – In talking about this whole issue of how could something or someone or some creature that previously had been over here in the dirt pile, how could it be considered anything wonderful, special, holy? Paul uses this metaphor. Just like this old dirty broken piece of pottery, but out from the cracks in that broken piece of pottery comes this blinding, brilliant, beautiful light. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” it’s made out of dirt, it’s all cracked and broken and dusty, but there’s this brilliance that comes out from inside of it, put there by God, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Who gets the credit?
Even a converted person with this going on in them will pretty much say, as David did. Next to the last verse that we’ll look at. Psalm 8. This is still the recommended attitude. God, what on earth are You dealing with something like me for? That’s really what he’s saying here. Why on earth would You have anything to do with something like me?
Psalm:8:1 – “Oh Lord our Lord, how excellent is you name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Vs. 2 – “Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have ordained strength because of your enemies, that you might still the enemy and the avenger.”
Vs. 3 – He said, God, “When I consider the heavens, and the work of your hands, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained;”
Vs. 4 – “What is man, that you art mindful of him?” What on earth are You doing working with anything like me? The person that maintains that humble attitude, dealing in an awesome (“awful” in the correct understanding of the word) attitude with the holy things of God, that’s the recommended attitude.
You and I should ask God in our prayers, often, to give us a deep respect for the things that He has set apart as holy. We should ask for greater understanding of holiness because the Bible begins and ends with it. We should ask God to help us yield knowingly and sincerely to the process of His making us holy, for He is holy.
We will conclude with Psalm 30, again a description of an approach of an attitude. It kind of wraps this whole thing up. Psalm 30, beginning in verse 4.
Psalm:30:4 – “Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of his, and give thanks,” give thanks, “at the remembrance of his holy name.”