Read: 1 Samuel 4: 1 – 11, 1 Samuel 5:1 – 7:2 

Focus Verse: “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” 1 Samuel 6:20.

When you think of God, what are some adjectives that come to mind? One of the first that comes to my mind is “holy”, but what does that word really mean? Today’s readings give a glimpse into the meaning – because the Ark was consecrated as holy by God, God demanded that it be treated in a special, sacred way. In today’s reading we see some instances where the ark wasn’t treated as holy; in each of those instances, the people (whether they be Philistines or Israelites) experience consequences when the holy is treated as common. Another similar Bible passage talks about what happens to Uzzah when he wasn’t perfectly careful with the Ark and treated it in a common, less than sacred manner as he was assisting King David in moving the Ark to Jerusalem. We read the following in 2 Samuel 6: 6-7:

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.

While that passage is difficult for me to fully comprehend, it does impart to me a rather immediate sense that when God deems something to be “holy” He means for us to take that very reverently, seriously, and intentionally.

So let’s go back to the source of all holiness – God.

Gotquestions.org provides this explanation of what it means to call God “holy”:

The holiness of God is the most difficult of all God’s attributes to explain, partly because it is one of His essential attributes that is not shared, inherently, by man. We are created in God’s image, and we can share many of His attributes, to a much lesser extent, of course—love, mercy, faithfulness, etc. But some of God’s attributes, such as omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, will never be shared by created beings. Similarly, holiness is not something that we will possess as an inherent part of our nature; we only become holy in relationship to Christ. It is an imputed holiness. Only in Christ do we “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s holiness is what separates Him from all other beings, what makes Him separate and distinct from everything else. God’s holiness is more than just His perfection or sinless purity; it is the essence of His “other-ness,” His transcendence. God’s holiness embodies the mystery of His awesomeness and causes us to gaze in wonder at Him as we begin to comprehend just a little of His majesty.

While this discussion of holiness might seem a little tangential to the entirety of today’s reading, I actually think it’s essential, especially as we start reading more and more Old Testament passages about God’s holiness. When we read about God’s holiness in the Old Testament, it’s important that we do so under the prism of the Gospel (Good News) revealed in the New Testament – namely that God chose to take the penalty for our sin on Himself when Jesus died a substitutionary death for us on the cross so we could be forgiven entirely and be in a right relationship with God. When we read the Old Testament out of context of God’s self-revelation through Jesus, we can dangerously fall into a legalistic trap of equating holiness to how morally good one can be.

We are commanded to be holy; 1 Peter 1:16 tell us “You must be holy because I am holy.” What does that mean for us though? Holiness isn’t just about our private moralistic notions – being holy can’t be contained just in moral behavior (worthwhile and meaningful though it is) such as sexual purity, honesty, commitment to our Bible reading plans, etc. As we see above, holiness in us isn’t possible through our actions. Holiness must be “imputed” to us – in other words, it must be given, transferred, or done to us, and that’s only possible when we have Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit living in us. Us being holy is only possible as the result of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In order to be holy, we must allow ourselves to be set apart and dedicated to our God. As God tells us in Hebrews 8:10: “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.”

Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. This shows the relational aspect behind holiness. While there are obviously moral ramifications, being holy before being good presupposes that God has established a unique relationship with His people that precedes any moral considerations.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul tells us “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” When we confess and repent of our sins and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we enter into an irrevocable relationship with God, one in which God unites each believer with Jesus and gives His Holy Spirit to reside in us for as long as we draw breath. One of the principle roles of the Holy Spirit is to sanctify us. In a nutshell sanctification means to set a person apart and make him holy (see here for more if you’re interested).

So let’s look back at the question posed in the focus verse – Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? Because of God’s mercy and grace and His gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify, we don’t need to be afraid of that verse. We know that because of the Holy Spirit’s work in each of us as a believer in Christ, one day we will have the profound joy of standing in the presence of this holy God! For us as believers, that’s not a threat; it’s the greatest promise anyone could ever make us!

Prayer: Lord, thank You that You love me so much and desire a relationship with me so deeply that Jesus died to pay my sin debt. Please help me to avoid traps of my own making of trying to be holy through my efforts. Instead, help me to refocus my eyes off of me and onto Jesus – help me to be sensitive to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and open to the sanctification work God is doing in me. Help me to love You better and to love others as You love me. In Jesus’ name… Amen.

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