As I read through these portions of Scripture, the words that kept circling through my mind were holy and intimate. Both of these words have a weight to them and yet I believe many of us don’t approach or understand God with the weight due them.
Holy means set apart, other-ness, and sacred.
Intimate means closely familiar, personal and close.
Do those strike you as opposite like they do me? Set apart, yet closely familiar. Far above us, yet acquainted with the details of our lives. If we go too far in one direction, we lose a big portion of God’s identity.
In the story of Sinai, Yahweh (LORD) is used throughout these passages. Yahweh means “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be”, pointing to God’s omnipotence. The very first use of Yahweh was in Genesis 2:4 which begins the second account of creation, the story that portrays God intimately and actively involved in creation, crafting the earth, getting muddy, forming man, breathing life into his nostril, and bringing forth woman. Now we see in Genesis 19-20, this same name of God, Yahweh, who is wooing the Israelites calling them “my treasured possession” (Ex 19:5) and vowing to marry them as His people (Ex 20:1-21). This shows us that God, as the absolute ruler, is a lover of His people, drawn to intimacy.
However, His holiness has a jealous side. The first four commandments are strongly tied to God’s identity as the ONLY source of life for His people. No idols. No other gods. No images, not even of his creation. No misuse of His name, even His name is holy. And one day a week is set apart for Him, a day is holy. And yet, we know how the Israelites treated this side of God’s holiness, this request from Yahweh. And we are no different. This is when our view of God gets out of balance and all we focus on is his intimacy, grace, and lovingkindness.
Looking at the Isaiah passage, God’s holiness is painted all over these words of Scripture – “high and exalted, seated on a throne,” “holy, holy, holy is Yahweh,” and Isaiah’s response, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh” (Is 6:1-5). Reading further, you begin to see the holiness and jealousy of God as He deals with a rebellious people, prophesying about the captivity and destruction of His people. And then when arriving at Isaiah 9:1-7, we see that God’s jealousy (zeal in Is 9:7) drives Him to the ultimate plan of a “child” and a “son,” the beautiful picture of Jesus entering the gap between God’s holiness and God’s intimacy. A gap that our sin intensified. God desired relationship with His people yet His holiness could not be in relationship with sin. So His holiness was intimately clothed in human likeness so our true likeness and relationship with Yahweh could be restored in Christ Jesus. So that Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:26 would be true, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Praying for all of us to grasp hold of both the holiness and intimacy of our Lord. With God, you cannot have one without the other. And actually, embracing his true holiness makes his intimate plan of salvation most costly and more beautiful to us! May you live in the fullness of that beauty today.