10 Key Bible Verses on God’s Holiness

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Isaiah 6:1–5

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Read More

In the year. Around 740 B.C. King Uzziah died, marking the end of a lengthy era of national prosperity (see 2 Chronicles 26). Uzziah had contracted leprosy for flouting God’s holiness, and his son Jotham had been his co-regent for about 10 years (2 Chron. 26:16–21). I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne. The undying King holds court above. The words high and lifted up appear elsewhere in Isaiah (Isa. 52:13; 57:15) and seem to be part of his distinctive style. John 12:38–41 brings two of these together, implying that John saw the servant of Isa. 52:13–53:12 as not only messianic, but divine. The temple in Jerusalem modeled the temple in heaven (cf. Heb. 9:24; Rev. 4:1–4).

the seraphim. Fiery angelic beings (the Hb. word serapim means “flames”). Six wings suggest remarkable powers. The references to face and feet, with their capacity for speech in Isaiah 6:3 and Isaiah 6:7, and “his hand” in Isaiah 6:6, imply composite creatures, such as are represented in ancient Near Eastern art. he covered. Even a perfect, superhuman creature humbles himself before the all-holy God.

Holy, holy, holy. The threefold repetition intensifies the superlative (cf. Rev. 4:8). Holiness implies absolute moral purity and separateness above the creation (see note on Isa. 1:4). his glory. This is a technical term for God’s manifest presence with his covenant people. It was seen in the cloud in the wilderness (Ex. 16:7, 10); it moved in to “fill” the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–35) and then the temple (1 Kings 8:11), where the worshipers could “see” it (Ex. 29:43; Ps. 26:8; 63:2). Several passages look forward to the day when the Lord’s glory would fill the earth, i.e., the whole world will become a sanctuary (Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14; cf. Isa. 11:9); and the ESV footnote suggests that the seraphic cry shares this anticipation. Other texts in Isaiah also look forward to the revealing of the Lord’s glory to the world (11:10; 35:2; 40:5; 58:8; 59:19; 60:1–2; 66:18). John 1:14 asserts that this glory was present in Jesus.

The revelation of the Holy One is disturbing (see Ex. 19:16–18). Woe is me! For the first time in the book, Isaiah speaks, and his word is a prophetic woe against himself. He confesses his unclean (i.e., not permitted in God’s presence) lips, unlike the seraphic choir, whose worship is pure. I dwell in the midst. Isaiah’s generation is unfit for God, and Isaiah himself is no better. my eyes have seen the King. The holiness of the King is such that the very sight of him seems as though it would be fatal to a sinner (cf. Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:20; Isa. 33:14).

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2. Revelation 4:8

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
      who was and is and is to come!” Read More

Four living creatures exhibit features of cherubim (full of eyes; lion; ox; man; eagle) and seraphim (six wings; “Holy, holy, holy”) glimpsed by previous prophets (Isa. 6:2–3; Ezek. 1:10, 18). Variation and blending of such features is a reminder that in prophetic visions, images symbolize mysterious unseen realities. These close attendants represent and yet transcend the whole of the created order on earth and in heaven as they ceaselessly praise God for his intrinsic attributes: infinite holiness and power, and eternal life (in the repeated description, “who lives forever and ever,” in Rev. 4:9–10).

3. 1 Samuel 2:2

“There is none holy like the LORD:
      for there is none besides you;
      there is no rock like our God.” Read More

The first and third lines of this verse are parallel: holy is parallel to rock, and the LORD is parallel to God, with different structure but similar meaning. The formula “there is no . . . like . . . ” denotes incomparability. Thus, for there is none besides you states that there is no absolutely holy being besides the Lord; moreover, only the Lord is God, i.e., “monotheism” is true (see Deut. 4:35; 32:39; 2 Sam. 22:32). “Rock,” a common OT epithet for God (e.g., Deut. 32:4, 15; 2 Sam. 22:2; 23:3), indicates God’s protection and strength. In Ps. 118:22 and Isa. 8:14; 28:16; as well as in 1 Pet. 2:6–8, “rock” has a messianic significance.

4. Leviticus 19:1–2

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Read More

Call to Holiness. In Leviticus 19 the Lord strongly commands the people (including the priests) to become holy in their practice, as he is holy (v. 2). One becomes practically holy by observing all the following negative and positive commandments. Some of the commandments in vv. 3–18 are similar to the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:2–17), and the topics in this chapter show that holiness must be practiced in every sphere of one’s life. Some of the rules are grounded in the fact that the Lord is the One who saved the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt. Many of these rules (e.g., Lev. 19:9–18) are oriented toward the Israelites’ functioning as a loving community, serving one another’s well-being.

Holiness here refers first and foremost to the essential nature of God. The term holy means “set apart, unique, and distinct,” and holiness in humans ordinarily refers to their being set apart for service to God (see note on Isa. 6:3). Human holiness is the imitation of God, i.e., becoming and acting like him.

5. 1 Peter 1:14–16

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Read More

While living on this earth, Christians have to fight the desires of sin, so they are called to be obedient children, separated from evil in all that they do. They are to be holy (cf. Lev. 18:2–4), for that accords with the character of God who is holy and has called believers to himself.

6. Isaiah 57:15

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
      who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
      and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
      and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Read More

God dwells in the high and holy place of his eternal transcendence, where no one else may go, and also dwells with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.

7. Exodus 3:1–6

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Read More

Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet. The instructions to Moses are followed by a reason that emphasizes the place where he is standing. The very ordinariness of the location helps make the point that it is holy ground, not because of any special properties of the place but only because of God’s presence. This is representative of a theme in Exodus: God is holy, and he is the one who makes or declares places and people to be holy—and each is properly understood or treated as holy only in its relation to God. The instructions given to Moses here at the burning bush are also given to his successor Joshua when he meets the “commander of the army of the LORD” as Israel is preparing to take Jericho (see Josh. 5:13–15).

8. Leviticus 11:44–45

For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Read More

For I am the LORD. This self-identification is used here for the first time in the book; it occurs frequently from Leviticus 18 on. for I am holy. Cf. Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:26; Lev. 21:8. The Lord, who is himself holy, calls his people to consecrate themselves, i.e., dedicate themselves to holiness (Hb. hitqaddesh), and to be holy, i.e., practice a holy lifestyle. Cf. Lev. 20:7–8 who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Personal consecration (in which a person imitates God’s own character) is a response to God’s gracious initiative (cf. Ex. 20:2). First Peter 1:16 applies the same principle to Christian readers, portraying them as the heirs of this special status.

9. Psalm 96:7–9

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
      ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
      bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
      tremble before him, all the earth! Read More

All Nations, Ascribe Glory to the Lord! These verses develop the thought of v. 7, inviting the Gentiles to worship into his courts, i.e., in the temple precincts. The OT describes the future era, when the Gentiles receive the light, by picturing them coming to the Jerusalem temple (Isa. 2:2–3; even the lesser temple after the exile, Hag. 2:7–9). The Gentiles are to bring an offering and to worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness (i.e., the splendid presence of the all-holy one). Their uncleanness (cf. Isa. 52:1) can be cured by conversion, and then they too will be welcome in God’s house.

Ascribe . . . ascribe . . . Ascribe. These three lines are very similar to 29:1–2, except that there the heavenly beings are called to worship, while here it is the families of the peoples (i.e., Gentiles). Strength looks back to the same word in Psa. 96:6, and glory (Hb. kabod) is a synonym of “beauty” (Hb. tip’eret). Psa. 96:6 listed God’s attributes, and the Gentiles are called to “ascribe” (or acknowledge) these attributes. The glory due his name is the respect and honor God’s character deserves.

10. Isaiah 5:16

But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice,
      and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. Read More

What sets Judah’s God apart is his exalted moral character. He is not merely a provider who is useful to humans; he is holy in himself, and he proves it by enforcing his moral order.

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