Devastating Holiness

I could be wrong, but it seems that some people spend much of their time trying to tame God; to make him more palatable for the masses. The earliest extant list of the Bible was composed by a man named Marcion. Marcion believed that the God of the Old Testament was evil and that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, came to rescue us from the tyrant God. Most probably would not make that sharp of a distinction, but it does seem as if many think that Jesus came to clean up God’s image; to tone him down a tad. Jesus came to explain God and to give all believers access to his very presence. This is good news, but does it render God less holy? Do we believe in a holiness that will quite literally blow your mind? In the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, when the ark of the covenant was opened, those who looked upon the glory of God had their faces melted off. Maybe there is a truth here we need. God’s holiness did not diminish so that we could be his pals. We were washed up by the blood of Jesus so that we can be in a relationship with the Holy of Holies. Jesus changed us, not God. Will the pure, undiluted glory of God still destroy us? I think so. We will need to be changed a whole heck of lot more before we can witness God’s devastating holiness.

In the first couple of verses of Exodus 24, Yahweh commanded Moses, Aaron, his two sons, and seventy elders to come up to the Presence of Yahweh. Yahweh’s holiness does not come down to our level. He calls us up. In verses 9-11 we have the account of the invited people coming up to Yahweh. Amazingly we are told that they saw the God; the Elohim; the Judge of Israel. This has caused all manner of anxiety. Some translations water this down by saying they saw a vision of God. But the first “saw” in the text does not mean to see visions. The second one can have this meaning. A bucket full of commentators also try to smooth this over by saying this was merely a vision. Why? Because later, when Moses boldly asked to see God’s glory in Exodus 33:18, God responded with, “Here’s the problem Moses; if anyone sees my face they will die.” Yahweh does not inform us how they would die, so it is possible their faces would melt off. I don’t find this at all likely. Personally, I think our finite minds would implode if we saw the pure glory of Yahweh. He is too holy for us to take in. Our minds cannot handle the devastating holiness of God. So what is going on in our text?

Notice that the description of God is what he is standing on. This most likely implies that they were all prostrate before Yahweh and all they could see was the ground at his feet. Maybe they caught a glimpse of his feet. But does God have feet? That would be an anthropomorphism. God is spirit and does not have feet like you and I. Whatever they saw of God was minimal. It was not his face; it was not his glory. And the ground is described as a working of bricks like sapphire or more likely lapis lazuli. This blue precious stone was available in Biblical times in its natural form (from Cyprus and Scythia) and in a manufactured form (from Egypt). It is described as being as pure as the sky itself. The heavens are God’s footstool. God is huge! Think about a being that used the heavens as his foot rest; where his feet rest as he sits upon the throne. Again, I don’t think this is a vision; it is a theophany; a glimpse of God himself. But how do you put that into words that would be understood? “As we saw God, all we could see is where he stood and that was this brilliant blue worked together like bricks. Man, you had to be there!”

We are told that Yahweh did not stretch out his hand against these invited up nobles as if this is kind of a surprise. The holiness of God is so awesome that getting a glimpse of where he stands may be damaging to your health. But these people were commanded by God to be there. So, they receive a glimpse and are allowed to live. This is probably so that they could better lead the Israelites; so that they would remember the devastating holiness of God. How better to encourage obedience to the covenant relationship? They witnessed the overwhelming righteousness of God and lived to tell the tale.

Today we are called up even higher to the Presence of God. We are allowed to live to tell the tale as well. And we are allowed to live because we wear the blood of Jesus like a holiness armor. Jesus did not come to change God so that we could tolerate him. Jesus came to change us so God could tolerate us. We need to learn the difference here. Our God is still devastatingly holy. Please don’t mitigate that holiness. And it is amazing that the devastatingly holy God seeks to be in a relationship with us. Be overwhelmed!