Holy, Holy, Holy
And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
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!” (Revelation 4:8)
In the Hebrew language, the way you emphasise something is to say it twice. So the King of Kings is the mist kingly king, the Song of Songs is the best song and the Lord of Lords is the greatest lord. In two places, however, this doubling of words is taken to an even higher degree: when it comes to describing the holiness of God, he is described as “holy, holy, holy”.
Holiness describes God’s moral perfection, his purity and his utter sinlessness. Since he is the creator of the heavens and the earth, he defines what it is to be perfect, to be holy. This utter holiness then leads to his otherness. When we measure ourselves against the holiness of God, we look rather shabby. It’s all very well looking at your neighbour and thinking that you are a better person, it’s rather different to look at God and judge yourself!
One of the great themes of the Bible is: God is holy, and we are not. When Moses approaches the burning bush, he has to remove his shoes since he is on holy ground. He is to come no closer. When the law is given on the mountaintop, the Israelites are warned not even to touch the mountain. Like the sun, we might feel the benefits of God’s holiness but we cannot look directly at it. It is a thing of awe.
No wonder God is addressed by the heavenly host as thrice holy. Holiness is at the heart of his majesty. It is what makes him both pure and other.