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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Holy Cities, Holy Shrines, Holy Smoke . . . What's Holy?

Photo by: pakorn

We listen to the news and hear “the holy city of _________,” a “holy shrine,” one of (this religion’s) “most holy days.” Some religions use “holy water” and some even have “holy smoke.” There are other “holy” things, too: trees, pillars, books, cathedrals, mosques, basilicas, words, and even people!

What’s holy?

The word holy in biblical Greek (hágios) has several meanings:* 
  1. Venerate, revere, worthy of veneration, reverend, God. Anything connected with God: the temple, the holy of holies in the temple.
  2. Set apart, different, “otherness,” exclusively God’s
  3. Morally pure, clean, sinless, upright, Christ 

In the biblical book of Revelation, we read about the only One who is worthy of praise and adoration, Jesus. It gives us several reasons, and they have to do with Jesus’ creation of the world and His work of redemption on the cross. Consider these verses:
  • Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Revelation 4:11).
  • And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).
  • Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing (Revelation 5:12).

Why is Jesus the only One worthy of praise, honor, glory, and blessing? It’s because He’s holy!

So, when we hear the term holy, we should think of God. Some things are truly holy, and some aren’t. Let’s look at some biblical holy things. Some of them might surprise you:
  • Holy ground—When God spoke to Moses from the miraculously burning bush, He told Moses to take off his shoes, for the ground where he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5). Stephen retold the story of Moses in Acts 7:33.
  • Holy smoke—When Moses prepared to meet God on Mount Sinai, the Lord signaled His Presence with fire and smoke and an earthquake (Exodus 19:18). When the high priest offered in the holy of holies, a cloud of incense covered the mercy seat. If that step were to be ignored, the high priest would die. This sacred smoke was a symbol of God communing with man and man with God (Leviticus 16:13).
  • Holy garments—The priests’ garments were designed and specified by God. They were worn only for the tasks in the Tabernacle and Temple. These were symbolic—along with all the Old Testament rituals—of what Jesus would do when He came to redeem mankind from sin. The specifications for the priests’ garments are in Exodus 28 and 29.
  • The altar, bread, and other furnishings of the Tabernacle and Temple were regarded as holy. The Tabernacle and Temple were called holy places, as was the Holy of Holies.
  • Holy water—There’s only one reference to holy water in the Bible. It’s in Numbers 5:17 where there’s detailed a way to judge if a wife had committed adultery. Pure water, mixed with dust, was to be given to the woman to drink. If she was fine afterwards, she was innocent, and if she got sick, she was guilty. “Holy water” isn’t used for baptizing or sprinkling as is common in many religions.
  • Holy city—Jerusalem is called the holy city many times in the Bible. It is the only city called holy. (Nehemiah 11:1, 18; Isaiah 48:2; 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; 27:53; Revelation 11:2; 21:2 the New Jerusalem; 22:19)
  • Holy day—The Sabbath is the only holy day mentioned in Scripture. (Exodus 35:2; Nehemiah 10:31; Isaiah 58:13) The Sabbath is also called a holy convocation. (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:3, 7-8, 21, 24, 27, 35-36. The feast of the first fruits is called a holy convocation. The feast days are outlined in Numbers 28-29.
  • Holy oil—The priests and kings were anointed with specially blended oil (Exodus 30:31-37; Numbers 35:25; Psalm 89:20).

In the Bible there's no:
  • Holy shrine—The word shrine doesn’t appear anywhere in Scripture.
  • Holy person besides Jesus Christ, Who is God—It is interesting to hear many religions address their leaders as “holy father,” “his holiness,” “most holy father,” “reverend” “his eminence,” etc. The only time the phrase Holy Father is used in the Bible is when Jesus is praying to God the Father, And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (John 17:11). Jesus said, And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ (Matthew 23:9-10). There are two instances, however, of the phrase “holy men.” The first reference is speaking of health laws with the meaning of “set apart unto God.” (Exodus 22:31) The other reference speaks of the writing of the Bible by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21).

Okay, so what does all of this matter in the eternal scheme of things? Here’s some application. The word holy is about God. Anything that isn’t about the one true God isn’t holy. When we hear the word holy used to describe things or people in a non-biblical way, we know it’s inappropriate.

One of my favorite ways to hear holy is when it’s three times, for the trinity, the three Persons of the Godhead:
  • And one cried unto 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 beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8). (Now you know where the hymn came from.)

Praise God, for He is holy!

 *Definition from Online Bible.

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