Uzzah’s punishment for trying to steady the ark as David brought it into Jerusalem strikes many people as an extreme reaction to a noble intent. However, once we begin to understand the fullness of our Lord’s character, particularly His holiness, we realize that God’s response was the inevitable outcome when unholy people break the divine law. So that we might have a better understanding of our Lord’s holiness, we will now take a short break from our study of the Old Testament Historical Books to consider this attribute in more detail. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series The Holiness of God will form the basis of our look at divine holiness.
In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin summarizes what the Bible teaches us about God so that, in understanding the Lord, we will better understand ourselves. Near the beginning of the Institutes, Calvin has this to say about how the knowledge of God enables the true knowledge of ourselves: “Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty” (1.1.3).
Calvin cites Isaiah 6 as a prooftext for his assertion, and with good reason. Isaiah, of course, served as a prophet of the Lord God Almighty. He would have been recognized as one of the holiest people in Israel during his lifetime since our Creator called him to deliver divine revelation to the people of Israel. Yet, what happened when Isaiah saw a vision of God in all His majestic glory and holiness? The prophet was undone and could only tremble in fear and pronounce a woe upon himself for being an unholy man (Isa. 6:1–7). Moreover, Isaiah’s response is not unusual. When we read of the Lord revealing His holy glory to people in Scripture, we find that they drop all pretense of being righteous and holy in themselves (e.g., Job 38:1–42:6).
Seeing the Lord, Isaiah understood that any holiness he possessed was nothing compared to the holiness of God. In light of the Lord’s perfection, Isaiah was most unholy even if he was holier than many other men and women in Israel (Lev. 11:44). He understood that even his best deeds were like a filthy garment in comparison to God (Isa. 64:6). Isaiah, unlike many people in the world today, knew that the Lord does not grade on a curve. We do not enjoy a good standing before Him simply by being more righteous than other people, for His standard is absolute perfection (Matt. 5:48).