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Holy, Holy, Holy: The Demands of the Holy (part 1)

Among the prayers that are read on Shabbat is the following brief selection from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book:

"The seventh day itself utters praise, saying it is good to give thanks to the Lord, therefore let all God’s creatures glorify and bless him. Let them attribute excellence, glory and grandeur to God, the King and Creator of all, who in his holiness bestows rest upon his people Israel on the holy Sabbath day. Thy name, O LORD our God shall be hallowed. Thy fame, our King, shall be glorified in heaven above and on earth beneath. Be thou blessed, our deliverer, for thy excellent handiwork; for the bright luminaries which thou hast made, may they ever render thee glory. The name of the great and mighty and revered God and King—holy is he. They all accept the rule of the kingdom of heaven, all the angels, one from the other, granting permission to one another to hallow their Creator, and in serene spirit with pure speech and sacred melody, they all exclaim in unison and with reverence —Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory." AMEN

I am calling my subject, The Demands of the Holy. We found that the essence of the word holy (from the root kadash) means to divide, to separate, to set apart, to mark off. It speaks of God’s otherness from everything else in creation, because he is the Creator. It speaks of his separateness, his transcendence, his holy inexplicable otherness that sets him apart from everything that is common and ordinary. The profane is what is ordinary, common. The word profane is the antonym of holy. God is unique, distinct, different—he is HOLY (kadosh). This is the term he chose to use to describe himself, "I am holy, you be holy; I am the Lord your God." I want to share with you how that otherness of God (that uniqueness, that distinctness) intersects the plane of space and time and people in this world. The sages tell us that the holy intersects this world in these three levels.

1. Sacred (holy) space is the place where God uniquely dwells. This is where, in some very special tangible way, he is present. Many places in the Bible are spoken of as holy.

  • Heaven is spoken of as holy; the throne of heaven is a holy place.

  • The ground on which Moses stood by the bush. It was not consumed as the supernatural dimension of the holy penetrated Moses’ human circumstances. The Lord said: ‘that ground is holy; take off your shoes." This isn’t ordinary terra firma.’

  • The tabernacle (tent of meeting) is called holy. Ex. 25:8, 9; 40:9-13. to consecrate/to make holy is the verb whereas holy is the noun derived from the verb. We see here that not only is a place holy (the tabernacle) but also things can be holy. The place where God dwells (is present) is a holy place; and those things that are uniquely associated with God and his service are also holy, like the implements in the tabernacle.

  • The name of God is holy. The words of God are holy, the covenants of God (such as the covenant with Abraham) are said to be holy, because it has entered into the dimension of the holy. Because it is put to God’s use, it partakes of God’s holiness.

  • Not only do we have the tabernacle; we also have the temple, the successor to the tabernacle. The temple that was built by Solomon in its first version (and subsequent versions) are spoken of as holy.

  • Mount Zion, the mountain on which the temple rests is called the holy mountain.

  • Jerusalem the city in which the temple dwells is called the holy city, Yerushalayim.

  • The land of Israel is called the Holy Land. It is a land that in some way is distinct, unique, different from all other land on the planet, it is set apart in some special way to God’s service and use.

* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.

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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

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