In the Hebrew language, the word “holy” conveys the idea of being separate or set apart from that which is common or profane. We know that God is holy, utterly separate from sinners (Heb. 7:26). It is God’s intention that his saints also be holy or set apart from the world around them.
There are other things that are holy in the Bible. In Leviticus, we learn that the Tabernacle and all its contents were holy. So were the vessels of service used in the worship of God. If we carefully read God’s word, we learn about other holy things.
Let us consider some of them.
There is such a thing as holy history. The German theologians have a special word it. The word is heilsgeschichte. Holy history is simply the record of God’s activity and direct intervention in history. In this respect, God is unlike all other gods. There is no other religion outside the Judeo/Christian tradition where divinities have acted to change and direct the course of world history. Yes, our God works in history.
Let us briefly recount some instances of his working. When Israel was a captive in Egypt, God acted with “an outstretched arm” to deliver his people and make them into a nation. Concerning this spectacular event, God asks in Deuteronomy 4:34, “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?”
In another instance, God changed history by calling Cyrus, the pagan king, and charging him with the sacred task of bringing the Jewish people back home from captivity. Cyrus, who was not even a worshipper of the true God, was given the name of God’s “anointed” for this mission (Isa. 45:1). Also in the Persian kingdom, God raised up the Jewish girl, Esther, as queen of the vast empire. He did it for the purpose of delivering his own people from an ancient holocaust being planned by evil Haman.
This holy history, or sacred history, is the record of his workings in all ages on behalf of his redeemed. In Isaiah 64:4 we read: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those
who wait for him.”
Sometimes it seems that the history of the world is extremely fatalistic. However, believers know that the hand of God rules history. In Proverbs 21:1 we read: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
Not only is there holy history, but there is also holy geography. There is a Holy Land, in which the bulk of God’s redeeming activity has taken place. That Holy Land is the land of Israel. God separates this land from all other lands. On several occasions he calls it “my land.”(cf. Isa. 14:25; Jer. 2:7). He speaks of it in this wise: “It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deut. 11:12).
In this Holy Land there is the Holy City, Jerusalem. This is the world center of God’s redeeming activity. The drama of redemption has been progressing in this city since time immemorial. In ancient times Abraham was there, offering up his son on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. Melchizedek was there, somehow mysteriously representing the eternal priesthood and eternal kingship of the coming Messiah. Later God’s Temple stood there and his priests ministered there. God says of this city in Isaiah 49:16: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls ever before me.” In another place God says: “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it—” (Psa. 132:14).
In his Holy Land and Holy City, God has built over the centuries a salvation infrastructure. Just imagine how difficult it would have been for God to convey to this pagan world the deep spiritual concepts about himself and his salvation were it not for this salvation infrastructure. What if God had gone to the pagan in the jungle and said, “Hi, I am the Savior?” After the initial shock the pagan would have probably replied, “Uh…, OK, but what is a Savior?”
It took thousands of years and multiplied thousands of pictures for us to get the idea of what a Savior is. We had to first understand sin. God pictured this for us on the Temple Mount as literally millions of animals were sacrificed in bloody ritual and as their blood flowed down into the Kidron Valley. All this pictured that sin is an extremely costly thing. Finally in the fullness of time God sent the true Lamb, his own Son, who would pay the price for sin once for all.
In the Holy Land there are thousands of similar pictures conveying to us spiritual truths. In fact, the Holy Land has been called the “fifth gospel.” It is the gospel we can experience. When we do so, it adds sight, sound, dimension and living color to the other gospels and to the rest of scripture as well.
In addition to holy history, and Holy Land, God has a holy people. I do not imply by this that these people are some pious-looking stained glass figures. They are real flesh and blood people. The New Testament calls them saints (Rom. 1:7). These holy people have trusted in the Messiah for the forgiveness of their sins. They are called holy because of his great mercy. They are thus separated from the world, and in time God will not only declare them holy but will actually make their holiness a reality in every sense of the word (Heb. 10:10).
God also has another holy people on the face of this earth. They are holy in the sense that they are, and have been for ages, separated for the purposes of God. I am speaking of the Jewish people. Long ago God said of them: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6).
God has never changed his mind about this choice and separation of Israel. Even when they were in their long dispersion in the nations of the world, God didn’t change his mind. In fact, he said them: “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the LORD their God.” (Lev. 26:44).
Today we have an unusual miracle in progress. In this special period of history, the original holy people are returning to the Holy Land.
Last of all, let us mention that there is a holy word, the Bible. We need to take a new look at God’s holy word. Today this word is ignored by the masses. It is “watered down” by Christians. The theologians dissect it as if it were some cadaver. Yet the word of God is an eternally living thing (Heb. 4:12) Like a dried root or shriveled seed it can suddenly sprout and bring forth new life to the individual and to the world.
God’s word cannot fail. Regardless of what modern and postmodern theologians say. Jesus expressed implicit faith in the word of God. In fact, he was and is the Living Word. Jesus knew that the word of God could not be broken (Jn. 10:35). He knew that the smallest curlicue, on the smallest Hebrew letter of the Bible, would not pass away (Matt. 5:18). While scholars scoff at books like Jonah, Jesus based the whole doctrine of the resurrection on this little book (Matt. 12:40). How dare we look at scripture other than in the way Jesus looked at it!
Today while scholars scoff, while Christians yawn in disinterest, and while the world screams in disapproval, God is bringing hundreds of thousands of his people back home to Israel, from the lands of the north and south (Isa. 43:6). God is re-establishing his holy people in his Holy Land according to his holy word in this holy time.
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem- original pub. date, 1997.