The ineffable holiness of God  

Image result for god is holy isaiah


Damien F. Mackey


“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

And one called to another and said:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’”

Isaiah 6:1-3


Failure by Moses to uphold God’s holiness

 One finds an interesting interpretation of Moses’s infidelity at “the waters of Meribah” here at:

The Sin of Moses and the Purpose of Deuteronomy

…. As faithful Christians, bound by Scripture and tradition, we know that God doesn’t change. He is the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come (Rev 1:8), the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8), without variation or shadow cast by turning (James 1:17), that he is not a God who repents (1 Sam 15:29). We should think, then, that the threat of destruction against the people, the intercession of Moses and Aaron, and the relenting of the threat by God, was not done to actually change God’s mind. God very well knew what would happen. He instigated the threat so that Moses would intercede.

But here he doesn’t. Why?


How one answers that question become vastly important. I think it is not only the key to the passage in Numbers, but also becomes important in unlocking the theme of Deuteronomy. If we say that the breaking of the pattern is no big deal, it is just a historical coincidence, then we will search for Moses’ sin in the narrative itself. And most do.


There are fairly typical responses as to what Moses’ sin in Numbers 20 is. Most argue that his sin was in striking the rock when told by God to merely speak (compare v. 8 with v. 11). But Moses was told to take the staff, likely to strike the rock (see Exodus 17:5-6 where Moses was told to strike a rock to make the water come out). Others think that it was Moses difficult words for the people when he struck the rock, calling them “rebels.” Still others think that it was because Moses spoke to the people and not to the rock.


There are significant problems with all of these solutions. None of these solutions really fulfills what the Lord sees as Moses’ main sin, that of unfaithfulness and not upholding God’s holiness (v. 12, see this refrain repeated in Deut 32:51). Certainly, Moses thought water would come out, and it is hard from this vantage point to see how Moses’ actions impact his view of God’s holiness. Also, it is hard to see why Aaron was lumped in with Moses’ actions, if he neither struck nor spoke.


I think a better answer is to take the breaking of the pattern seriously. Moses’ heated words to the Israelites in v. 10 imply strongly that he was quite upset, that he classified the people no longer as God’s people but as rebels, with the rhetorical question further implying that he thought they were not worthy of the grace that they were receiving. Frankly, it reads as though Moses does this to fulfill God’s commands against his better instincts.


And therein lies the rub. God does not threaten the destruction of the people because he knows that Moses will not intercede for the people. Moses has lost faith. These rebels are outside of grace, outside of God’s ability to make into a great nation, unable to secure the promises that God has given. The constant rebellions, grumbling, faithlessness of the people has taken its toll on Moses. So overwhelmed is he, he no longer thinks that this people will be able to fulfill God’s promises. This, from God’s vantage point, is not a breaking of faith with the Israelites, but with the Lord himself. Moses no longer treated the Lord as holy, powerful, glorious, able to fulfill his promises even with this weak nation to make his name great.


This reading makes sense of Deuteronomy in many ways. It makes sense of Moses’ continual accusations against the people, for their continuous rebellions were the cause of his downfall, along with the textual affirmation that it was his unfaithfulness in the moment. It makes sense of his reminder of not entering the promised land in the midst of a warning about idolatry. In 4:23 Moses further instructs the people, after his illustration of being kept out of the land: “take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God.” Moses, in his unfaithfulness, forgot the promise and covenant of his God. He, standing outside the land, is a concrete reminder of what will happen when the promise of God is forgotten. ….

[End of quote]


Failure by Isaiah to uphold God’s holiness ?


According to my reconstruction of the Book of Judith, “Uzziah son of Micah” (Judith 6:15), the chief magistrate of Judith’s city of “Bethulia” – {i.e., the northern Bethel, which is Shechem} – was none other than the great Isaiah himself, son of Amos (= Micah, who has been called “Amos redivivus).

That Uzziah was a most significant leader throughout the entire land of Israel is attested in the Douay version of Judith according to which Uzziah was both “the prince of Judah” (8:34) and “the prince of the people of Israel” (13:23).

Uzziah (Isaiah), I suspect, had come up from Judah to Bethel to accompany his father, Amos, who – though ‘not a prophet’ (Amos 7:14) – had been sent from Judah to witness at Bethel. We likely find Isaiah there, witnessing in the north, as both the contemporary prophet Hosea:

Career of the prophet Isaiah. Part Two: Hosea as Isaiah in the north

and as Uzziah of the Book of Judith.

Now even this great “prince”, Uzziah (whether or not he were Isaiah, and/or Hosea), would, just like Moses, fail a ‘water test’. But instead of his being reprimanded directly by Yahweh, as in the case of Moses, Uzziah would be taken to task for his lack of trust by Judith herself.


Before we take this further, let us firstly consider Moses and Isaiah when confronted with God’s holiness, as taken from:


Two of the most powerful recorded encounters of God’s presence are found with Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1-7 and with Moses in Exodus 3:2-6. Let’s open our hearts to both learn from these encounters and allow them to guide us into a powerful encounter with the living God ourselves.

Isaiah 6:1-7 says,

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”


And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah demonstrated that experiencing the holiness of God and seeing our own sin in light of his holiness are consistent and important parts of encountering God’s presence.


Time after time in Scripture, God’s people see their own sin, repent, and are healed after having an encounter with the presence of God. In fact, Moses has a similar response to being in the presence of God for the first time in Exodus 3:2-6:

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.


In light of God’s astounding holiness, Moses was filled with fear to look at the face of God. These two descriptions of God’s presence illustrate an important truth for all: the light of God’s holiness has the ability to pierce into the depth of our soul, bringing to light the darkness that destroys us from within. My prayer today is that we would follow the examples of Moses and Isaiah and allow God’s holiness to shine light on our sin and draw us to repentance. And may we experience healing today the way Isaiah did as the angel of the Lord cleansed him with the coal.


God’s presence casts light on our sin and brokenness because in order for us to live the fullness of life God desires, we must walk in righteousness. It’s because of God’s love that he reveals our sin. It’s because God longs for us to experience a life of holiness and freedom as his children that he shines light on our darkness and draws us out into the glorious light of righteousness. ….

[End of quote]

Despite all of this, as with Moses, so with Uzziah (Isaiah?), there would be a failing in faith and trust when placed under extreme pressure, in a situation again involving water and thirst.


According to my historical interpretation of the Book of Judith:

The neo-Assyrian army of king Sennacherib (the “Nebuchadnezzar” of the Book of Judith), 185,000-strong (including “the support troops”), led by the king’s eldest, Ashur-nadin-shumi {the treacherous Nadin of the Book of Tobit (14:10) – who is called “Holofernes” in Judith}, had come into the region of Dothan and Shechem (Judith’s “Bethulia”) and spread out there, striking utter terror into the hearts of the local Israelites (Judith 7:1-4):


Holofernes gathered his whole army together, as well as his allied forces. It was an immense army, consisting of 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, not counting the support troops who took care of the equipment. He ordered them to march on Bethulia, seize the mountain passes, and attack the Israelites. So they moved out and set up camp beside the spring in the valley near Bethulia. The camp was so wide that it spread out toward the town of Dothan as far as Balbaim … from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Jezreel Valley. When the Israelites saw the size of the army, they were terrified and said to one another, ‘Those soldiers are going to eat up everything in sight. There’s not enough food in the mountains, valleys, and hills put together to feed an army like that. …’.

When their water began to fail them, the Israelites – just as had their ancestors in the desert – “lost their courage” (7:19-22):

Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord their God for help. They had lost their courage, for with the enemy all around them there was no way to escape. The entire Assyrian army—infantry, chariots, and cavalry—blockaded Bethulia for thirty-four days until the town ran out of water. All the reservoirs and cisterns went dry, so that the drinking water had to be rationed, and not a day passed when there was enough water to go around. Children were becoming weak; everywhere throughout the town women and young people were collapsing. No one had any strength left.

And they did just what their ancestors had formerly done, they turned on their leaders, and primarily on ‘the new Moses’, Uzziah (vv. 23-28):

All the people of the town—men, women, and children alike—gathered around Uzziah and the town officials and shouted in protest, ‘God will punish you for what you have done to us! You are to blame for what is happening, because you did not make peace with the Assyrians. There is no one to help us now! God has put us in their power. We are exhausted and dying of thirst. Call the Assyrians now and surrender to them, and let Holofernes and his army take the town and loot it. We are better off as prisoners of war. They will make us slaves, but at least we will be alive, and we won’t have to watch our wives and children dying before our eyes. Heaven and earth are witnesses against you, and so is our God, the Lord of our ancestors, who is punishing us for their sins as well as ours. We can only hope and pray that he will not let these terrible things happen to us today’.

And again, just like their rescued ancestors, they preferred a return to slavery (cf. Judith 4:3) to a Divine deliverance: ‘They will make us slaves, but at least we will be alive, and we won’t have to watch our wives and children dying before our eyes’.

Uzziah caved in. He put a time limit on God’s salvation, “five more days” (vv. 30-32):

Then Uzziah said to them, ‘Don’t give up, my friends! Let’s wait five more days to see if the Lord our God will be merciful to us. Surely he will not abandon us completely. But if no help comes after five days, then I will do as you say’.

So Uzziah dismissed the people. All the men returned to their guard posts on the walls and towers, while the women and children went back to their homes. The morale of the entire town was very low.


Only Judith stood firm, unshaken and unshakeable, like Mary at the foot of the Cross.

She, now forced to operate within that “five more days” limit that Uzziah had imposed, absolutely excoriated him and the other city leaders for the “conditions” they had lain down. Inviting them to her home, Judith let loose like Joan of Arc (known as “a second Judith”).

In a masterpiece of theology, Judith proclaims (8:11-17):

‘You are the leaders of the people of Bethulia, but you were wrong to speak to the people as you did today. You should not have made a solemn promise before God that you would surrender the town to our enemies if the Lord did not come to our aid within a few days. What right do you have to put God to the test as you have done today? Who are you to put yourselves in God’s place in dealing with human affairs? It is the Lord Almighty that you are putting to the test! Will you never learn? There is no way that you can understand what is in the depths of a human heart or find out what a person is thinking. Yet you dare to read God’s mind and interpret his thoughts! How can you claim to understand God, the Creator? No, my friends, you must stop arousing the anger of the Lord our God! If he decides not to come to our aid within five days, he still may rescue us at any time he chooses. Or he may let our enemies destroy us. But you must not lay down conditions for the Lord our God! Do you think that he is like one of us? Do you think you can bargain with him or force him to make a decision? No! Instead, we should ask God for his help and wait patiently for him to rescue us’.


‘You are the glory of Jerusalem!

You are the great pride of Israel!

You are the great boast of our nation!

By your own hand you have done all this’.

Judith 15:9-10


John Paul II acclaimed Judith in a General Audience (Wednesday 29 August 2001, # 4):

“Strong in faith, Judith enters the enemy camp, charms the commander with her beauty and kills him in a humiliating way. The Canticle strongly underlines this fact: “The Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman. For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of young men, nor did the sons of Titans smite him, nor did the tall giants set upon him:  but Judith the daughter of Merari undid him with the beauty of her countenance” (Jdt 15,5-6).

Judith is example of woman’s mission and prefiguration of Mary’s cooperation in redemption.
…. Some of the expressions of the book of Judith will pass, more or less integrally into Christian tradition which sees in the Jewish heroine a prefiguration of Mary. Do we not hear an echo of the words of Judith, when Mary sings in the Magnificat:  “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has raised up the humble” (Lk 1,52).


Voodoo Lands in Van Diemen’s Land

Giant red upside down crosses erected in Hobart as part of Dark Mofo have been lashed as “state-sanctioned blasphemy” by a Tasmanian church leader.

Several 20-metre high crosses were installed this week at the city’s waterfront as part of the annual winter festival.

It has attracted the ire of several Christian groups including the state head of the Anglican church, but event organisers aren’t perturbed.

The inverted Cross of Saint Peter can be seen as a satanic symbol.

“The cross of Jesus Christ is very special to all Christians. I understand why they would be confronted by this,” Anglican Bishop Richard Condie said.

“I am left wondering if this kind of state-funded blasphemy would be tolerated if the symbols were Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic? I would hope not.”


A Tasmanian correspondent has written, relevant to “pagan magic practices”:


As you probably know, on March 19 Pope Francis released Gaudete et exsultate. Among other things, this Apostolic Exhortation interestingly highlights the dangers of two re-emerging heresies: Gnosticism (the over-exultation of human reason, characterised by religious and philosophical pessimism, and recourse to pagan magic practices) and Pelagianism (the over-exultation of human will-power, characterised by its Stoic-based influence and its emphasis on human effort and achievement).


As it happens, this papal Exhortation is also concerned with the theme of “holiness”:


Pope Francis issues exhortation praising the ‘middle class’ of holiness

By Hannah Brockhaus

Vatican City, Apr 9, 2018 / 09:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation in which he aims to “repropose” the universal call to holiness – which he says is the mission of life for every person.


Published April 9, Gaudete et exsultate, or “Rejoice and be glad,” is Francis’ third apostolic exhortation. It is subtitled “On the call to holiness in the contemporary world.”

The 44-page exhortation explains that holiness is the mission of every Christian, and gives practical advice for living out the call to holiness in ordinary, daily life, encouraging the practice of the Beatitudes and performing works of mercy.


Francis mentioned the holiness “in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’”

Francis said that all Catholics that, like the saints, “need to see the entirety of your life as a mission,” and explained that this is accomplished by listening to God in prayer and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in each moment and decision.

“A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness,” he stated, explaining that this path has its “fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him.”


Using the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Francis wrote that “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.” As a result, the measure of our holiness stems not from our own achievement, but “from the stature that Christ achieves in us.”

Therefore, Pope Francis said, to walk the path of holiness requires prayer and contemplation alongside action; the two cannot be separated. ….


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