Pictures of Holiness and Grace

A picture can be, as they say, worth a thousand words.  To make an impression, sometimes God uses pictures or images, and one example is how He lets us know just how holy He is.

When calling Isaiah to be a prophet, God gave him an image in Isaiah 6:1 “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.”  In this vision of a throne room, why bother to mention that “the train of his robe filled the temple”?  Because in this image of God’s presence, there is no room for anything that isn’t holy.  If anyone tries to walk into the temple, they will tread on the Lord’s robe with their dirty feet, and any lord would be immensely offended at that.  James Boice commented on the verse, that: “This suggests that there is room for no one else at the highest pinnacle of the universe.  It is not just that Jehovah reigns, therefore, but also that no one else reigns beside Him or in opposition to Him”[1]

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

A similar picture of holiness comes from Revelation 15:8, which says: “and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”  Until God’s judgment was complete – both on the unrepentant and on the cross for His people – there would continue to be no room in the sanctuary for anyone but the Lord.

A third picture, which was not just a vision, but built in actual, physical form, is the “Holy of Holies.”  During most of the Old Testament period, priests implemented an elaborate sacrificial system to illustrate God’s requirements for meeting with sinners: an innocent creature had to die.  These animals symbolized the later sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  But the “Holy of Holies” was the ultimate statement of how serious approaching God is.

This innermost room of the temple was only entered once per year (on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur), and only by the high priest, who only can enter after hours of preparation.  Once there, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull on and in front of God’s “mercy seat”, the cover of the ark of the covenant and a sign of His presence.  Later Jewish tradition (not found in the Bible) indicates that others would stand outside the room holding a rope that was tied to the high priest, who also had bells tied around his waist.  If those outside heard the bells jingling, followed by silence, they would assume the high priest did not atone properly for the sins of the people, died in God’s presence, and needed to be dragged out by the rope.  God’s holy presence was to be taken seriously.

So Isaiah, presented with God’s holiness, cried out “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!”  Isaiah’s “Woe” comes down to current times in the expression “Oy!”  Isaiah knew instinctually that being in God’s temple was a bad idea.  However, God provides redemption for His people, which He pictured for Isaiah like this: “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.”[2]

Isaiah was not saved by a burning coal, but by what it represented: the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In God’s steadfast love for His people, He offered Jesus once for all, and the only sacrifice necessary and sufficient for us to know God.  Therefore, there is no longer a barrier to His holy presence for God’s people, so the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”[3]

Yes, God is holy and must be honored as holy, but when we feel insufficient or feel like yelling “oy!” when things go wrong, we can come “with confidence” to Jesus in His temple and ask Him to reassure us of His provision for our sin.  That we may know, like Isaiah, that “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”


[1] From “May 9.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).
[2] Isaiah 6:6-7
[3] Hebrews 4:16

2 thoughts on “Pictures of Holiness and Grace

  1. So many in out culture have tossed out the idea of sin because they refuse to accept the reality of God. No God equals no sin. Oh sure, there are things that are wrong like rape and murder, but also not agreeing with current woke ideology. In other words, SOCIETY determines right and wrong.

    In the Isaiah passage three things are apparent: 1. Isaiah is correct that he would be undone because of the reality of his sin. 2. His sin was not in the least insignificant, nor could it be simply overlooked by a holy and just God. 3. The only solution that offered Isaiah (or anyone) any possible hope was forgiveness by ATONEMENT.

    Praise God for His costly and sufficient atonement on our behalf, which has been made available to us by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

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