The word “Holiness” describes the state of belonging to God, being set apart from ordinary things.
God himself, therefore, is holy by definition. He is “the Holy One of Israel”.
By extension, the places belonging to God are holy, such as the altar, the Temple, and Mount Zion itself.
As are the things belonging to God, from the instruments of the altar to the expected offerings.
More interesting, for those of us who are not obsessed with ritual, is the holiness of people.
The costume of Aaron included a plate engraved with the words “Holiness to the Lord”, indicating the separation of the priesthood.
Indeed, God’s people themselves are in a state of separation.
“You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus ch19 v6).
This means that they are under his protection; “Israel was holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his harvest. All who ate of it became guilty; evil
came upon them” (Jeremiah ch2 v3).
At the same time, they are expected to live up to that status by being ”holy” in the sense of avoiding sin;
“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy”(Leviticus ch11v44).
“So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God” (Numbers ch15 v40).
The prophets and the histories describe how the holiness of Israel was undermined by their sin.
They worshipped other gods, and they were not faithful in keeping his commandments.
In the end, this cost them their full ”protected” status, and the enemies of the nation succeeded in expelling them from the land altogether.
Some of the prophets of the Old Testament promise a final battle in which the enemies of God’s people will be overcome conclusively. I looked at
this theme in The Last Battle in Old Testament prophecy
Following this final victory, God’s people are able to return to the land, and the restoration of the people includes the restoration of their
The restored holiness; Old Testament version
“They shall be called The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord” (Isaiah ch62 v12).
This holiness will extend to every detail; “And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses ‘Holy to the Lord’… and every
pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah ch14 vv20-21).
Holiness must be preserved by the removal of sin. Zechariah is shown a vison of a flying scroll, representing the curse which will automatically deal
with “everyone who steals or swears falsely”. Then he sees all the iniquity of the land gathered together and trapped (in the form of a woman) in
a large pot, so that it can be taken away and deposited in the plain of Shinar, where it belongs (Zechariah ch5).
Everything that is outside God’s holiness must be kept away;
“I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones… I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly (Zephaniah ch3 vv11-12).
“Jerusalem shall be holy and strangers shall never again pass through it” (Joel ch3 v17).
If God’s people are going to be permanently holy, there are two conditions which must be fulfilled in order to make that possible.
There must be a way of dealing with the sins of the past and removing their effects;
“For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah ch31 v34).
“I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me (Jeremiah
“I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah ch43 v25).
“On that day there shall be a fountain opened to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah ch13 v1).
“He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”(Micah ch7
“I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them”(Hosea ch14 v4).
There must also be something in place to forestall the sins of the future.
God says that he will heal
their faithlessness (Hosea ch14 v4).
“I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the [false]
prophet sand the unclean spirit” (Zechariah ch13 v2).
“In that day men will regard their Maker and their eyes will look to the Holy One Of Israel; they will not have regard for the altars, the work of
their hands” (Isaiah ch17 vv7-8).
In Jeremiah, we see the promise of a new heart, which will overcome the propensity to sin;
“I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts… for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the
greatest”(Jeremiah ch31 vv33-34).
“… and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (ch32 v40).
In Isaiah’s version of this promise, they will learn from God as from a teacher;
“Your Teacher shall not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a voice behind you saying ‘This is
the way, walk in it’” (Isaiah ch30 vv20-21). In other words, a return to the alignment with God’s will which was abandoned in the garden of
As a result, “all your sons will be taught by the Lord” (ch54 v13), “those who err in spirit will come to understanding” (ch29 v24), and “my
words shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, from this time forth and for evermore” (ch59 v21).
The end-result is that “Your people shall all be righteous” (ch60 v21).
They will belong to the Lord as a permanent possession, and they will be living up to that status.