Seeing God’s Holiness in the Pentateuch

mosesOver the summer I took ten weeks to preach on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Or, that’s what I intended to do.

Somewhere in Numbers, I realized that I needed to limit my Old Testament sojourning to the forty years Yahweh led Israel through the Wilderness. Even then, I didn’t have time to consider all that Numbers says about God’s dealings with Israel.

What I did preach and what I pray our church saw, however, was a God relentless in his pursuit of his holiness. This means that against sin, God is unswerving: the wicked will perish for their rebellion. At the same time, Yahweh’s covenant love and faithfulness, his hesed and emet, moved him to forgive his people and to secure their good. Beautifully, Moses’ five books reveal the multihued character of God’s kindness and severity (cf. Rom 11:22).

For the modern reader, God’s severity is a foreign concept, and yet a necessary one to understand God’s kindness. While it is excruciating to see Moses’ rejection, grevious to ponder the death of Dathan and Abiram’s children, and perplexing to understand how God could reward Phineas for killing Zimri and Cozbi, these historical events confront our own sin and prompt us to say, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner! Written down and preserved for us (see 1 Cor 10:1–13), these stories give us what we need to forsake the syllabubs of this age and find security in all that God is. Indeed, from all that the Pentateuch reveals, God is not to be trifled with, nor to be treated lightly. He is a God of infinite holiness whose love is neither sentimental or all-embracing.

A Holy, Loving God

God is love, and he is light. And in the Pentateuch we learn what happens to darkness when God’s holy light shines upon it. Explosive combustion! Without fail God’s holy fire consumes profane uncleanness, but such nuclear energy against sin will also move God to send his Son to the cross. Indeed, when God’s love is seen in contrast, comparison, and conjunction with his wrath, its luster grows all the more luminescent.

But sadly, much of way American evangelicals speak about God doesn’t match Moses understanding of God and his hesed. Accordingly, today’s all-loving, only-loving God of puppies and prostitutes—see Joe Carter’s helpful discussion on how we should think of Jesus fellowshipping with sinners— distorts who God really is. Yes, God loves, but he also makes clean those whom he loves. The Pentateuch doesn’t give us the full picture as to how God does that, but it does—through type and shadow—prepare the way.

This is why we need the books of Moses. The Pentateuch perfectly displays God’s holy love and just mercy. Far better than the weightless God of modern religion, the God of Moses terrifies us with his wrath and scandalizes us with his grace. This is the God of the Bible, the One who sent his Son to be nailed to a cross; the One who justly demands blood atonement and lovingly provided such a sacrifice.

He is the One, True and Living God, the Holy One of Israel.

For all who are looking to know this God more, take time to read the passages listed below and/or listen to the messages from this summer.

Getting to Know the God Who Sits Above the Flood (Genesis 5:28–9:17)

Remembering God’s Glory (Genesis 10–12)

From ‘No Fear’ to True Fear (Exodus 20)

Drawing Near to a Consuming Fire (Leviticus 10)

The Cleanliness That Stands Close to God’s Holiness (Numbers 5:1–4)

Faith vs. Sight: Finding a True Vision of God (Numbers 13–14)

Korah and His Sons: A True Tale of Greed, God, and Grace (Numbers 16)

Our Wholly Unsafe God: How God’s Zeal for Holiness Secures Our Eternal Good (Numbers 20:1–13)

Snakes on a Plain: Seeing Sin’s Foolishness and God’s Faithfulness (Numbers 21:4–9; John 3:14–15)

A Better Priest: Cultivating a Passion for His Holiness (Numbers 25:1–13)

For more on the holy-loving nature of God, see David Wells book God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World or Drew Dyck’s more accessible work, Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds