Titles of the Father – The Holy

Titles of the Father – The Holy

Titles of the Father – The Holy.

Then Manoah, father of Samson, asked the Angel of Yahweh, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?’ The Angel of Yahweh replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is a name of wonder. It is unknowable, and too wonderful for you to understand!’” (Judges 13:18).

Trying to determine a list of God’s titles in the Hebrew Bible can be a tricky business, a daunting task. For one thing, the differences between a name and a title are unclear and they often overlap. There are times, too, when one is tempted to consider a common noun or adjective or metaphor to be a title if it happens to reference God. And there are plenty of times when we read of a character description of God, or a unique ability of God, and we find ourselves turning them into titles. So the titles of the Father that I will highlight in this series is a list, not the list. For all I know, there may not even be a definitive list of God’s titles. I aim to provide varied glimpses of God the Father in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament… who He is, what He can do, what He represents, what He has done. Most importantly, I pray the readers of these titles are able to maintain the Jewish tradition of using God’s titles as ways of addressing the Almighty. As we address God in prayer and worship, may we feel free to put a capital letter at the beginning of each title, making the title an aspect of His identity. In that way each title could be another way to honor God and recognize His greatness.

‘Sing praises to the Lord Yahweh, for He has done great things! Cry aloud, O inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy! For the great one in the midst of you is The Holy (One) of Israel!” 

Holy = Hebrew, Kadosh; to be set apart; to be separated from the profane; to be distinctive in life purpose from the ordinary; to be sacred and dedicated for a special purpose; to be different in purity and character from the common;

The Holy = When we read “the Holy One” in Isaiah, the literal translation is “The Holy,” and the “One” is assumed. Yahweh God, the Lord of the universe, is The Holy. It’s not that God is merely in another category by Himself, it’s that God can’t be categorized. There is no comparison to God in this world, there are no parallels. The Lord is utterly distinctive, set apart in every imaginable way, and then some. Because God is Wholly Other, He is worthy to receive one-of-a-kind honor, respect, reverence, and adoration. He is completely separate from any taint of sin, any meager hint of evil, and He has perfect freedom from anything that would compromise His character. God is Truth dwelling in his sacred Spirit. He is comprised of uncreated light. God is high and lifted up, above and beyond comprehension and imagination. Yahweh God has no personal shape or form, and yet remains a Person, Someone in whose image we are all made. God is the source of whatever holiness exists in the world, so God is the only Being for whom the word holy truly applies. When Isaiah 6:3 is recited in the Jewish daily liturgy, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of power and might! Heaven and earth are full of your glory!“, it is customary for the worshippers to stand on their tiptoes and stretch upwards three times. This is a wonderful picture of our rising up to grasp at the unreachable holiness of God. (Arthur Green). In the universe, on the one hand there is The Holy, and then on the other hand there is everything else. To describe the indescribable Holy One is like a slug attempting to explain how a human brain functions.

The Holy is worthy to be worshipped, because:

(1.)  The Holy is Better than Perfect. His power and wisdom created everything out of nothing. He is utterly complete and doesn’t need anything. He is older than time, and bigger than the universe. Outer space cannot contain Him. “His center is everywhere and His circumference is nowhere.” (Lockyer). He has unlimited righteousness. He is so set apart that we cannot in any way discover Him unless He chooses to reveal Himself. Because God’s essence is purity and goodness, He is the Judge of the world who will apply ultimate justice. He is the standard for what is good vs. evil, and the basis for moral discernment. We can only understand God on His own terms, because human understanding is completely inadequate. Even with our extended knowledge of God through Scripture, we are merely on the outer fringes of His ways. Even considering all we have heard about God, we have only heard the faintest of whispers about Him. (Job 26). The mind of God is boundless, and combines all the knowledge that has ever existed, or that will ever exist, in the history of the world. Therefore, whatever is not on His mind has never existed. The Holy is set apart because of His greatness.

(2.)  The Holy has more Substance than all of Creation. We can describe God’s glory as the weighty splendor of God’s presence. God’s glory outweighs the world, and is so expansive that He fills the universe and then spills over. The entire universe is too small, too confined a space, to contain God’s glorious presence. God has more substance, more girth, more spiritual matter, than our meager reality. In those moments in human history when the presence of the The Holy made an appearance, nature seemed to burst at the seams. God had to somehow split the created world and present Himself. Maybe Isaiah had it right when he cried out to the Lord, “Tear the heavens apart and come down!” (Is. 64:1). Glory sightings in Scripture tend to be quite dramatic. The presence of God’s glory provides a lot of drama. We can get everything from angels and trumpets to fire and earthquakes, from lightning and smoke to hurricanes and thunder, from voices out of clouds to blinding lights to foreign languages. When God’s glory made an appearance on the Cross of all places, graves were opened, bodies were resurrected, the sacred curtain in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom. And when God’s light was snuffed in the death of Christ, the world experienced darkness in the middle of the day. The Holy is set apart because of His weighty glory.

(3.)  The Holy is Passionate about Mercy.  Mercy is the chief attribute of God. “Mercy is the defining explanation of everything that God has revealed of Himself. The root of all of God’s activity in this world, beginning even with the world’s creation, is Mercy.” (Reardon, Christ in the Psalms). Mercy can be described in many ways: Eager love-in-action; steadfast kindness; loyal compassion; live-giving favor; the deep love reserved for someone in an intimate relationship, and offered even if there is no prior relationship. God may seem to be preoccupied with justice, but His is a saving justice, a justice that is based on His love. The Hebrew language has three main words for mercy, all of which are fulfilled in Yahweh God: Chanon, which is mercy in the context of grace, forgiveness and pity; then there is Hesed, which is mercy as lovingkindness, loyalty and covenantal love; finally there is Rachem, a mercy which is related to the word for womb, a sacred place where life is protected and promises to bring new life. In the Hebrew Bible, God is revealed as the One who offers Himself to be a sacred womb, the ultimate safe place for our souls. Psalm 56:15 puts all three mercies into play: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful (rachem) and gracious (chanon), slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness (hesed) and truth.” The Holy is set apart because of His tender mercy.

(4.)  The Holy Glories in His Love. God is rich in what might be called glory-love. When Moses asked Yahweh to reveal His glory, God revealed His heart of mercy. These are two intertwined aspects of God’s identity that help reveal to us His character and His essence. “Then the Lord Yahweh came down in the cloud and stood there with Moses, and proclaimed His Name, Yahweh. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,
The LORD! The LORD! a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and faithfulness, maintaining lovingkindness to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34). Moses asked God to reveal His presence, and God gave Him a revelation of who He is at heart… Mercy. Perhaps God’s glorious presence shines brightest when His mercy is more evident. Since Scripture says that all these attributes of love are actually His Name, there is no question that God wants us to weave together an identity which combines His majesty and splendor with His compassion and grace. Evidently, His glory IS His mercy. There was an eternal truth revealed in the wilderness Tabernacle. In the Holy of Holies, God’s glorious presence was placed directly above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. “When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord Yahweh, he heard the Voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the Mercy Seat. And Moses spoke to Him there.” (Numbers 7:89). The Holy is set apart because of His glory-mercy.

(5.)  The Holy is Content to remain Humble. In His other-worldly greatness, God chose to humble Himself in order to care for His human family. God’s character miraculously embraces lowliness as He joins Himself with the humble: “Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly. Though the Lord is great, He cares for the humble.” (Ps. 138:6). The high and holy God, high and lifted up, makes Himself available to mankind. “Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?” (Ps. 113:4-6). Imagine that… God is so above and beyond that He has to stoop down to view the galaxies! Since we cannot possibly reach God’s height on our own, The Holy extends Himself to reach us. “For this is what the high and lofty One says, He who lives forever, whose Name is Holy – I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.” (Is. 57:15). The great God doesn’t just reach down far enough to help the high and mighty ones of this world, but He keeps going lower to reach those of us who recognize our brokenness, our need for Him! In God’s case, and in God’s case only, power will not corrupt, and absolute power will not corrupt absolutely. We need not fear that God would ever abuse His unlimited power and glory and authority. We can absolutely trust God’s power. Confirming this truth of Yahweh’s humility, He went so far as to empty Himself and make Himself nothing (Philippians 2). God volunteered to leave His eternal loft, a volunteer of love. Yahweh submitted Himself to the human experience. Lord in the flesh lowered Himself to become a human fetus dependent on a teenage girl, then a baby needing to be changed and burped, and then going through the developmental stages typical of all human beings. This physical version of the spiritual God lived a short life of humility and compassion and sacred power, and ended with His submission to a torturous death on the Cross. Just how humble can God become? Apparently, there are no limits to God’s lowliness, and that sets The Holy apart.

(6.)  The Holy has an eternal Name that is not a Word. When God created that sacred space on Mt. Horeb and presented Himself to Moses at the burning bush, Moses didn’t exactly know how to respond. Moses wanted to know God’s name for one thing, so that he would know how to properly address Him, and call out to Him, and refer to Him. God seemed reluctant to share His most personal eternal Name, so He gave Moses a name that wasn’t even a word. Was this purposely mysterious, or even evasive? Perhaps God’s Name was too “wonderful” to even understand or take in at the human level (Judges 13:18). Or, maybe God’s name here was deliberately unclear because, similar to God’s face that couldn’t be seen, His Name could not be heard by mere mortals? Who’s to say? It’s clear that the precise pronunciation and spelling have been lost through time.

God gave to Moses His name of Yahweh, which is about as close to a personal name of God as we’re going to get. Scholars have been lining up to solve this puzzle of a name for centuries, and have been unsuccessful. It is obviously an archaic use of letters, because Yahweh is the “to be” verb in the future tense. There is no “am” in the Hebrew language, which lead many to claim that Yahweh means, “I will be what I will be.” But many others say that God was using that non-word in the poetic sense with “I AM,” because He is trying to communicate that He is outside of time, so must always speak in the present tense. So now we can try to read Yahweh as, “I AM He who is,” “I AM the One who exists,” or “I AM the Existing One.

To repeat, the non-word Yahweh is connected with the Hebrew verb “hayah,” to be, to become, to happen. Martin Buber thinks the verb could also partly mean “to be actively present.” So Buber, and many other Jewish scholars, think the Name could mean something like, “I will be there as I will be there,” or “I will be what I will be.” In other words, “I live an uncreated existence, and yet I will be ready, willing, able to be present in whatever situation you are in.” Rabbi Jonathon Sacks believes that early Christian translations omitted that future tense altogether. He says that in this Name, the LORD claims to be “the God of the future tense.” In this important future tense, Sacks believes that He is a God of surprises, that we will have to learn to trust Him, and that we will only know Him through His moral commitments and His acts, not just His abstract essence.

“What is the Name’s mystery? First, it has no vowels. Without vowels it is impossible to pronounce a word. But YHWH also has no real consonants! Y, H and W really are blowing sounds, rushings of air through the mouth. The point is one of elusiveness or abstraction. The Name of God is so subtle it could slip away from you. YHWH is not a God you can grab hold of and be sure you’ve got it in your mental grasp.” (Rabbi Arthur Green, These Are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life).

The seventy Greek-speaking Jewish scholars who translated the original Hebrew into Greek around 150 BC, produced an authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint. This Greek version of Scripture was determined to be divinely inspired long before Jesus, and copies were spread around the Greek-speaking world. This version of the Scripture then, was the Bible that was used during the 1st Century, and thus by Jesus and His early followers. Whenever Jesus quoted His Bible (the Old Testament) in the Gospels, He is quoting directly from the Septuagint. That was the commonly used Bible during Christ’s time, in Jewish life and worship and study. The Septuagint translated Yahweh as “I AM the Existing One,” so that would be the most familiar way of referring to Yahweh. All Bible-reading Jews would have thought of Yahweh when hearing the phrase “I AM.” In the minds of the Jews, I AM would have been completed with “the Existing One” since that was what they were most familiar with. So Jews would have been thinking of their God as the Existent One, the only Being who is self-existent and truly independent. Only Yahweh God is the Essence of Being, the Ground of Being. Put another way, they would have thought of Yahweh as, “I AM Being.” One of God’s titles that has lasted through the centuries, “the Existing One,” is drawn directly from the Greek Bible’s version of Yahweh, the sacred Name that cannot be uttered. In the Orthodox Chruch, the Existing One is addressed every day in prayers and worship.

YHWH, or Yahweh, so basic, so mysterious, so elusive. A personal Name, yet somehow impersonal. It is God’s self-revealed Name, alluding to His uncreated existence, His eternal Personhood, His quality of Being, His basic self-sufficiency and self-existence. It is perhaps somehow a spiritual version of an “act of being” verb. Yahweh, intimately relational, a keeper of covenants, unchangeably complete, infinite and everlasting. God is the LORD, He will not give His glory to another. Yahweh, set apart from everything else in His holiness. As one scholar put it, “The whole content of biblical history is a commentary on the meaning of this Name.” 

Too Wonderful for us to fully Understand. Don’t we have a wonderful God, a God who causes us to be filled with wonder? The Holy One is better than perfect, His glory fills the universe, He is passionate about mercy, His identity involves the intimate fusion of his glory and His grace, and He is content to remain humble. Besides that, The Holy’s name is not even a word and proves to be a bit abstract. Yahweh seems, at least in part, to be a declaration of eternal self-existence, His holy autonomy, and His status as being the Ground of Being. To think that with all these transcendent qualities, He came to us in the flesh to rescue us from the consequences of sin. We can only kneel in awe before Him to honor Him, full of gratitude, reverence and holy fear.