The hymn Holy, Holy, Holy!, words by Reginald Heber and music by John B. Drake, has always been a favorite of mine whether it be sung as the traditional hymn or as a contemporary praise song. It is based upon Revelation 4:8-11 with emphasis upon the words of the last part of verse 8.
“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty
who was, and is, and is to come”
Another scripture verse referenced with similar words is Isaiah 6:3.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory,”
What do I mean when I sing, “Holy, holy, holy”?
To me, “holy” speaks of God’s perfection and purity. While singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!”, I have an awesome awareness of the Lord’s presence. I also sense His omnipotence and eternal nature. In A Heart Ablaze, John Bevere says that “holy, holy, holy” is the response of angels when they are in God’s presence in the heavenly throne room. These angelic beings are not just singing or saying words that have been written for them to repeat.(p. 158) Personally, these words connect my heart with God’s heart.
What do the angels mean when they cry, “Holy, holy, holy”?
According to the dictionary, “holy” means separated or sacred. I have heard it explained that the angels cried “Holy” every time another facet of God’s glory was revealed, so consequently there is the repetition of “holy” in these scriptures. As the angels received greater revelation about the attributes of God, they more fully comprehended the Lord’s uniqueness and His separation from creation. To refer again to A Heart Ablaze, John Bevere points out that only once in scripture is an attribute of God mentioned three times in succession. He also notes that holiness is the characteristic that is emphasized; it is not love or faithfulness or power. (p. 158-159)
“Holy, holy, holy!” From the literary style of the Hebrew language, I have learned that repetition is used as a form of emphasis. In contrast, when I emphasize something in my blog, I will use italics, quotes or underlining. Frequently the Hebrew language repeats a word twice for emphasis; seldom is a word repeated three times. In the original Hebrew text, “holy” was most likely spoken reverently rather than repetitively.
What effect do the words “holy, holy, holy” have upon me?
As I praise and worship God with the words “holy, holy, holy” I sense God’s worthiness and my unworthiness. For myself, the progression of the word pronounced “ho-le” has 3 different spellings and 3 different meanings. First, I am “holey.” I see myself as a paper cup that God created with the potential to be filled with His Spirit. If I am filled with His presence, then I am like a paper cup filled with water. However, each time I make a mistake, or commit a sin, a hole is punctured in my paper cup of life and water flows out the hole. In other words, God’s presence seeps out of me because He cannot reside where sin is present. Throughout my life I have allowed many holes in my cup, so I am holey, or full of holes. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That includes me!
My desire is to be “wholly” committed to the Lord. If I confess my sin, God not only forgives me, but also repairs the holes in my cup of life so that I can be wholly, or fully, committed to Him. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I Kings 8:61 says, “But your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord your God.” Full commitment is my desire.
My next step is to be holy. Acts 2:4 says, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” My cup of life is no longer “holey” but is “wholly” committed to the Lord and I can become “holy” as I allow the Holy Spirit to fill my cup. I cannot do this on my own because Zachariah 4:6 says, “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” I Peter 1:15-16 says, “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” This is an amazing promise!
What effect did the words “holy, holy, holy” have upon John and Isaiah?
I believe that the writers of Revelation and Isaiah were echoing the words of the angels as they were recording their heavenly visions. However, I want to focus upon the transformation in the life of Isaiah right now.
I want to make an analogy between Isaiah’s experience and my personal feelings that I shared in the previous section. I quoted Isaiah 6:3 at the beginning of today’s blog regarding the holiness of God. Now in verse 5, when Isaiah comprehends God’s holiness, he says that he is a man of unclean lips. (he is holey). Then in verses 6-7 an angel touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal from the altar to remove his guilt (he is now wholly committed without sin). Finally in verse 8 God asks who He can send with His message and Isaiah responds “Send me” because he has allowed God’s Spirit to fill and equip him. (he is now holy for the Lord) I guess Isaiah and I have something in common!
“Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Holey, Wholly, Holy”?
Now I need to ask myself a few questions. Do I proclaim “holy, holy, holy” when I comprehend new facets of God’s character? Am I so overwhelmed with His attributes that it is impossible for me to adequately emphasize a single word – should I be using italics or bold type?
Do I sing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!” with a sincerity that causes me to cry out “holey, wholly, holy” regarding my nature? I wholeheartedly believe in the holiness of God. However, it blows my mind to think that I have the potential to be holy. Once again I quote I Peter 1:15-16,
“But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;
for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
I feel I must go back to the definition of “holy.” I think there needs to be a distinction made between the meaning of God being holy and my being holy. For God it means that He is separate from me because He is perfect and I am imperfect. For me it means that I am separate from the ways of the world when I am living for this perfect God.
God is holy; my Reader, you and I may be holey but we can also be holy. Will you join me in the following saying?
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty
Holey, wholly, holy am I