Worship should be an essential element of prayer. The modern-day word worship comes from the old English word weorthscipe.1 It referred to “worthiness, respect, reverence paid to a divine being.”2 These meanings indicate that worship prayer should consist of expressions of worthiness, respect, and reverence offered to God.
The word holy relates significantly to expressions of worthiness, respect, and reverence offered to God. The root of the biblical word translated “holy” means “to divide.”3 A holy person is divided from other people and things in the sense of being different, distinct, or even unique from them. Thus, when the Bible declares that God is holy, it means He is different, distinct, or unique from everyone and everything.
After God delivered the people of Israel safely through the Red Sea, they said, “Who is like You, O Lᴏʀᴅ, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness?” (Ex. 15:11). They associated God’s holiness with the fact that He is unique from all other gods.
Hannah, Samuel’s mother, declared, “No one is holy like the Lᴏʀᴅ, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God” (1 Sam. 2:2). She equated God’s holiness with His uniqueness.
God asked, “‘To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?’ says the Holy One” (Isa. 40:25). He indicated His holiness is His uniqueness.
In declaring, “I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos. 11:9), He signified that His holiness involves His being different or distinct from mankind.
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, asserted that, just as the gods of other nations could not rescue those nations from his strong hand, so Israel’s God would be unable to rescue Jerusalem (2 Ki. 18:28–35; 19:8–13). This insinuation that Israel’s God was no different from the gods of other nations was a verbal attack on the uniqueness, or holiness, of God.
God responded to Sennacherib as follows: “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high? Against the Holy One of Israel” (19:22). He warned Sennacherib that Israel’s God is different from all others. God demonstrated His uniqueness by killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night (v. 35).
The angels above God’s throne cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts” (Isa. 6:3); and those around God’s throne do not rest day or night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). These facts seem to indicate that God’s uniqueness means more to Him than any other attribute. His holiness is absolutely essential to His being who He is.
God’s people are commanded to “worship the Lᴏʀᴅ in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2). The word translated “beauty” means “adornment.” In private and public worship, believers are to adorn God with His holiness by declaring how different, distinct, or unique He is in contrast with everyone and everything else.4
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., s.v. “worship.”
- Otto Procksch,”hagios,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1964), 1:89.
- Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, “hadarah,” A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 214.