The seraphim cover their faces with their wings in the presence of God.
Isaiah saw them do this in his vision recorded in Isaiah 6:1-3.
Each seraph had three sets of wings. With two wings they covered their faces. With two they covered their feet. And with two they did fly. At the same time they cried to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.”
What a striking picture!
What a lesson in humility before the face of God!
By their speech they express and confess this holiness of God. By their covered faces they underscore and emphasize their conviction that He is the Thrice Holy God. By word and work they confess their own unworthiness before His majesty and the fulness of His perfection. In length and breadth and depth He is holy. Go left and right to observe His works. Go forward and backward through the length of His creation. Reach up into heaven and down into hell. If you then speak the truth of what you have seen, you will with the seraphim extol Him for being holy, holy, and holy. You will see nothing but holiness in Him.
Now these seraphim, if you please, are themselves holy creatures. They have never had the guilt of man’s sin and have never fallen from their first state in which they were created. These are not fallen angels who are dazzled by the brilliancy of His holiness. These are not guilty creatures whose consciences smite them before the Sinless One. They are not creatures who must hide their faces in shame because of their own unholy actions. They are not children of darkness whose eyes cannot stand the light of God’s holiness. Nor are they children of iniquity to whom the light is repulsive. Rather are they perfect beings who from their creation have lived flawlessly in His fear. They are holy creatures who in His fear cry out of His holiness and are overwhelmed not only by His holiness but with joy because of it. Their cry is not one of dismay but of joyous praise.
And we who are full of guilt? . . . .
Must not we even hide our faces from these seraphim?
We have fallen into the sin and condemnation of Adam! We were created as holy and righteous as God’s angels. Our creation, according to Psalm 8:5, was a little lower than the angels. Yet we were not lower in the sense that we were less holy. We were beautiful creatures, shining with all the glory of God’s communicable attributes. And now from a spiritual point of view it may be said of us in truth that we “look like the devil.” Created in God’s image, we were in holiness like Him; but fallen in Adam and deceived by Satan, we are, even as John the Baptist declares a viper’s brood; and the works of our spiritual father, the devil; we do. Even after the wonder of regeneration has implanted a new and holy life in us, we still have that old nature that is evil through and through.
Do we, then, though born again and conscious of that guilt, which is ours by nature, behave as those who know this thrice holy God and their own unworthiness? Dare we stand before Him with uncovered faces? Dare we lift our heads in pride and boldly look at Him as His equal? It is important for us to consider His holiness. It is important that we learn and learn anew of this holiness of God. The seraphim know it and need not learn it. They were created in the possession of it. So were we, but, having lost it, we need ever and anew to grow in the knowledge and consciousness of that holiness of God, lest we become sinfully familiar with Him. Familiarity, we are told, breeds contempt. And evidences of this there certainly are in the church-world of today. In His sphere there is so little conduct in His fear. In the sphere of His church on earth, in that which calls itself His church, in the lives of those who claim to be born again and to know Him in the salvation which He has prepared in Christ, there is not the fear that holiness produces.
What is God’s holiness? It is, we are all agreed, that virtue of God according to which He is completely cut off from all sin. This is so beautifully expressed inHabakkuk 1:3, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” Somewhat differently John declares this truth in I John 1:5, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” James also speaks of this holiness of God in James 1:17, where he calls God “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” All this is quite evident, for the word holy comes from a verb which means “to cut off, to separate or isolate.” God surely is separate from all sin. His infinite being is cut off infinitely from all sin of all kinds. There is no shade of sin in Him. There is no shadow of sin even that can or does fall upon Him. The pure white, newly fallen snow is as white as any earthly creature can be. Yet at eventide,—or even in broad daylight of noon,—a shadow can fall upon it to make it appear to be anything but white. This never happens with God. He is pure light and always abides in pure light. The man who tries to make a shadow of sin fall upon God only adds to the blackness of his own perverted soul.
So holy is God that unholiness of any kind or degree cannot be committed by Him. God cannot sin. This is not a limitation placed upon God. This in no way, takes away His freedom. Rather does it speak of His infinite freedom. Nothing outside of His own holy Being limits Him so that He cannot sin. His own holy Being decrees that He cannot sin. No creature could ever entice Him. James says: that He cannot be tempted with evil. Evil is outside of His will; and it shall never rule over His will. He is the light that will always drive away all darkness and never fellowship with it. Does natural light ever seek the darkness? Can light and darkness ever sit down together and join each other? Does not the light always drive darkness away? And God, The Light, drives all sin from before His face and remains Himself pure light.
Yet the seraphim “did not hide their faces and call God holy merely because there is no sin in Him at all. They did all this before any sin entered the world and even before they knew what sin was. Before Satan performed the first sinful act in the whole universe, and sin was first committed in heaven,—all the heavenly host! Satan included, hid their faces in the consciousness of God’s holiness and confessed His infinite holiness. Satan also was created good, and for a brief time he was an obedient servant of God who worshipped God and walked in humility before Him. God’s holiness is an eternal virtue that was there even before the creation of the world. There is eternally a holy relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. And before all the works of His hands God is infinitely and eternally holy.
He is holy exactly because He is God alone. Refer to I Timothy 6:16 and see this truth from Paul’s pen, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlastingly. Amen.” O, that men would only realize that He is GOD! Karl Barth coined a phrase which,—although he had something different in mind,—expresses the fact: He is The Wholly Other. He is this not in the sense that He cannot be known but certainly in the sense that He is The Incomparable One. With whom will you compare Him? As Isaiah states it in God’s name in Isaiah 40:25, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” Note that His holiness is presented in connection with the fact that He is not to be compared and cannot be compared with any creature. He is the Creator far exalted above every creature.
Do not insult Him or lower Him in your thoughts by trying to classify Him. In His fear you will not want to say even that He is in a class by Himself. Then you still are classifying Him and lowering Him to the level where we may arrange Him alongside of, instead of elevating above, all His creation. He is The Wholly Other. Let us leave it there lest we attribute to Him any of the weaknesses and frailties and limitations of the creature. In no way, from any point of view are we on an equal footing with Him. He is distinct, so distinct, so infinitely distinct from all His creatures. The gulf, the difference, and distance between Him and the creature,—even the holy creatures,—is far greater than that between the pauper and the millionaire, between the moron and the highly educated professor with all his degrees and titles justly earned; between the king on the throne and the subject in prison. He is GOD; and therein is His holiness.
There are so many ways in which men deny this. The flesh always wants to bring Him down to our level; for we would still be like God according to Satan’s lie. The natural man is bold! He makes no attempt to hide his conviction that God must be our servant, and all his “prayers” indicate this pride. What troubles us no little is the modern trend in prayer in church groups and circles to “get chummy with God.” There is a familiarity fostered and practiced which is exceedingly dangerous and leads to contempt. Even that contempt is to be seen in more than one way. We refer specifically at the moment to that familiarity that addresses God as You (or even blasphemously: the Man up There!). We mean speaking to Him and of His works as Your works, speaking of Your Son and all use of such pronouns instead of the former Thou, Thy, Thine and Thee. All this is presented as a proper relation to God; and those who pray thus are pictured as being very near to God. Their prayers are not stuffy and stiff. It is” more like talking with a good friend.
Eyebrows are already being raised. Replies of ridicule are already being prepared, no doubt. Look up your Greek Bible! Such a distinction is not to be found there!! Jesus never made such a disctinction either!!! In Matthew 6:3 He tells us not to let our left hand know what our right hand does. And He speaks of thy left hand. The very same word is used in Matthew 6:9 when He teaches us to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” The difference between your and thy is merely a matter of the Old English, the Quaker way of speaking according to which our English Bible was translated.
We agree. But whereas we find it proper to address the judge as Your Honor and our superiors in business or social areas as Mister, our soldiers are taught to salute their officers, do we not condemn ourselves? We show deference to men and not to God? And Scripture says in Romans 13:7, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
And make no mistake about it. Scripture does clearly indicate that we are not in prayer (or otherwise) to familiar with God. The saints in the Old Testament prostrated themselves in the dust and did in their very speech indicate such an awe and reverence before God as that of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-3. What is more, we do today have such terminology to deal with God as the Wholly Other. Had it not been done in the past, had we no way with our words in our English language to use so that we place ourselves in the reverent attitude and make ourselves conscious of His majesty and holiness, it would be somewhat different. We have had and used these in ages past. Why the necessity of change? Has God been lowered since then, or have we increased in boldness and familiarity?
Not only do we have and have we used “Thee, Thou, Thine, Thy,” but there is approval of this recorded in Scripture. God did not say to Moses in Exodus 3:14 that His name was Jehovah but rather Jaweh. Refer to Smith’s Bible Dictionary under the name Jehovah and you will note that the Jews dared not use that name Jaweh and used the vowels of the Hebrew word Lord, namely, Adonai, instead between the consonants of Jaweh. That fear of the Lord is often so lacking today. Men prefer to seek equality with God rather than to exalt the Lord and humble themselves as His servants. They prefer to go and urge the seraphim to tear their wings from before their eyes and “get friendly with God.”
It is for that reason also that today such songs as “We’ve Got a Great Big Wonderful God” can have such appeal. One does not speak and sing that way before God’s face, but before the face of a god of man’s imagination. Hiding our faces in our “wings” we will sing, “How Great Thou Art.” In His fear we will always be conscious of our own insignificance before Him, and we would rather be silent than to sue His name or refer to Him in a way that would lower His name or refer to Him in a way that would lower Him to our level and deny Him His transcendent glory. We are walking on thin ice and in great danger of losing God’s divinity when we deliberately erase and discard possible and proven methods of teaching our children that He is God and not a creature.