The Holy One of Israel in Isaiah

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  • Topic: Bible, God, Isaiah
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  • Published : November 3, 2011
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The Holy One of Israel
This essay concerns about the meaning of the divine title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ in the Book of Isaiah. It is going to state clearly the study approach before going into the discussion.

Approach of this essay

The book of Isaiah had been studied through different approaches of which three are quite distinctive[1]. (1)A pre-critical, or traditional, understanding, still found in some conservative scholars. They keep the entire book of Isaiah connected to the prophet Isaiah of the eighth century B.C.E. There is nothing intrinsically impossible as the approach is ‘prophecy’. With the rise of ‘historical criticism’, such an approach has been commonly rejected in the interpretive world. (2)A critical understanding of the book of Isaiah is reflective of the intellectual world of the West in the 18th and 19th centuries that focused on historical issues. The dominant idea of this approach is the division of the book of Isaiah into, with short hand references, First Isaiah, Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah. However, the ‘three Isaiah’ only exist as an editorial convenience, but without integral connection to each other. (3)The canonical study of the book of Isaiah recognizes that the book is a literary complexity. It is a literary approach, draws upon historical-critical gains but moves beyond them toward theological interpretation. The last approach is used in this essay.


The Holy One of Israel, as a description of God is a distinctive feature of the Book of Isaiah. The name appeared in the Old Testament 32 times, 26 times in Isaiah. The other six times in Jeremiah (50:29; 51:5), Ezekiel (39:7) and Psalms (71:22, 78:41, 89:18). It is hardly coincidence that in his vision in Chapter 6 Isaiah himself has heard the seraphim proclaiming “Holy, holy, holy is Almighty YHWH”, the whole book works out the implications of that vision. In chapters 1-12, and then 13-27, 28-39, 40-55 and at last 56-66, the message of this vision spreads in ever widening circles. Each part leads to the next, but each also relates to that key awareness that YHWH is The Holy One of Israel. The table below shows The Holy One of Israel appeared in the book of Isaiah at different periods of history with related scriptures.

|Part |Chapters |Motif |Historical Events[2] |Scriptures | | |1 |Prologue |In the days of 4 kings of Judah |1:4 | |1 |2-12 |Sign of Immanuel |Challenge to Judah: Time of Ahaz |5:19, 24; 10:17, 20; 12:6 | |2 |13-27 |Fall of a Great City |Calamity and Hope for the Nations |17:7 | |3 |28-39 |Siege of Jerusalem |Challenge to Judah: Time of Hezekiah |29:19, 23; 30:11, 12, 15; 31:1; 37:23 | |4 |40-55 |Light to the Nations |Comfort in Babylon |41:14, 16, 20; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 47:4; | | | | | |48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5 | |5 |56-66 |Return of the Prodigal Son |Challenge to Judah after Exile |60:9, 14 |

The Meaning of Holiness
The Hebrew word for holiness is qodes (Greek: hagios). It is used for what is set apart from a common to a sacred use[3], as the utensils and ministers of the sanctuary, and certain days (Ex 20:8; 30:31; 31:10; Lev 21:7; Num 5:17; Ne 8:9; Zech 14:21); for what is separated from ceremonial defilement (Ex 22:31; Lev 20:26) or immorality (2Cor 7:1; 1Thes 4:7) including false worship and heathen practices (Lev 20:6, 7: 21:6). In a larger sense God is holy, for He is separated from all other beings by His infinite...
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