'But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved himself holy among them. ' Numbers 20.12-13
What does it mean that God proves himself holy or show himself holy? This is a pretty curious phrase that we find in modern translations of this verbal form of the verb qdsh to be holy, to consecrate. As we study the word, it can be helpful to look at how this word is used throughout the bible. This verb and verb form happens the most in Ezekiel and it is always connected to this phrase, ‘Then they will know that I am Yahweh.’ So for instance in Ezekiel 20.41-442 it says, ‘…and I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers.’ God’s proving himself holy is directly connected with revealing himself to his people (and in sight of the nations). I think there is a similar thing that happens in the passage quoted above: God revealed himself perpetually in the wilderness in a mighty way. So it seems that these two concepts are connected: God revealing himself and God proving himself to be holy among his people (and all the nations).
But it seems the connection isn’t as clear. What about God revealing himself is proving that he is holy? The first thing is that we should know what holy is. It means to be devoted to someone or something or it means to be consecrated. Within the worship of Yahweh, we see this meaning more narrowly as God being devoted to himself. Throughout the wandering through the wilderness, many of the Israelites fought for fame. Aaron and Miriam opposed Moses, Korah and his companions opposed Aaron. These people were jealous of Moses’ position and seemed to long for glory themselves; they wanted others to be devoted to their leadership. They had it all backwards. Moses wasn’t the leader of the people. Instead, he was the prophet of God who followed Yahweh and then the people followed him. They had actually rejected God’s lead early on in the wilderness right after crossing the Red Sea. In fact, it seems like Moses is the best fit for leadership because he was (mostly) devoted to Yahweh throughout all of Israel’s time in the wilderness. Numbers 12.3 says, ‘Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.’ Instead of being devoted to his own glory, Moses was devoted and consecrated to God for his glory.
And this is just an image of God who is most concerned and devoted to himself. So in revealing himself in the wilderness or in promising to make himself known to his people at the restoration, he was showing his concern and devotion to his own glory. Now this is most clear to us in the advent of Jesus Christ. What was Jesus’ main concern as the son of God? To bring glory to the father. I think it is almost best for us to say that in sending the Son of God to live a human life, God proved himself holy. John says in his prologue, ‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father full of grace and truth.’ And this only begotten of the father taught us to pray, ‘Our father in heaven, let your name be holy…’ Isn’t it interesting how this is the first thing that ought to be our concern as we come to our Lord in prayer: that God’s name be holy.
In the New Testament, God’s devotion to himself and his glory is actually an assumed teaching of the Old Testament. Instead, there is this call for the people of God to follow in God’s holiness. So Peter drawing on the Old Testament says, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ In other words, ‘be wholly devoted to God as he is devoted to himself.’ In devoting ourselves to God, we pursue growth into the likeness of his Son. We grow into his likeness; we learn to love like God loves and hate like God hates. We grow to hate our sin and put to death the deeds of the body. All this we call sanctification, which is growing in our devotedness to Christ and not ourselves. This is our goal then as we grow in our sanctification: ‘for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully as I have also been fully known.’ And in that day we will all with unveiled face bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue will confess him to the glory of God the father. That is the day when God will fully prove himself holy.