Thursday, September 11, 2008

Leviticus--Holiness, God and Man

Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. Leviticus 18:5 (NIV for all Scriptural quotations; emphases added)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18

Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:32

Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Leviticus 20:8

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Leviticus 11:44

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. Leviticus 20:26

Perhaps the biggest message of Leviticus is that God is Yahweh* and God is holy. The phrases, “I am the LORD (Yahweh),” and “I am the Lord (Adonai),” occur (combined) 49 times in this book. The word “holy” is used 74 times in Leviticus and 13 times God calls himself holy and the one who makes his people holy. (In sentences such as: “Be holy, because I am holy,” and “I am the Lord, who makes you holy.”) This message is repeated throughout the New Testament and, in fact, Peter quotes from Leviticus when he says in 1 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."
What does it mean to be holy? To be apart, to be set apart, separate and can refer to God, people, places and things. It does not mean perfect as is commonly thought. For instance, the toilet in your house is holy. It is set apart for one use only—elimination of body waste. If you have special dishes you use only for company, they are holy—set apart for a unique purpose.

Holiness is important to God and an important concept to convey to his people. God is holy because he is totally different, separate, apart from all other gods. His people are to be holy—different from the people around them—and some of that differentness is explained to us in Leviticus. They had a totally different rhythm of life with their sacrifices at the tabernacle, their not working every seventh day, the way they had to keep themselves ceremonially clean by what they ate, touched, and did, the prohibitions they had against many sexual practices of the nations around them, and so on.

The tabernacle and everything in it were holy. The washbasins, lights, altars, barbecue utensils, cooking pots, plates, bowls, table were to be used only in the service of God in the temple. There was no borrowing one of the large pots by a Levitical wife because she happened to be having a lot of guests over. The offerings (bread, wine, incense, animals) were holy and were to be touched, used, eaten only by specific people in specific ways.

There were many ways to become unholy, such as certain illnesses, certain regular functions of the body, touching a dead body—human, animal or insect—touching other things deemed “unclean.” Anyone considered unholy was not allowed to participate in the religious life of the community and couldn’t even, for example, eat the Passover meal with the rest of the family.

Leviticus (as well as Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) is full of God’s instructions about holiness—how to be a people set apart and different from the neighbouring nations, just as God is separate and different from all other gods. Holiness is obviously something very important to God since he uses up so much “boring” space in the Bible to tell us about it. Why?

What does holiness mean to us today? God doesn’t change. He still is holy, set apart from all other gods. Are we holy? How are we set apart from those who do not follow God? How are we different? Are we different? Leviticus is an important place to begin understanding the whole idea of holiness. Why not consider reading it soon?

God, I want to be holy because you are holy. I want to be set apart solely for you and your purposes for me. Please help me to do this and show me where I need to change.

*"In regard to the divine name YHWH...the translators adopted the device used in most English versions of rendering that name as “LORD” in capital letters to distinguish it from Adonai, another Hebrew word rendered “Lord,” for which small letters are used.” Preface to the NIV.

YHWH means, “the existing One” and is “the proper name of the one true God.”
Adonai can refer to men (my lord) or God (used “in place of Yahweh in Jewish display of reverence.).

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