For the week of May 9, 2009 / 15 Iyar 5769
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and his sons so that they abstain from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they do not profane my holy name: I am the LORD." (Vayikra / Leviticus 22:1,2; ESV)
I don't imagine that the subject of holiness matters to most people. I would guess that most people don't even know what holiness is. So let's start there. The world "holy" is the English translation of the Hebrew word "kadosh", which has to do with something being set apart from common use and given over to God. The priests, for example, were considered holy, not because there was anything special about them in and of themselves, but rather because their lives were dedicated to God's service. The sacrificial system itself included the use of items such as pots, pans, knives, forks, and so on. And just like the priests, what made these items holy was that they were to be used only for God.
It is interesting that God himself is called holy. This likely refers to God's absolute otherliness in contrast to human beings. When we call God, "holy", we are making a statement that he is completely otherly, absolutely separated unto himself. This is in contrast to the prevailing spirit of paganism that confuses God with his creation.
The third book of the Torah of which we are in the midst deals quite a bit with the subject of holiness. The verses I read at the beginning refer to how the priest had to make sure that they did not handle holy things when they, for one reason or another, were not fit to do so. It was a very serious matter to mistreat holy things. It could have cost someone their life to transgress one of God's holiness directives.
The seriousness of the holiness laws stem from the holiness of God himself, which as I said relates to who he is. To belittle God's holiness is to misrepresent him. To misrepresent God is not just some little inaccuracy that could be easily overlooked. To misrepresent him is to deny him entirely and fabricate a false god.
One of the greatest things that the Messiah accomplished for us through his sacrificial death and resurrection is that he made us holy. Like the priests of old, if we truly entrust our lives to Yeshua, we are set apart to God's service. Like the priests we are not special in and of ourselves, we have been made distinct because we have been dedicated to God.
Since God has made us holy, we need to understand the importance of holiness. Some may think that because our holiness is solely based on what God has done for us through Yeshua, we needn't be concerned about it anymore as if holiness no longer mattered. But since holiness is about who God is, then our holiness, just like that of the ancient priests, is to be a reflection of who God really is.
Holiness requires that God be represented accurately according to his own self-disclosure. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the one who sent Moses and Aaron to free us from bondage in Egypt. He is the God of Joshua through whom the Promised Land was conquered. He is the God of King David through whom the Kingdom of Israel was established. He is the God of the Hebrew prophets, who prophesied both exile and restoration - a restoration of Israel to God through the Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.
God is not just a god of concept and spirituality. While he is indeed a God of love and forgiveness, these are some of his attributes, not the essence of his being. To reformulate God's self disclosure into images contrary to that which he himself has chosen is to misrepresent him; it is to disregard his holiness.
We must avoid the temptation to make the God of Israel more appealing to people. God's revelation of himself may be offensive to some, but recasting the true God into something other than himself is deceptive, which is of no benefit to anyone, not to mention the disdain it shows towards the true God.
As God's holy people we must be the set-apart people we are called to be. For it is only through our commitment to holiness that God will be seen for who he really is.
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