That humorous little difference between Jeff and myself is a great illustration of the way things are distinguished in the Bible. Across the pages of Scripture there are three distinct categories of “being”: unclean, clean and holy. In the world of ordinary and every-day life, the first two are predominant and can be applied to both people and objects. The third category, holy, more often pertains to the nature of God so it is significant when something or someone is consecrated or changed from its common designated use to a holy one. One scholar wrote, “The nature of consecration was to prepare the common for contact with that which was holy, the sacred realm, and the world of the Divine”. This was important not only for objects and people, but the nation of Israel too and that was one of the Lord’s goals in establishing His covenant with them (Ex. 19:1-8). The Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) not only contains the history of Israel’s story as a nation, it also contains a vast amount of rules, regulations and commands pertaining to how they will live out their relationship with the Lord (Lev. 19:1-2).
The Book of Leviticus is perhaps the most pivotal book in the Bible for understanding the contrast between the common (sometimes referred to as the profane) and the sacred. Chapter after chapter describes a specific routine or behavior that the Israelites MUST do in order to receive the blessings promised in the Mosaic Covenant and avoid the consequences of disobedience (Dt. 28). And while it may seem that the ritual brought about holiness, nothing could be further from the truth. In Leviticus 20:7-8 the Lord commands the people to “consecrate yourselves…and be holy for I am the Lord your God”. He commands them to “keep” and “practice” His “statutes” (a word that means decrees, instructions or any synonym thereof as the word always reflects its context) because He is the One who sanctifies them. The ritual was not meant to make them holy, but rather, cause them to realize their inability to be holy without the Lord’s help.
Some of the Lord’s prescriptions for holy living seem unusual to us now yet the object of obedience is not lost on us. We understand the principle that God desires a certain kind of living from us. He commanded the Israelites to “keep” His statutes. This word means to carefully guard or watch over something and maintain it with a specific purpose and in the Hebrew this verb is always followed by another verb which indicates the manner in which it is to be done (see Gen. 17:9; 18:19; Dt. 4:6; 5:1 as examples). In Leviticus 20:8, the people are to carefully watch over the Lord’s commandments in order to “practice” them, literally to do them. This Hebrew verb (asah) is used frequently in the Old Testament and conveys a notion of performing an activity with a distinct purpose, a moral obligation or a goal in view (Dt. 16:12). In this passage the reason for practicing the Lord’s commands is because He is the One who sanctifies them.
Peter when writing to the persecuted believers in Asia Minor used similar imagery. He reminded them that they were a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for God’s possession”. While Israel had been brought out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand, the believers of Peter’s day had been “called out of darkness into His marvelous light”. Peter wrote that the purpose of this consecration was so that they could “proclaim the praises of the One” who made it all happen (1 Pet. 2:9). I don’t know about you, but knowing that my faith in Christ has placed me in the company of these believers is great news. I don’t have to figure out what my purpose in life is now. I no longer have to worry if I’ve missed my calling. My purpose is to sing the praises of the One who sanctified me. It is often easy to forget that when I professed my faith in Christ, my life moved from the common or profane realm into a holy one. But that is exactly what the Lord has done (2 Cor. 4:6)!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 11/13/2016