Holy People Then and Now
In our introductory chapter we reviewed the basic questions asked concerning any of the books of the Bible that we chose to study. Things like who wrote it, where was it written, and what is it about. We also looked at the Pentateuch or Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament, written, we believe, by Moses and of which the book of Leviticus is the third book in the series.
As the sub-title of this study on Leviticus suggests, we understand that the theme of this book is "holiness" and that in this book Moses spells out in specific terms what God required of the Israelite people in order to be considered the holy people of God. In this chapter we'll compare the demands of holiness then (Old Testament) and now (New Testament), review some reasons why we should study the book of Leviticus and note the different ways to holiness that God has provided then and now.
I. Holy People Then and Now
This idea of holy people first appears in the book of Exodus when God offers the descendants of Abraham a new covenant. At that time (Exodus 19:5-6) we saw Moses and the Israelites arriving at Mt. Sinai and camping before the mountain – three months after their departure from Egypt.
Starting with Moses' call by God at the burning bush, through the ten plagues and the people's freedom from Egyptian slavery, the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army, to the people receiving water and food miraculously while in the wilderness, God was in the process of fulfilling His first and original covenant made with Abraham and renewed with Isaac and Jacob. That first covenant was the promise to give the descendants of Abraham the land of Canaan as their own, multiplying his descendants, and from these people raising one up who would bless all the families of the earth (Messiah) – Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 17:1-8.
The second part of that covenant was fulfilled when Jacob and his family took refuge in Egypt under the protection of his son Joseph who had become second in command to the Pharaoh during the great famine. From the original 70 people, over the next 400 years the Israelites grew to a population of about 2 million at the time of the Exodus (Numbers 11:21). This fulfilled the second promise of the first covenant, "I will multiply you greatly" (Genesis 17:2).
We read in the book of Exodus that God fulfilled the first promise to Abraham which was to give them the land of Canaan or the Promised Land. Exodus describes the beginning of the journey that would eventually see the Israelites, after forty years of wilderness wanderings, finally enter and take procession of the Promised Land described in the book of Joshua. Also, the first two promises of the covenant with Abraham were ratified by circumcision. Therefore, two promises were fulfilled:
- Received the land of Canaan as their own.
- Multiply their numbers.
The third promise was in the process of being fulfilled:
- The families of the earth blessed.
We know that this third promise would be fulfilled 1500 years later as Jesus was born from a tiny remnant of Jews living under Roman bondage on a small strip of land in Judea/Galilee some 145 miles long and 50 miles wide. While this covenant was being fulfilled, God established a second covenant with the Israelites which was more demanding of the Jews but offered greater physical and spiritual blessings.
1In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. 3Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. 5Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
- Exodus 19:1-6
The great difference between these two covenants was the issue of holiness, which the people were now going to make as a central part of their relationship with God, faith being the substance of the first (Genesis 12:1-3).
A. God's Holy People Then and Now
The actual meaning of the word holy (Quadosh – Hebrew) means "separate" or "set-apart" or "sacred". It has a highly religious connotation in that it was not a common word used in regular conversation but put into use for religious purposes and used from earliest times in a religious context – Exodus 3:5 (first time used) – Where God said to Moses from the burning bush that he was standing on "holy ground."
In one sense, the word describes an object, a place, or a day which is to be considered holy – meaning devoted or dedicated to a particular purpose. Holiness, as I have said before, appears as the main theme of the book of Leviticus:
- The word holy appears 90 times and is used in 76 verses of the NASB's version of Leviticus.
- The following is a list of what and who are described as being holy:
- The Lord God of Israel, His name, how He is treated – Holy, holy, with holiness – Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 10:3
- The people of God are holy – Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 19:2
- The Tabernacle complex is holy – Leviticus 16:2
- The priests and the garments that they wore were holy – Leviticus 8:9; Leviticus 16:4; Leviticus 21:6
- The sacrifices offered were holy – Leviticus 14:13
- The feasts they observed were holy – Leviticus 23:2
- That which was given or offered to God was holy – Leviticus 19:24; Leviticus 27:9
Both the priests and the people had to make the distinction between the holy and the profane (common), as well as the clean and the unclean in life and worship as God's people, the holy nation of God. In practical terms, however, being a Holy Nation required the Israelites to be holy and separate in two particular ways:
- Being separated from other nations.
- Being separated for God's use.
1. Separated From Other Nations
44For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 45For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.'"
- Leviticus 11:44-45
God did not free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage simply as an act of mercy for an oppressed people – because he pitied them. Delivering them to the Promised Land where they could live freely and plentifully as a free nation on their own land was not a final result in itself. God had a higher spiritual purpose for the Israelites which was their becoming His people and thus a holy nation. Yes, they needed a place to live and land to support their physical needs, but this was secondary or in service to their primary role and associated tasks that came with being the people of God, a holy nation among all the nations around them.
Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God.'"
- Leviticus 18:30
"When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations."
- Deuteronomy 18:9
Being God's people, a holy nation, required them to avoid the common practices of the "unholy" nations that came before them and surrounded them now. They had to practice the lifestyle and worship of a Holy Nation that God, through Moses, would now give them.
Being a holy nation required that the Israelites make no arrangements or compromises with the nations around them in order to secure peaceful relations. This invariably led to intermarriage and eventually the introduction of pagan gods, worship and practices. Compromise was Satan's most effective strategy in his effort to destroy God's people – and ruin their holy status.
It is not that they would abandon God altogether, it is that they would mix pagan worship with the worship of the Lord, thereby invalidating it. In doing so, they would eventually fail the first test of holiness, keeping themselves separate from other nations and the worship of other gods.
2. They Were Separated for God's Use
The first aspect of holiness is what you won't do, or what you'll stop doing – mix with unholy, pagan people and practice pagan ways and worship. The second aspect of holiness is what you will do as a holy nation who are the people of God, and that is follow and obey God's commands and instructions for holy living. God is the one who dictates what is holy, acceptable, and clean by the expression of His will.
For example, there is nothing innately better between destroying a sheep by burning it with fire or killing a mule by slitting its throat. Both are simply different ways of killing different animals. However, killing a sheep and then burning it by fire becomes a "holy" act of devotion to God when God Himself gives instructions to do so in the process of worshipping Him. Some thing, action, or person becomes holy only when God deems it or him/her so. This is the essence of holiness – God separating or instructing a particular thing, action, or person for His own purpose or use.
In the case of the Israelites, they were expected to keep themselves separate/holy for God's purpose. There was nothing about them as a people that made them innately/ automatically holy. The fact that God chose them for a special purpose is what made them a holy people, the holy nation of God.
Now, as the holy people of God, the Israelites were to live their lives according to God's will and thus fulfill His ultimate purpose for them:
- Be a witness (light) of His existence to the pagan world they lived in.
- Be the nation/people through whom the Messiah would come.
In a sense, they were to be the historical, cultural, social, and religious stage upon which the Son of God would make His appearance in the physical world.
The information in the Pentateuch teaches us the source and development of the Israelites.
- Genesis = Abraham – Jacob – 12 tribes.
The manner in which they became God's chosen people and how they came to settle in the land of the Canaanites.
- Exodus = Moses (Egypt) – The Covenant – Book of the Law (Become God's Holy nation).
The manner of life they were to live and worship as the holy people of God.
- Exodus / Leviticus = Law – Tabernacle – Rules for Holy living (Concrete and detailed instructions for holy living and worship).
The wilderness wanderings and the division of the Promised Land as well as the final instructions for entering in.
- Numbers / Deuteronomy = History of 40 years – Tribal boundaries – Summary of Moses' instructions.
Our study in Leviticus, therefore, demonstrates to what degree Israel was to be dedicated to the Lord.
Leviticus will show us that according to its instructions, the Israelites were not only separated unto God by their worship practices and observances along with adherence to festivals and food laws. Every facet of their lives (marriage, work, social interactions, parenting, etc.) was to be governed by God and His instructions. Being the holy people of God meant that God's will informed every aspect of their lives – not just worship rituals and practices, but their daily lives as well. There was to be no separation between the two.
II. Holy People Then and Now
Being God's people today, God's holy people (the church, the kingdom, the saints, the saved, etc.) means the same today as it did in the Old Testament.
- Old Testament – Quadosh (Hebrew) – separated from sin/consecrated to God – Sacred/Holy
- New Testament – Hagios (Greek) – Saint/ holy/separated
Like the Israelites, Christians are to be separated from the world (in the world, not of the world – John 15:19) and separated from the world for God's purpose and plan. For the holy people of God today, this means:
1. Christians are separated from the world.
This literally takes place when we are converted:
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
- Colossians 1:13-14
Before, we are alive physically and mentally, but dead spiritually since we are separated from God (i.e. dead branches cut away from the tree of life by sin).
1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
- Ephesians 2:1-2
We become the holy people of God in Christ Jesus.
9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
- I Peter 2:9-10
Just as the Israelites were not to mix with the surrounding pagan nations for fear of falling into their sinful practices and idolatry (worshipping other gods), Christians also come out of the world and its practices, values and vices: and what does this new life of holiness mean?
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Romans 12:2
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
- James 1:27
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
- I John 2:15
14Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17"Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you."
- II Corinthians 6:14-17
To be holy, therefore, means that we are separate and distinct from the world in our speech, actions, values and priorities – people can't quite put their finger on what is different about us – the difference, in a word, is holiness. We are God's holy people.
Like the Israelites, being God's holy people today also means that…
2. We are Separate from the World for God's Use
This means that we are completely dedicated to Christ who leads us. Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land. Christ leads us to heaven, the heavenly kingdom, and eternal life with God. We are separate from the world to become disciples of Jesus.
So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
- Luke 14:33
Disciples separate from the world by doing away with sin in their lives as an on-going exercise. This is in cooperation with the Holy Spirit who leads the believer in this endeavor.
12So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
- Romans 8:12-14
As a human being I work, I build a family, I enjoy the blessings God has provided in this world. As a Christian and disciple, I cooperate with the Spirit of God in the transformation of my inner man to live a holy life growing more obedient to God and more Christ-like until my final transformation when I am resurrected.
51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
- I Corinthians 15:51-53
I do this privately as I live out my life of faith. I also do this publicly and corporately as I meet regularly with other saints for worship, fellowship, witness, and service. Just as God provided instructions for the Jews in how to balance and maintain their holiness in the Old Testament period by providing the Law and ordinances found in the Torah (Pentateuch), Jesus provides the information to become and maintain holy (and live as the holy people of God) today through the gospel and New Testament writings.
Studying Leviticus, even though it contains laws and rituals that don't pertain to us today, will help us to understand the essence and practice of holiness, a spiritual condition that all people of God seek to attain, no matter what era or time in which they live.