Our God is Holy

Written on: December 31, 2022

Article by: Dave Knutson

Leviticus 26:1-12

The book of Leviticus is scripture that we do not quite know what to do with. It is in the Bible and inspired by God, leading us to suspect that God had his reasons, without quite understanding what they were.

One of the first things that we notice about the book is that it does not tell much of a story. Genesis is epic. Exodus is action-packed without much of that spilling over into Leviticus. The text deliberately slows down, forcing the reader to consider the theological depth of what God was saying. It slows down so that we can keep up. More than any other book in the Pentateuch, Leviticus lays the conceptual and theological foundation for the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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In Leviticus, God spoke directly to his people more than in most other books. The book even begins with the phrase “and the Lord called to Moses”. Thus, the book came to be named “and the Lord Called’. Leviticus then, comes directly from God and is filled with his authority. It reveals the will of God as it lays bare the nature of God

As it turns out, the God who is revealed is holy, and wants his people to be like him. For the sake of their salvation, God chose a people and initiated a makeover. He did this so that they could be holy and he could truly posses them as his own.

If you think that God’s not detail oriented, Leviticus will change your mind. It is filled with ritual and step-by-step instruction. When these are added together and properly understood, they establish the starting point for grasping the nature of New Testament salvation. That is why the apostle Paul said that the law acted as a child-conductor, a pedagogue, to bring us to Christ (Gal 3:24)

By New Testament times, God’s people knew all about atonement and purification. Things clean and unclean set boundaries within which they lived in order to enter God’s presence and participate in his holiness.

God used everyday language – but infused those words with divine meaning. He wanted Israel to be ready, when the sacrifice to end all sacrifices arrived. He did this so that when his plan of salvation was finally unveiled, the ‘lights would come on’ and it would all make sense.

God also wanted his people to appreciate the high privilege of 24/7 access. Access to God, made possible, not because God had become less holy, but because he had fashioned a way for his people to become holy and fit for his presence

This article is a bit like a movie trailer, skipping over a few of highlights of the book, while always coming back to the recurring theme, that the God of Israel is a holy God.

Most of us do not use the word ‘holy’ very much in everyday conversation, while the kind of use that we do hear is often disrespectful and irreverent. Yet holiness is commonplace in Leviticus and the focal point of the book.

The word itself means separate, or removed from, or distinct. We get a hint about what God meant by it, by what he insisted upon. In order to draw near to God, a person had to be ritually clean, spiritually ready and physically whole.

God did not tolerate disease or infirmity. No one stumbled unprepared or uninvited into his presence, and those who did prepare, did it according to God’s rules.

Even then, direct access was not to be had. Formal worship was mediated by priests, who had in turn been set apart. God’s set-apart people approached God through his set-apart priests – because -God himself is set-apart. He is in every way, holy.

In scripture, there are two things to which the word Holy refers. One of those is rooted in the eternal being of God, because God is one of a kind. He is eternal and in a class completely by himself. He is the living God, the one and only, and there is no other.

When introducing himself to Moses, God identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But when Moses asked for his name, in other words, his nature, God said “I am that I AM”. What God meant, was that unlike the gods of Egypt, He actually exists and does so eternally. This means that all other things which exist, have been created by God. Given the absolute and eternal existence of God, there is no one else worthy to be worshipped.

Furthermore, since he is the living God, and death is a penalty imposed by him, therefore death and disease are banished from his presence. God insists, that people should be whole in body and clean in spirit, just as he created us in order to ‘draw near’.

This first kind of holiness is rooted in the person of God who is transcendent. He is infinite, in the duration of his existence and dimensions of his being. There is therefore a great gulf fixed between the creator and the created. True deity is not something that one can become. You either are God or not God, but there is no becoming God.

For this reason, the bible is full of warnings about getting too close. Flesh and blood cannot endure the being and presence of God, nor can they inherit his kingdom. There is then a holiness, a distinct separateness ascribed to the the eternality of God…that is expressed as the glory of God

This part of God’s holiness is anchored in the essence of his being. He is ontologically different, consisting as it were of other stuff. So this first kind of holiness must always remain between Him and everyone else. God cannot bestow deity, nor can we attain it.

It is worth noting, that in Leviticus, God is a person and not merely a force. Israel knew him by the covenant name of Yahweh. Since he is a person, He thinks before acting and sometimes shares his thinking with his people.

God has never been silent. He spoke and the cosmos came into being. He spoke again to fill it with information, most of which we are still just discovering. He coded it in DNA and did packet transfers in RNA. He trans-coded a 4 character language using a 3 character transfer script and then reconstructed it all back to the original. He does that – every time a cell divides and it happens microscopically using data compression and built-in fail-safes. It’s not just the heavens that declare the glory of God, the building blocks of life do it too because God is a person.

On that personal level, he has done what we do, putting ideas into words. The Bible is the verbal-propositional word of God. It is reasonable and rational so that we can know it and do it. God wants us to know him in much the same way we know each other. The one who knows our innermost thoughts wants us to know his. The scriptures in general & Leviticus in particular invite us to do just that.

Yet perhaps the most important aspect of his person is his character. God is a good person. He is righteous and pure. He is always truthful and as good as his word.

This is the second kind of holiness. God created us for our eternal good and for his eternal glory, and regardless of our choices, that is why God made us. Yet to live with Him forever, we need to know him now and obey him daily. This is why when God called his people, it was to be holy, to be pure and righteous. When he called them out of Egypt, it not so much to a place as it was to a state of righteousness.

Now holiness or personal goodness calls for moral capacity. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God, is the ability to function in a world where right and wrong are real. God has made us all with a sense of right and wrong and then gone on to populate that ability with real content. It’s not just that the categories of right an wrong exist. God has embedded values in us that are more specific than that. Our moral DNA insists that truth ought to win out over falsehood. That we ought at least to love those who have loved us first.

The golden rule has a built-in rightness to it that does not need to be defended or explained. It sounds right because it is right. Thus Leviticus speaks to damaged hearts, to set them right by calling them right back to, the heart that made them.

When we fail to be good, when we fail to be godly, the Bible calls that, sin. Sin then is the second barrier between us and God. But unlike the eternality of God, this kind of holiness is a choice.

That distance – the spiritual one between sinners and God, is there all through Leviticus. God used physical distance to communicate spiritual distance to say, that until sin has been dealt with, there is no getting close to God. Yet, even when the mind is pure, the body clean and sins are forgiven – a distance remains.

Now if all of that was all that we knew about God was; that he is high and holy; eternal in the essence, infinitely powerful and righteously pure, we would have no reason to hope. The sacrifices found in Leviticus restore hope by providing the means by which holiness might be recovered.

Both kinds of holiness were on display at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20. The Hebrew writer puts it this way:

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who hear begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” (12:18-21)

The voice of God came down from heaven. He spoke audibly and coherently in voice that shook the mountain. Even Moses trembled and the people begged for God to spare them. Everything that God said was good and right, but his presence was too much. Later in Deut 5, Moses explained that Mt Sinai was not about intimidation. What he wanted from Israel, was the sort of fear that led to obedience.

God has only ever wanted to bless, and when his people fear him and obey him, then he is free to do just that. It is important then that God is not only good but graciously good. All people have a duty to worship God, but not all are qualified to do so. Leviticus is about God preparing a people to enter his presence, where duty is transformed into privilege by those who have been made holy.

Leviticus then is about God bridging these two chasms and condescending to bind himself to Israel. The God whom heaven and earth cannot contain, caused his name to dwell in one place in the midst of his people. The living God who imposed a death penalty on all sinners, allowed himself to be surrounded by a camp filled with the sick and dying. And God who is righteous and pure, found a way to unite with a people who constantly sinned.

All of this, step by step, God did, because he wanted to save. That is what grace is about. As long as the law of Moses was in effect, each of these barriers remained and Leviticus explains why that was so.

It has always been a dangerous thing to live in the presence of a holy God, and utterly terrifying to be married to a jealous God.

Jealousy sometimes gets a bad rap. When you are jealous, you are zealous for and attached to that which is yours. It’s not like coveting, where you want what belongs to others. God is jealous over the things which he owns, which just happens to be everything.

Now I don’t know if you have ever thought about what that means. In the natural realm, the jealousy of God takes the form of providence. God created the world and maintains it in good running order. It comes with a warranty which will one day run out, but for now, He upholds this world through the power of his word.

Historically, God has gone one step further and joined himself to the nation of Israel. He chose that nation to be uniquely his and his union with them was a bit like, but not exactly the same as marriage.

When Pat and I married, we chose to belong to each other in a way that excluded all others. If we drift from that exclusivity, each of us has every right to be jealous.

Yet I did not create my wife. She does not belong to me as I belong to God. God has two reasons to be jealous where I just have one.

This is why God forbid Israel to make idols or worship other gods. Every idol is therefore necessarily a lie. A finite object can never represent an infinite god .The essence of spirit is never captured by physical matter. And you cannot begin to approach true goodness except through the precepts of heaven – revealed in scripture from the heart of God.

Consider then, that as long as God is jealous, the world remains, right side up. Things are as they ought to be. For if God were not jealous, then he’s given up on us. He has abandoned ownership and cancelled his covenant, and those who were once his people are truly without hope.

God wanted and still wanted and still wants to be one with his people. He wants each one of us to know firsthand, the joy and blessings of his love. There’s a sample of those in Leviticus 26 where we find a tidal wave of blessings for those who obeyed and a tsunami of curses for double-crossing him.

The kind of sin that’s “in God’s face” has always been deadly. God distinguished between that and the sort of sin that is non-intentional, by providing a way to put things right

This is what atoning sacrifice was for. I twas a spiritual road back to him. God gave it, knowing that his people would have to use it over and over. He promised never to stop forgiving those who truly returned.

All of God’s commands were based on ownership. The land was his as were his people who lived in the ‘land of promise’ as tenants Lev 25:23. Only their rights as tenants be sold, and then, every 50 years, God returned them in the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:14-17). Every Israelite was in debt to God, who kept forgiving the debt. Every lender was a debtor, who on God’s orders forgave their borrowers

The books were balanced every 7 years. Slaves were set free and debts written off. Lev 25:39-55. Ownership was stewardship with God calling the shots.

It just makes sense then that God demanded the best. It wasn’t just that sacrifices had to be the best. God demanded the best place in every heart and the first place every mind.

We understand from Leviticus, that God is not really interested in your stuff. He wants you, but he can’t have you if value your things ahead of God. To help Israel to do this, God claimed the first of the harvest, even while the crop was still in the field. God said, “trust me”. You cannot out-give me.

Instead of insisting that people die for their sins, God allowed animal substitutes. Sin was still real and so was death. The wages of sin have always been death of the sort that is not merely an abstraction or figure of speech.

This was brought home when you slaughtered the animal yourself. It was a dirty, sweaty, noisy, stinky, bloody business, because sin is expensive. It damages your soul and there is no cheap fix.

Two of Aaron’s sons died on the day that he took office. God is deadly serious about sin, and those who are not, are just plain dead. We must tread carefully then the sacred pages of Leviticus, for it takes us into that divine mind that planned to save us before he made us.

The day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It will come freely from those who have done so in life, and compelled from those who have not.

How much better to bow before him and confess his lordship now. To be bought with better blood and cleansed so completely, that God the Spirit will come to live inside of you. For you will have been made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ. That is what happens when you turn from sin and are immersed into Christ. You come alive here and now and begin a life with God that need never end. An eternal life with God, who is what forever is all about.