Making sense out of holiness

holiness 3The book of Leviticus, being a record of priestly regulation and practical application of law, isn’t renowned for its inspirational or devotional qualities, but I really got a lot out of reading Leviticus chapter 19 in as part of my morning devotion: I’ll tell you why.

The chapter begins with the following command:

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying,

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.  Leviticus 19:1,2

What follows is an intriguing and comprehensive list of social and religious regulations which were to be observed covering such things as: honoring parents; offerings and sacrifices; caring for the poor; honesty; justice, love and propriety; husbandry practices; hygiene; purity, honor and respect; etc. Interspersed throughout, as each set of regulations are pronounced, the words, ‘I am the Lord’ are numerously repeated. You can read it for yourself, if you like, all 37 verses, which I haven’t got time or space to enumerate here.

What helps me to get a lot out of this are the reasons for the words ‘I am the Lord’. Whenever something is repeated biblically, as it is here in this chapter, it is for emphasis; that much I know. So at face value you could say the Lord is emphasizing the fact that He’s the one that is giving the commandments and so you’d do well to obey them: Fair enough.

But what helps me apply this in an even more meaningful way is the sense in which I received this passage this morning. Even more than emphasizing or reminding His people that He’s the one that is giving the commandments, that these commands are from Him and better be obeyed, I believe the Lord is emphasizing the fact or saying it in the sense of ‘this is how I am’ or ‘this is how I would act’, or ‘this is how holiness is worked out’. So when I go back over and reread this passage substituting ‘this is how I am’ or ‘this is how I would act’ in the place of each ‘I am the Lord’, I’m able to understand and apply it in a deeper more meaningful way.

Just to fathom the original statement ‘be holy: for I am holy’ can be a pretty ethereal undertaking. It sounds all holy and pious and all but what does it actually mean to be holy? It’s a bit like the word God, it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, or a concept that sounds great, but is rather unfathomable.

Well, instead of uttering only a holy and pious out-of-this-world statement the Lord immediately gives substance to His teaching concerning holiness in the form of the various commands. As He’s teaching these commands, He’s saying, ‘I’m asking, I’m commanding you to observe and do this because ‘this is what I would do’, ‘this is how I would be an act in this situation’, ‘this is how holiness is worked out.’ He’s not leaving the subject up to the imagination or like many secular philosophies, in a transcendent vein, but with little practical application.

There’s nothing airy-fairy here, the spiritual is worked out in and through the physical commands in a very tangible way leaving nothing to the imagination or lack thereof. Just as Jesus is a picture to us of what God is like, so these commands and the lord’s stamp of authenticity upon each (‘I am the Lord’) offer a clear and practical lesson and application of what God’s holiness is all about and as we apply the commands and act upon them we are brought into an experiential understanding of what that holiness is.

I’m going to savior this chapter and hopefully it will be a source of much future meditation and application as I seek to live in and through His holiness.


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