Last week, we learnt about how the priests were set apart for God’s work. This study is a continuation of the previous study, and it focuses on holiness as a lifestyle and requirement for the people of God.
(A) Holiness: a way of life for the priest of God (Lev 22:1-9)
In Num 18:20, we are told that the tribe of Levi was not allocated land as part of their inheritance, as God himself was their inheritance. In previous studies, we also remember that the sacrificial system was also a means of provision for these priests (except the burnt offerings), as they were allowed to eat parts of the offerings. Although the offerings were shared between God and the priests, there were still to be treated as holy because they were offered to God. This explains the list of commands given to Aaron and his sons in verses 1-16 on how priests should conduct themselves inlight of the “holy things,” or offerings, that God’s people dedicated to him.
Verses 4, 5, and 8 contain an inventory of what makes a priest unclean and thus disqualified from approaching the holy things of God. Some people believe that these rules are arbitrary, and others think that these rules were for practical and hygienic reasons. There are also people who think that these instructions were symbolic in nature, or that they were meant to set Israel apart from the cultic practices of the pagan nations around them.
The following contains s a list of the kinds of people who are not allowed to eat of the holy things. It dealt with either chronic conditions, or transient and temporal conditions.
Those with a leprous disease or discharge are unclean (Lev 15:1-3)
There is a symbolic reason (Lev 21) behind this command: Those who serve God must be unblemished, as their physical form ought to reflect something of the story of creation. The entire sacrificial system was meant to reflect the redemption of His people from fallenness to what He meant for things to be . Physical blemishes are outward depictions of Man’s fallen state, and thus contrary to the idea of restoration and perfection.
Transient / temporal conditions
- Those who have had contact with the dead are unclean (Lev 11:39, 21:1)
- Those who have had an emission of semen are unclean (Lev 15:16,18)
- Those who touch a swarming thing are unclean (Ex 11:29-43)
- Those who consume what dies of itself or is torn by beasts are unclean (Lev 11:39)
These rules were set in place to distinguish Israel from the other nations. In Deut 14:1-2, we learn that they were to disassociate themselves from hair-shaving practices regarding the dead in other countries. They were also called to be different from the sexual norms of the other nations (Lev 20). Even the most private and mundane parts of their lives were to be consecrated to God. How would you describe this God? Do you think that he is a micromanager? Or is he a God cares enough about us to care about the minor details of our lives? If so, why should we ever feel that God doesn't care about us?
In verses Lev 22:6-7 we learn that uncleanness is remedied by remaining unclean until the evening and not eating of the holy things unless one has bathed his body in water. The consequences of not keeping the above instructions are seen in verses 3 and 9, in which unclean persons who profane God’s name will be cut off from his presence and made to bear their sin and die thereby. The severe punishment for disobedience remind us of Nadab and Abihu (Aaron’s sons) in Lev 10:1-2 who were consumed by fire because they did not fully follow God’s commands. God’s reason for this is seen in Lev 10:3: “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” His ministry demands nothing less than complete holiness.
The extent to which God insists on holiness and purity also has an impact on the way his people reverence the holy things. If priests had to consciously and carefully preserve their purity, they would have had to dread everything that would defile them and watch against all moral pollutions. It is much like wearing a new pair of white shoes out and being very careful not to dirty them. The thought of keeping your shoes clean will always be at the back of your mind. But there so much more is at stake here. Being unclean is more than just about the inconvenience of having to wash our shoes and waiting till the day ends. It disqualifies us from the presence of God and prevents us from having communion with him.
So what does this mean for us today? In 1 Pet 2:9, Christians are said to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God's own possession. Just as the identity and ministry of the priests in Leviticus 22 call for holiness on their parts, we are also called to holiness in all aspects of our lives. How do we go about doing our ministry or our everyday lives? Are we conscious of the way we behave and how that may be offensive to God? Do we take his holiness and purity for-granted? These verses point to a way of life that is not simply counter-cultural, but one that reflects the core identity of God’s people.
(B) Holiness: a condition for fellowship with a holy God (Lev 22:10-16)
It is important to note that the holy things of God are set aside for the holy priests. This is not simply a question of being in an exclusive club, because the consumption of the sin offerings by the priests signifies their bearing of the inquity of the congregation as a means of atonement (Lev 10:17). In light of this, the passage closes with specific instructions regarding the lay people. While priests must be careful that they do not bear iniquity themselves, they also have a duty to prevent others from bearing it.
Lay persons, including foreigners and hired servants, are not allowed to eat of a holy thing. However, there are some exceptions that are mentioned in Lev 22:11-14. A slave that has been bought into the priest’s family and a woman who returns to her father’s house after being widowed or divorced are allowed to partake of the holy things. In the case of those who eat the holy things unintentionally, they have to pay 120% of the value to the priest. These exceptions reveal a kind God who provides for marginalized and vulnerable people living in a patriarchal society. He is also gracious towards those who make mistakes, and allows them to make restitution for them.
Instead of a pat on the back for doing anything right or a threat of sorts, the section concludes with a claim that God sanctifies. Put another way, God is the one who ultimately makes a person holy and sets him apart for special use, even if every single rule was kept in the name of ceremonial cleanness. So why bother keeping the laws? First, we keep them because God’s holiness demands it. Since God is holy, his people ought to be holy, as those who belong to him should naturally inherit and share his attributes. Verse 16 also points to the convenantal God who initiated their rescue out of Egypt. When so much grace has been shown, the only response to this must be to love him and his laws.
These verses remind us that God’s demand for holiness does not come in half measures, and there are consequences for those who do not fully obey him. The reality is that sinful humans do not always live holy lives. But we need not despair, for God sent his son to be our Great High Priest in the fullest measure. Christ, who intercedes for us before God, bore the weight of our iniquity so that in him we are justified and sanctified. Like the slaves who were brought into the households of the priests, we were bought by Christ at a cost so that we would be able to have fellowship with God. More than slaves, we know that in Christ “…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:16-17).