Leviticus is all about the Law of God, and all the law can be understood in 3 sections -- moral (conscience), ceremonial (worship) and civil (nation). This series in Leviticus deals with the the civil law. Last week we studied how Leviticus’ holiness teachings are meant to distinguish God’s people from the surrounding nations. Christians often talk about the holiness of God, and a holy God. But what is holiness? How would you explain it to a 4 year old child? Lev 19:1-8 teach us important truths about holiness, and the God who is holy.
(A) Godward holiness is chiefly, about God (Lev 19:1-2)
Lev 19 begins with an opening formula that recurs again and again throughout Leviticus. It has three parts and one principle.
It begins with an action for Moses (Lev 19:2a). God told Moses to "speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them" a set of specific instructions. In just one sentence, God uses both the word "speak" and "say". Repetition in the Bible is often for emphasis. Why does God do so? From this verses we see that when God wanted to give a set of instructions to His people, He spoke through His chosen leader. But He was also concerned that His words were conveyed as He meant them to be. Notice also that the people were referred to as the congregation, a gathered group. There was, and still is something special about God's people gathering to hear Him speak. God intends to speak to His people, not just individually, but also corporately. This is why in our technologically advanced day and age, we still need to be part of a church, and cannot live off online sermons and a virtual community.
It is followed by an action for the people (Lev 19:2b). The people were told to "be holy". The instruction was not to do something, but to be something. Lastly, a reason for all these was also provided (Lev 19:2b), as indicated by the word "for". They were to be holy "for I the Lord your God am holy".
These 3 parts can be summarised into 1 principle. Because God is holy, His people ought to be holy. His people are to be like Him, and this is an important instruction that He wanted Moses to convey to the entire nation. In Leviticus 19, we are being told that the God of the Bible possesses a set of characteristics and attributes, and He desires that those who belong to Him to share those attributes. This is why we cannot understand holiness apart from God. This is why Godward holiness is chiefly about God.
There are two implications that follow naturally.
- We only know holiness because God revealed it to us. And, as we saw in verse 1, He did so by speaking. Do you know what God has said? If we do not know His words as He had spoken, we cannot be what He wants us to be.
- We cannot be holy if we do not understand God's holiness. To put it in another way, if we are not holy, it could mean either that we do not know God, or that we do not belong to Him.
At this point, we might ask why this God of the Bible makes such a demand of His people. Isn't He rather harsh? In understanding passages like Leviticus, and even other passages of the Bible, it is important for us to remember the context of the passage. God, and the people of Israel have an established relationship at this point. Exo 19:3-6 helps shed light on their relationship. In these verses, He began by telling them about how he crushed/defeated the Egyptians, and bore the people of Israel on eagles' wings to bring them to Himself. He saved/delivered/redeemed them from slavery and brought them to Himself. This is why He can also say that He claims them for Himself. We all can think of our own trite examples of claiming things and feeling indignant when our rights are infringed. In a much larger way, God has a claim on His people who are His. Therefore, the laws that He gives His people, of which Leviticus 19 is but a part of, shows God exercising His claim on a people that He has worked to redeem. And Exo 19:3-6 show us without a doubt that He is not a cold, distant deity, but loves them.
We've spent such a long time on these 2 verses, because this is something important to establish before we go on to understand the rest of the passage. Holiness is primarily Godward. It is is not moral improvement and behavior modification, but it is sharing in God's communicable attributes. This is not merely an abstract theological point. What this means is that what we know and believe about God shapes the way we live, make decisions and act in our lives. What do you know and believe about God? Is what you know based entirely on what He has revealed, or is it based on something else?
(B) Godward holiness is about daily living (Lev 19:3-4)
A set of instructions are given in Lev 19:3-4. Firstly, notice that the phrase "I am the Lord your God" is repeated in these 2 verses. This phrase punctuates and dominates the entire book of Leviticus. It serves to emphasise and remind the people of the God who gives these instructions, that He is a God with authority who has also chosen to reveal these instructions to them. At the same time, He is also a personal God ("your God"). Disobedience, therefore means so much more than just not following instructions. It signifies rebellion and a rejection of this personal God who also has all authority. This phrase makes sin more than just committing wrong actions, but makes it idolatry.
Verse 3 to 4 are from the 10 Commandments, and the 10 Commandments can be split into 2 sections, or the 2 tables of the Law. The first 4 form the first table, and the remaining 6 form the second. In His instructions to the people through Moses, God has extracted the first commandment of the first table of the law and first commandment of the second table of the Law and repeated them here. Let's take a closer look at these, to see what we can learn.
- "Revere his mother and his father" and "keep my Sabbaths"
Why does God call us to revere the ones who gave us life? One would expect some other more "significant" commandment to be highlighted, such as not murdering another. This gives us a hint as to how life ought to be structured in Israel. Life is celebrated, while death is pollutive. This life that ought to be celebrated comes from our parents. He is doing a lot more than telling them to be good children, but to respect the order of life and how He wants us to life. How do you revere the ones who give you life? Have you ever considered how holiness is tied to the first relationship that we are acquainted with?
He also draws attention to the Sabbath. We often think of the Sabbath as a ritual. But the Sabbath was really given to remind us that we are not the Creator, and that we need rest. We need rest because we are not God. This is difficult for us as young people, because one of the ways we display our idolatry is when we tell ourselves we do not need rest. But Lev 19 challenges us today, by instructing us that holiness is tied to rest. Rest is a constant reminder and acknowledgement that we are not God.
Therefore, when the people of God obeyed God in these 2 ways, they lived lives that were different from the surrounding nations. In many societies, the infirmed and elderly are the first to go when the going gets tough. However, it is not so with the people of God, as their laws dictated. While the surrounding cultures worked endlessly to secure their positions, God's people would set aside time to rest, as a sign of their faith and trust in Him.
"Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal"
There are 2 ways to practice idolatry. The first is to turn to other gods and worship them. But idolatry can also mean creating new gods or making false images of the real God. This was what Israel did with the Golden Calf, when they worshipped what they had made and said that that was the one who rescued them from Egypt. We too, are tempted in the same way today. We can take a good things and gifts from God and turn them into a substitute for God. For example, parents can make their children their idols, when their lives revolve around caring and providing for their children. Do you have idols in your life? It is so easy to turn away from God and to idols when we close our Bibles, stop reading it and stop seeing God as He revealed Himself to us.
(C) Godward holiness is about daily worship (Lev 19:5-8)
From Lev 19:5-8, we are given a set of instructions about the offerings that the people were to offer. Earlier on in Lev 3 and 7, we learnt that the peace offering is a sign of communion and relationship with God. The goal of the peace offering is that they may be accepted. In Lev 19:6, the people of Israel were told that they could not survive on their peace offerings for more than 2 days at a time. Regular peace offerings needed to be offered. They were to worship in a way that is acceptable and pleasing to God. We don't often think about it in this way, because this implies that there is such a thing as unacceptable worship. What does this mean? Does this mean that there are ways that we sing our songs that are unacceptable? If we are honest, we know that there are times when we don't mean it and are just faking it. And this is not merely about the way we sing our songs, or how we behave in church. How else do we worship God in the six other days that we are not gathered with His people? Do you worship Him daily?
Lev 19:1-8 has a few verses, but these verses mean so much. The holiness of God is a heavy subject, and we cannot understand it apart from God. Yet it has implications on the way we live our lives, and how we worship Him. What is God saying to you about your life, the way you have lived this day? Are you living in such a way that the holiness of God has stamped you? Do your relationships with your parents reflect holiness? Are you resting in the way you ought to? Have we made false images of God? Do we offer acceptable worship?
If we are honest, none of us can answer in the affirmative to the barrage of questions above. Leviticus is meant to show us our sins, but it doesn't leave us there. It calls us to repentance too. We will not repent and turn to the Jesus in faith and obedience, if we don't see how helpless we are. What is this holy God saying to you today?
“We need to cultivate in our own hearts the same hatred of sin God has. Hatred of sin as sin, not just as something disquieting or defeating to ourselves, but as displeasing to God,lies at the root of all true holiness.” (The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges)