Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’”
This idea; this statement that the Israelites shall be holy because God is holy is reiterated several times in Leviticus. It is also quoted in the New Testament. But it was not until this morning that the phrasing used really caught my attention.
I have a friend whose occupation involves interpreting and applying laws. He is neither lawyer nor judge, but the language of the law is a thing which he sometimes points out in his own writings. He sometimes points out that the shall in legal language is a legal imperative and means that the action MUST be performed. But I also noticed something else: God is not commanding that the Israelites DO anything, but that they be something. God says You shall be holy (emphasis added). Every legal document I can recall ever reading — and I have read a few — inserts an action verb in that sentence slot, but God inserts only the linking verb.
What further catches my attention is the words that follow God’s pronouncement that the Israelites shall be holy, which is that their holiness is because He; God is holy. He says for I the LORD Your God am holy. This is the reason for the imperative. But it occurred to me this morning that the reason that the Israelites will be holy is because God is holy. The legal imperative is a good place to begin understanding this verse — it is situated in the midst of The Law — but the language seems to indicate a cause-effect relationship. The cause is God’s holiness and the effect is the Israelites’ holiness. They must be different not because of anything about them but because of the character of He Who is in their midst. God is holy and anyone and anything that is long in His presence becomes holy.
Moreover, the idea of holiness is often misunderstood. To be holy is to be set apart for a particular purpose. In the case of the Israelites, God set them apart to be His chosen people. More than this, He chose them to receive the tabernacle with all its rich symbolism and the sacrifices that foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice. He chose them and set them apart; made them unique, because He is unique.
Where all of this leaves me is understanding the concept of being holy because God is holy as more of a promise and less of a command. Because God is holy, the Israelites shall be holy. Because everything that belongs to God — me included — is His and therefore set apart for His especial use, everything that is God’s is holy by definition. That means the Israelites. That means me and every other believer who has given themselves to God. We are, each of us, holy because we belong to God.
Father, thank You for wanting me and wanting me so much as to pay a price beyond reckoning. Thank You that it is You Who makes me holy, not any effort of my own.