#23: February 20, 2008

I’m breaking from tradition to select certain verses from within the book of Leviticus. Today’s was from Leviticus 11.

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For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Leviticus 11:45

Leviticus is a book of Law. Here God tells the Israelites what is permissible and what is not permissible. He distinguishes between the clean and the unclean. He sets forth a pattern of offerings. He ordains a series of festivals.

But then you get bits like the above, which cuts through the letter of the law towards the spirit of the law.

Why was God being so particular with His laws? The verse above is a perfect answer.

God had specifically chosen the Israelites to be His people, redeeming them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Because He had rescued them to be their God, it was only fitting that they should be holy, as a reflection of the holiness of God.

This line of reasoning may not seem to make much sense. I wrestled with it for a while. But I believe the key bit is to understand what it means to have someone or something as our ‘God’. When we have a God, we want to follow it, become like it, because we idolise it. We see it and utter, “Wow! I want to be just like that!” If something or someone is the god of our lives, we unconsciously express it.

And here the people were in awe of God. After all, just moments before, they had all fallen facedown in worship before the presence of God. And so God ordains that if they are going to worship Him as their God, then it is necessary for them to express Him properly. And God is holy. So His people must be holy. If they were not holy, they could not be His people. For God cannot tolerate sin. How then can He call a people His own if they are sinful?

There’s one more thing though that caught my attention. “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.” God doesn’t appeal to His awesome power. God appeals to His awesome redemption. Because of His powerful redemption, the Israelites ought to be holy.

The Israelites should be responding out of gratefulness! That God has freed them from bondage. But that, as the course of history progresses, is far from what really happens. The Israelites are an ungrateful people. But then so are we. Mankind is rebellious by nature. We have hearts of stone that cannot appreciate the freedom God offers.

It’s in this context that what Jesus has done for us contrasts so vividly! Read 1 Peter 1. And see the difference. The call is there at the end, to be holy just as the One who called us is holy. And the reasons are the same, that we are a redeemed people. But there’s one crucial difference. The new birth that comes from God. We no longer have hearts of stone. Peter says that we should rejoice in what this new birth has brought us. And so we should! How then do we respond?

Be holy, because the One who has called us is holy.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-16
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