One of the most prominent words in the book of Leviticus – based on my word cloud I made and referenced in a previous post – is “LORD.”
I have written elsewhere already (here) about the significance of the all capital letters, “LORD” in the Old Testament. If you have ever heard me teach or preach for very long at all then you know that I am passionate about the importance of knowing that God is not God’s name, but Yahweh is – which is what all capital letters LORD represents. Again, for an explanation of this phenomenon go back and see my previous post explaining it. I will be using Yahweh instead of LORD in the remainder of this post.
The declaration of the name of God is the justification given by God to Moses to validate the demands being placed on His people. Over and over again the text says some slight variation or extension of “I am Yahweh your God. Be holy for I am holy.” It occurs once in the first half of Leviticus (Lev 11:43-45). Then in the second half of the book the refrain repeats several times per chapter starting in chapter 18. Which makes sense because the second half of the book (chapters 17-27) is often referred to as the “Holiness Code.”
This appeal to Yahweh’s name as justification appears in conjunction with a number of commands, ordinances, and statues given by Yahweh to Moses:
- Dietary restrictions (11:43-45; 19:26; 20:25-26)
- Sexual prohibitions (18:2-6, 30)
- Idolatry prohibition (18:30; 19:4; 26:1)
- Keeping sabbaths (19:3, 23-25, 29; 25; 26:2)
- Honoring father and mother (19:3)
- Leaving the edges of the field for the poor to glean (19:10; 23:22)
- Honoring the name of Yahweh (19:12)
- Being kind to the differently abled (19:14)
- Being honest and truthful (19:15-16, 35-37)
- To love and not hate others (19:17-18)
- Hair trimming and avoidance of skin gashes and “tattoos” (19:27-28)
- Prohibition against selling female children into prostitution (19:29; 21:9)
- Honoring God’s sanctuary (19:30; 26:2)
- Avoiding magical and occult practices (19:26, 31; 20:6-8, 27)
- Honoring elders (19:32)
- Taking care of foreigners (19:33-34)
- Inheriting and taking charge of the promised land (20:24)
- Restrictions of marriage for Levites and honoring of the Levites (21:7-8, 13-15)
- High priest to avoid dead things (21:10-12; 22:4-9)
- The differently abled (“blemished”) are prohibited from entering the sanctuary (21:16-24)
- Caution is due when handling the sacred donations (22:1-3; 22:26-33)
- Only priests and their family and servants may eat the sacred donations (22:10-16)
- Keep the festival of booths (23:43)
- Aliens and citizens obey the same law (24:22)
- Stone blasphemers (24:22)
- General summary of all of the commands (26:12-13, 44-45)
I don’t think there is any one thing that holds all of these commands together apart from the appeal to Yahweh’s name. Broadly here are some things that some of those commands together:
- Many of the commands seem to be given to distinguish between the Canaanites and the Israelites – hence the refrain Yahweh your God. I.e the God of Israel and not the gods of the canaanites.
- Many of the commands are given as special instructions for the ways the priests and the sanctuary that they manage are to be set apart as special space
- Many of the commands are ethical in nature – much of this is rooted in the reminder that Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt. Israel was oppressed in Egypt and rescued and so they should not use their new found freedom to oppress others even in small ways.
It seems to me that the best way to bring all of this together is to remember that we become like what we worship. The Israelites are to be holy because they are called to worship a holy God. These commands, ordinances, and statues are given not as an overbearing way of burdening Israel, but as a guide in becoming like God. We may be under a new covenant where we no longer are required to keep the festival of booths or eat a kosher diet, but we still have commands, ordinances, and statues that serve as a guide for becoming like God. Following the broad commonalities of these commands given above I propose the following:
- Some groups have surely taken this too unnecessary and excessive extremes (Westboro Baptist Church, Anabaptists, etc.), but we are called to maintain some distinction as followers of the one true God in the midst of the culture in which we live (Rom 12:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17). For this to be effective this MUST be more than abstinence from alcohol or voting a certain way! It must be deeper than a list of supported and unsupported actions. I would think it can differ depending on context. Abstaining from the hook-up culture on a major college campus could certainly serve to set one apart there. Refusal to bully or gossip in the locker room could be another. Deleting social media and spending time on better pursuits is yet another potentially. But again, it differs from person to person and context to context.
- Great thought and care should be given to the planning and execution of worship services. It is very easy to fall into a rut of routine with church services. Meet together as leadership and lay members to set aside Sunday (or whenever you gather) as a special day to the Lord.
- Love is key to holiness: loving and not hating enemies, taking care of the foreigner and widow. In this day and age this would also apply to visiting those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Love is more than warm fuzzy feelings of affection (though certainly not less). Love is an action verb. To quote Bob Goff, “love does!” Love does something practical like caring for the less fortunate and vulnerable. I imagine if we would stop worrying about voting over immigration and actually love the immigrants among us it would change the way we think about many of these issues.
Yahweh, our God, make us holy as you are holy. As we worship you make us like you. Form us by our habits to love and serve you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.