Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For September 16 - A Strange God

What do we mean when we say that God is "holy?" Chances are, we have more of a gut feeling about what "holy" means than we do a firm biblical understanding of the meaning. That God is holy is a huge concept that's hard for us to get a handle on - especially since, on our own, we're not holy. It is God who makes us holy and God alone. So how can we understand something that is so foreign to us? In Hebrew thinking, "holy" is essentially a synonym for God himself (so I have read). But there are at least a few Hebrew words used to convey what holy is all about. The passage in Leviticus is an interesting one because it starts out talking about what not to eat - those bottom feeders of land. I've never had a problem staying away from bottom feeders - on land or in water. Anything that eats another animals excrement or body scraps just doesn't sound appealing to me. Kosher hot dogs, okay, but count me out for shell fish, pigs and catfish. I might try farm fed....
Anyway, the idea here seems to be not only the goodness and separateness of God, but also that being holy is at least partially about being "whole-ee." Being whole, taking care of ourselves because God is good and whole himself. Just first thoughts...more to come....
- Curtis


  1. Another interesting passage is Leviticus 20:26. "You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own." This verse seems to indicate two things about holiness.

    First, its character. The Hebrew verb, BaDaL, to separate, is used here in the context of being holy. This is the word that was used in Genesis 1 when God separated the light from the darkness.

    Second, the source. In this verse it is God who separates or makes holy. In this context it is the Israelites that he made holy, separate from other peoples, but the New Testament teaches that Gentiles can join this group because of Christ's sacrifice.

    God has apparently designated places, people, and times as holy. Most of the places, like the temple and the tabernacle, are no longer in existence. The people included angels and priests, but also the congregation of Israel. The times included the Sabbath, and the Festivals, some of which are coming up in the next couple of weeks, including Rosh Ha-Shanah which begins tonight (see Lev. 23:24-25).

  2. It's interesting that God apparently created some animals to be eaten, and some not to be. It seems natural to assume that it is because they are scavengers, but scripture is silent on the reason. Guessing why God says or does something can be an iffy proposition. It could have been a seemingly arbitrary command to see if people would obey him.

    If we assume a reason that was different from God's intent, we end up in the position that we don't eat them because they are scavengers, gather than because God said not to. For discussion on New Testament development of the food laws, see here, here, and here.

  3. I really should catch this earlier in the week so I don't see Harry's responses and am reminded of how much intelligence I lack in the biblical scholar area!

    When I think of the word "holy" I hadn't ever stopped to think of its true meaning - biblical or defined. Holy to me has always been in relation to God alone - something I would never be capable of until my death when I am re-united with Christ. Holy defines God's nature as all-inclusive. When something is holy it is without sin and just. I conjure up a vision of white and purity. Things that pictures, media, and other people have always fed us and are associated with "pure" things.

    In reading the passage, it struck me as odd that it didn't specifically say "bottom feeders". When I read the passage it to me says "any creature that moves about on the ground....." So, that would mean basically any animal (cow, pig, chicken, etc). All the meats I have in my freezer at this very moment.

    I also thought it odd the last sentence "....therefore be holy, because I am holy." I can't understand why God would ask us to do something that is impossible. I understand that living by each of the laws we are given helps to make us closer to holy, but can we as human ever truly be holy? I've been told and believe otherwise.

    Wow, what a depressing passage. I hope I'm not reading it right! :)


  4. Even after the sermon, some questions remain about this text. One involves what animals are being referred to. The NIV translates it as "any creature that moves about on the ground". That makes it seem like livestock are included.

    The preceding chapter has dealt with animals in groups. The first group deals with livestock (BeHeMah), and those with split hoof and that chew cud are OK for eating. The second group are aquatic, and those with fins and scales can be eaten. Then birds are listed, certain ones are to be avoided. Flying "teeming things" (NIV translates it "insects") that walk on "four legs" are to be avoided, with some exceptions.

    Then there is a parenthetical section about contamination by contact with carcasses. Then in verse 41 it seems to deal with "teeming things" that don't fly. This seems to include more than just bugs, possibly mice, lizards, etc. All of them are to be avoided and not eaten. These teeming, or swarming things (SHeReTZ) are distinguished from livestock in other passages (e.g. Gen. 7:21). The implication seems to be: you can eat the approved animals, but anything that isn't on the list should be avoided.

  5. As was mentioned in the sermon, being holy (set apart), depending on the sense, can involve two different things: being something, and doing something. We "are holy" irrespective of what we do because God has set us apart. As a result, we should try to "live holy" with the help of the Holy Spirit, following God's commands. In sense one we are holy, and in sense two we are (hopefully) increasing in holiness.


Thanks for posting!