In Leviticus 19, the Lord tells His people “Be holy for I am holy” and then goes on to give the people what is known as the Holiness Code; a list of commands and expectations the Lord has for Israel.What does it mean to be holy in God’s eyes? That question can be a difficult one for many people to definitively answer, but scripture does spell it out. Holiness (Kedusha in Hebrew) is not some abstract concept. Let’s examine this Holiness code further in this Bible study on holiness.
God’s Holiness – A Look at the Holiness Code
In Leviticus 19, we find the Lord speaking with Moses and giving him expectations for how Israel is to live.
Israel was surrounded by nations who engaged in the worship of various gods. Monotheism in that time was not something familiar to the peoples in the Near East.
In establishing this Holiness Code, the Lord was saying I am not only one god among many, I am THE God and as my people you are to be set apart not only FOR me but FROM these other nations.
Leviticus 19:1-2 says:
Bnei-Yisrael is the Hebrew for children of Israel or basically the Jewish people. So it is “You shall be kedoshim (kedoshim is the plural form of the word holy), for I, Hashem your God, am holy” or translated to “You shall be holy for I am holy”.
Note: I will be substituting the Name “Adonai” with the less formal form of Hashem throughout, as Adonai is a much more lofty Name and I don’t want to disrespect it. So I will leave it in Biblical quotes and in the Shema but use Hashem in other places.
What is God’s Holiness? – The Definition of Holiness
God’s holiness is being set apart and sacred, meant for a higher purpose.
So we have this directive where the Lord tells the people the over-arching expectation of them, followed by commands regarding how they are to conduct themselves in relationships, in society, in business dealings, in diet, in personal matters and all are followed with “I am Hashem your God.”
All are followed with this statement that they are the people of ONE God who is a personal God. ‘I am Hashem (the Lord) YOUR God.’ I am YOUR personal God. You belong to ME. You are MY people. You are different than those who worship idols. You don’t belong to multiple gods made of stone or gold but to a LIVING God and my expectation is that you be holy for I am holy and with this comes promise!
The prayer begins “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.” or “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4).
It then continues with “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom now and forever” and then is followed with 3 paragraphs from Deuteronomy and Numbers.
But the very first sentence read in these 3 paragraphs is “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Jesus Christ the Messiah, used the words of Deuteronomy, the words of the Shema which He Himself recited as a Jew, as the greatest command. You are to love Hashem your God and not the gods of this world.
Living a holy life begins with recognizing that God alone is worthy of our praise and worship. The worship of God is what God’s people is called to do.
The Holiness of God
Then in Leviticus 20:22-24, we see Hashem summarize for the people the ‘why’, followed once again by His stating that He is THE God.
We then go on to Leviticus 20:25 which speaks about clean and unclean animals and then in Leviticus 20:26 we read:
Be Holy For I am Holy – Set Apart Among the Nations
Israel was to be different from all the other nations and not engage in the same practices they did. Did they always do this? No.
Israel, throughout scripture, experienced cycle after cycle of Disobedience – Judgment – Repentance – Redemption. We see this particularly in the Book of Judges where we read time and time again “But Bnei-Yisrael again did what was evil in Hashem’s eyes”.
Israel would have a time of peace but then once again act in disobedience and rebellion and go through this cycle over again.
And yet the Lord always provided redemption. And He still does today.
Being set apart, being holy, doesn’t mean being perfect. God never said be perfect as I am perfect or be omnipotent as I am omnipotent. Only the Lord is truly perfect.
He said be holy for I am holy; be different, be set apart from the world. It is not be holy AS I am holy (as in the sense that we are to be holy LIKE Him…none can achieve that standard…this word ‘as’ is more like ‘because’) but be holy FOR I am holy.
Now I want to be clear here that Hashem was not calling Israel to separate themselves from the things of this world. He didn’t tell them to hide in a cave somewhere and have no dealings with other people. This is evident in the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) with the Pharisees.
They were not like the Essenes who kept themselves segregated from society. They remained a part of society and even with Yeshua and his disciples.
The command was to be holy IN the world and to set the example for others. You cannot do that by coming out of the world.
The Jewish idea of separating from the world to be “holy” is just not a concept. Jews achieve holiness by engaging with the world and how we interact with it, not by avoiding it.
A man and teacher I truly admire, Rabbi Carl Kinbar, said this week on our Talmud Torah Zoom call, “I personally have never seen a Jewish monastery. It is just not the Jewish way to avoid the things in this world. It is to follow God’s holy standard IN the world.”
Again, looking at Leviticus He says “You are to be holy to Me, for I, Hashem, am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, so that you would be Mine.”
Set apart from the peoples does not mean a physical setting apart. It is be holy for I am holy in their midst!
The Lord doesn’t mince words when He gives His commands. Man likes to muddy the waters a bit and we make things a little “gray”, or say things like “well, to me God is saying…..”, but God is clear. The people were to live a certain way, to be SET APART and not live like those who worshipped and sacrificed to idols.
You cannot pick and choose what commands of God are important. You either accept His Word or you don’t. It is not a buffet where you get to select what you want.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:You cannot pick and choose what commands of God are important. You either accept His Word or you don’t. It is not a buffet where you get to select what you want. Click To Tweet
ALL Scripture! Let’s take a look at this for a moment.
What Scripture is Rav Shaul (Paul) referring to here in this letter? He is writing to Timothy and it bears reminding that, at this time, there was no New Testament or what we as Messianic Jews mostly refer to as the Apostolic Writings. The only Scripture they had at this point was Torah, the prophets, the writings.
1 Peter 1:14-16 says:
It is the Tanakh (OT) that this is quoted here by Peter.
Torah Means Teaching and It is How We Receive Instruction
Contrary to what many believe, Torah does not only mean law.
Yes, Torah contains law but it does not mean law. It actually means ‘teaching’. It is key to Judaism but it is, as Paul says, profitable for learning to all who read it and study it. It is God’s standard for setting us apart from the world.
Be holy for I am holy!
How do we know about how we are to do this without all of Scripture? You cannot toss out Torah as “not applying” to the Jew who is a believer in Yeshua. Torah is God’s Word. It is NOT just law. Some Jews even use the word Torah to mean the entire Old Testament.
Law is law; it is not the whole of Torah.
The Law contains 613 commandments. For those who believe Jews think they are saved by the Law, take this into consideration. Over 200 of these laws pertain to the priesthood and have NOTHING to do with Jew in their day to day life. So it is impossible for a Jew to keep all 613 commandments because they don’t apply to them!
Jews do not believe the law saves them. They believe as much in repentance, redemption and the world to come as any believer does.
So “All Scripture” that is referred to is Torah, the Writings and the Prophets; the Tanakh. As I said, there was no New Testament at that time.
God’s Righteous Standard – Like Obedient Children
While I don’t want to compare God’s righteous standard, God’s holiness, to parenting, as human beings we can often relate to them in the way we expect our kids to behave differently from others. We do this by establishing standards of behavior.
But what if we didn’t give them that standard ? How do our kids know they have broken a rule if we never gave them any? We can’t say “you broke curfew” if we didn’t give a curfew to begin with.
So what defines a standard of righteousness and what separates the people of God from the nations who worship many gods if not His commands?
So what about when we mess up? What about the times we are disobedient?
There is teshuvah (repentance) and there is forgiveness. There is mercy and there is God’s grace.
We pray that God’s mercy, which we don’t deserve, will triumph over His judgment, which we do deserve!
Holiness is not living a perfect sinless life. Only one Man did that; Yeshua.
Holiness is separating yourself from the rest, it is sanctifying yourself and how you live, and coming apart from the world and living a life devoted to the One true God who is Hashem and our Messiah Yeshua all for God’s glory.
Holiness should never be confused with perfection. But obedience has never been taken off the table.
Laws govern our lives. We live with them every day in what governs our country, city and state we live in. Society cannot exist without standards. But in God’s relationship with His children, He shows grace and mercy when we mess up. He shows forgiveness.We pray that God’s mercy, which we don’t deserve, will triumph over His judgment, which we do deserve! Click To Tweet
Sin comes with a debt to pay. Romans 6:23:
Our sinfulness does not come without a price. The same way breaking the laws of our society comes with a price. But Yeshua, blessed be He, paid our price and took our punishment…our atonement…upon Himself.
He stepped in as our Tzaddik, the Righteous One, and took our place.
We are holy before the Lord not because we are perfect but because we belong to the One who is!
Holiness isn’t about a standard we can never live up to. The Lord didn’t just set us up for failure. It is so we can be different from the world; different in how we do business, different in how we handle our relationships, different in how we respond to wrongs. We are to be different so the world knows who we belong to.
That is what holiness is all about. Be holy for I am holy…in other words, be holy, be set apart from everyone else, because you belong to Me.
I love that we are set apart as holy for Him!
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CJB – Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.