August 2/3, 2014
Main Text: Leviticus 11:44-45
For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 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.”
As we continue our series we look again at the Israelites, God’s chosen people. Last week we learned of God’s power to deliver. He delivered His people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. God was in the process of fulfilling His promises to them that He gave to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The promise was three fold.
- They were going to be a large people group
- They would inhabit a great and rich land
- All nations would be blessed through them
The Israelites were going to be a people that would model to the rest of the world what it meant to be in relationship with the one true God – Creator of everything.
God is perfectly holy. We are not. We are an unholy people desperately seeking a way to grow in holiness! How do impure people learn to walk in holiness? The answer is: We walk with a God who is holy, and He transforms us. First, he makes us holy through His cleansing power and grace. Second, He teaches us to grow in holiness as we learn to walk in His ways.
In the book of Exodus, God begins giving laws to His people after He delivered them. He started with the Ten Commandments but then continued through the book of Leviticus – which means simply – The Law. Today, we will look at some of these Old Testament laws, the character and heart of our God who gave them, what these laws were intended to do, how they apply to our lives today, and the process of holiness in our lives as we follow Christ.
Understanding the holiness of God
Originally the word “holy” simply meant “set apart”. It pointed to things that were reserved for a special use and were not to be touched or used for anything else. Later the word “holy” began to point to moral purity. Our idea of purity is a far cry from God’s definition.
In Exodus 19, we see the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai. They are a group of frightened, grumbling, fugitive slaves with no sense of identity yet and no clear knowledge of God. They are impure and ready to run back to Egypt at the first sign of difficulty. What is amazing is that God’s plan was to work through these people and to bring His hope to the world through a people who seemed hopeless.
In an effort to help the people see the magnitude of His plan, God speaks to Moses in Exodus 19:3-6. The people go to great extents as they prepare to meet with God (Exodus 19:10-13). They are unholy people about to encounter a totally holy God. (Deuteronomy 4:24; Exodus 20:20) The people were afraid (Exodus 20:18-19). Fear is a common response (Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8). We all need to be overwhelmed with the reality of our sin and God’s purity.
Are people saved by obeying the law?
The law, including the Ten Commandments, was never given to people so that they could earn God’s favor. That was never God’s way of dealing with human problems. These laws were given to them after God had already been gracious to them and reached out to them with tender love. In fact, the people of Israel did not see the Ten Commandments as a list of do’s and don’ts, they saw the promise of the presence of God (Exodus 20:2). This was God’s loving agreement to be in relationship with them. When they broke the commandments, they were breaking covenant with the God who loved them so passionately. That is why Moses broke the tablets. He did symbolically what the people were doing literally – breaking the covenant.
Paul sums up the answer to this point in Romans 3:20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Why is there so much detail in the laws?
You might wonder, “If God is so concerned about the heart, why did He give so many different laws and why are they so detailed?” God had a distinct purpose for every law He gave. Some broad laws make sense to us today. However, there are a lot of laws that were given for very specific situations (Leviticus 11:29-31; 13:40-41; Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
We must realize that these laws were given to a barbaric society without a strong moral baseline. We live with the advantage of over 3,000 years of the civilizing, restraining influence of the Judeo- Christian ethic. At the time of our text, the dark age of infanticide, pagan rituals of prostitution, and murder of women and slaves were common. There are three categories of Old Testament law. They are:
- Civil Law: Laws that had to do with the governance of the nation of Israel. We are now to obey the laws of the country we live in (Romans 13:1-7).
- Ritual or Ceremonial Law: Laws about worship, the sacrificial system, or cleanness. In the New Testament, the whole sacrificial and ritual system was fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18).
- Moral Law: These laws remain. They are not civil laws replaced by our national civil laws. They are not ritual laws that have become void through Christ. The Ten Commandments are a great example along with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
How do we know what laws we are to obey today?
We cannot simply pick and choose which Old Testament laws we will follow. We cannot be arbitrary and self-serving in our choosing. There are often important principles that can be learned from laws that we no longer need to follow (Deuteronomy 24:20). A good example of Jesus telling the heart of a law is in Mark 7:18-19. We may not have to worry about eating something “unclean”, but we should always be concerned with what comes out of us. This includes our words, attitudes, and intentions of our hearts. These things matter a great deal to God, and they should matter to us as well.
We obey the moral laws of God not as a way to earn God’s love, but as a sign of a life built on a covenant relationship with our Creator. The great promise of the Old Testament was that someday God’s law would be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
After Moses read “the Book of the Covenant” in Exodus 24, the people declare their intent in verse 7. God has always sought to transform hearts. From orally giving His commands to Adam and Eve, to chiseling them on stone and parchment, to sending prophets for clarification, to sending His Son Jesus, and finally sending His Holy Spirit to continue to speak the truth of God’s law into our hearts. God wants our hearts to be transformed! This is a developmental process for us to have the intent of God for human life!
May God our lawgiver transform our hearts!
This week, as you reflect on the message, think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing and fellowship as you open God’s Word together.
Read: Leviticus 11:44-45
Think of a time in your life when you treated something as “holy”. Share about this experience.
When you read about the holiness of God, how do you see God as holy? What imagery do you rely on to inform your understanding of His holiness? What passages of Scripture show us God’s holiness?
As you think about the people of Israel, how did they show themselves to be a very unworthy people for God to choose? How are we unworthy of God’s choosing?
What aspects of grace are on display in this portion of the Old Testament, pointing us to the grace that we experience through our faith in Jesus?
How is Jesus seen in this moment of Israel’s history?
God says to the Israelites “be holy”, how are you holy?