Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Twenty-Six.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Sh’mini: Leviticus 9:1-11:47.

6th April 2024/27 Adar2

…that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses. (Leviticus 10:10-11)

Picture by Helen McNeill

The message of holiness runs continuously through all Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. Its importance could not be emphasised more dramatically than by the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu. They surely meant no harm, but they became headstrong and ignored, to their peril, the instructions of God. Recall the wonderful preparations that had been made over many months of construction of the Tabernacle, utilising beautiful metals, wood, costly gemstones, and colourful cloth. God made every part of the design clear, including the clothing and ministry of the priests and the precious incense which they were to burn. The day came when the Tabernacle was erected, commissioned, set apart and for the Priests to begin their ministry. With all dignity, honour to the Lord, and privilege for those called to service – but marred when Aaron’s two oldest sons, made a costly mistake right at the outset.

The call of holiness into the presence of the Lord is a great privilege, yet it bears responsibility. We do not define the terms of holiness – that is God’s sole prerogative, and we must be careful to understand it.

What does it mean to be holy? One possible dictionary definition which combines ideas from a number of sources is: The biblical definition of holy is something or someone that is separated and dedicated to serve and fulfil the will of God. It also means to be clean and pure, free from defilement. Holy applies to places where God is present, like the Temple and the tabernacle, and to things and persons related to those holy places or to God Himself. Holy also means to be spiritually pure, evoking adoration and reverence.

Such a definition is derived from studying the circumstances and context in which the call to holiness is made. We can pursue a Bible study of our own and make notes as we go on what we discover. This has greater benefit than copying someone else’s definition, since our own search is personally relevant and can be made prayerfully, as we take seriously our own call to be holy. This is a very important thing to do in our own homes with our family.

Holiness, nevertheless, does not stop at a dictionary definition. It is a way of life – a doing more than a thinking. If we could look into a spiritual mirror, we could see our lives as others see them and judge our response to be holy. The Torah, as James said, is such a mirror (James 1:21-25):

Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

God set out the regulations for drawing near to Him – He also gave instructions for how to live. How we live sets us apart from others. Take, for example, the food laws. Over many centuries the Kosher rules for Judaism have characterised and set apart the nation. These kosher rules come directly from Leviticus.

How we dress, what we eat, our priorities and practices in life, especially the worship of God with whom seek to form relationship, set us apart from the world. If our ways conform with God’s ways, we live as those who are holy unto the Lord. If we conform to the ways of the world, we are likely to break down the walls that define holiness and thereby compromise our relationship with God.

Our Bible reading this week should be a challenge to reconsider what it is to be holy. It is no small challenge when we confront again the definitions of clean and unclean that were given to the Israelites, which make clear what pleases God and what is abhorrent to Him. How do these things impact our personal lives, the way we grow as a family and how we meet as congregations of believers? Is there any “profane fire” in our talk, in our customs including the way we dress, the way we interact together, the music we play some of which can be labelled worship but may be just a reflection of what pleases the world, and what we imbibe from social media and entertainment – what we “eat”, as it were.

The food laws were just a beginning for Israel and are still a teaching for us. It is in the doing that we learn what is behind the physical rules. But living by rules alone does not save us for eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the history of Israel shows us that more was needed than the rituals of a religion. More, not less, however, is required. The more is enabled through the sacrifice of Yeshua and through the giving of the Holy Spirit who purifies us from within according to the teaching we find in the Scriptures.

The Apostle Paul made clear our approach to the laws of God such as the food regulations. The way of the Holy Spirit is the route to holiness and the physical manifestations such as the dietary laws still have their relevance, but according to the precept: Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Holiness to the Lord is of the highest importance and our Torah portion is our prompt this week to begin to consider again the disciplines of our life on our personal walk with God and that of our family. The Priests of the Old Covenant had responsibility to distinguish between the clean and unclean and to teach the people. That is also our responsibility, especially if we are heads of families, priests in our home, as it were.

The principle of holiness begins in the Old Testament (Tanach) and comes to maturity in the New Covenant with the same importance. Nadab and Abihu are like prophets in their death to remind us of the importance of this.

By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified. (Leviticus 10:11)

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Note on Helen’s picture: This week’s illustration is an attempt to convey this amazing system of consecration that is ultimately about magnifying God’s work of salvation, throughout the whole of His creation. The sky and the deep are teeming with His work through the animals He has created and who are multiplying and exist in large quantities. God intends that it should be the same with human beings in His family – that they should multiply and teem all over the earth abundantly sanctifying, magnifying, and bringing glory to His name. We are to spread over the earth like grains of sand and to be the seeds that cause salvation to grow. I have attempted to depict this through the sky, land and sea and how this all fits beautifully together to create a glorious landscape that honours and worships God together in holiness.