Leviticus Law: Be Ye Holy For I Am Holy - Leviticus 11:45
Our key verse is Leviticus 11:45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. It is repeated in Leviticus 19:2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy. This is the theme of the book of Leviticus and of course it is directly applied to the New Testament people of God in 1 Peter 1:15-16 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
It is not fit, as Paul would say, for people who call themselves believers and Christians to mimic and merge themselves with the world on the day and in the place that is meant to be set aside for God.
A Little Background
Date of the Book
Observe that God spoke the words of Leviticus during the first month of the second year after the Exodus. The Israelites were encamped on Mount Sinai (Lev 7:38; 27:34). Just when Moses wrote down the words we cannot be sure, but he may have done so before the wilderness journey of Numbers began, around the middle of the fifteenth century B.C. (based on the 1445 B.C. date for the Exodus from Egypt). - Irving L. Jensen, Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament: Search and Discover, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 103.
We are reading a history that is over 3000 years old. It is historically, geographically and spiritually accurate and true. And it still has application to our live in 2024.
Outlines of the Book
Warren Wiersbe Outline
1–10 Justification for His People
11–15 and 17–22, Separation Of His People
Distinction of the Priests Chapters 21–22
Irving Jensen Outline
1-17 The Way To God
1-7 Laws of Offering
8-10 Laws of Priestly Consecration
11-15 Laws of Purity
16-17 Laws for Atonement Day
18-27 The Walk With God
18-20 Holy People
21-22 Holy Priests
23-25 Holy Times
26-27 Holy Vows
As you can see the theme of the book of Leviticus is Holiness.
Leviticus Dietary Laws – Leviticus 11:1–23
Leviticus 11:1-23 And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
God’s Dietary Guideline – The Good
We won’t spend much time here, just a quick run down of what the Lord said and a guess or two about why He said it.
Some commentators believe that God gave these laws for health reasons. “God was concerned about the health of His people and wanted them to avoid certain contagion and parasitic diseases, so He laid down some guidelines perfectly in accord with modern science. The other cultures of that day based such classifications on magical formulas, while God simply indicated which animals were good to eat and which were not.” - Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, Eds., KJV Bible Commentary, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 211.
Others believe it had nothing to do with health but was only God’s way of making His people separate from the other people which were around them. “Whether a creature was “clean” or “unclean” had nothing to do with the quality of the beast; it all depended on what God said about the animal.” - Warren Wiersbe, Exodus Commentary
Though I can’t always see a strong reason for some of these animals it seems that the idea of clean and unclean points to healthy and unhealthy but more importantly the distinction between them is about being distinct, separated as God’s people.
Here is what Charles Pfieffer said in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, “Although one important result of all these regulations may have been the preservation of health, this is not the same as stating that preservation of health was the motivation. … they can be read with interest and can be recognized as regulations which both helped to maintain Israel’s physical health and, at the same time, set her apart as a nation distinct from the idolatrous nations about her.
The Clean Foods - So, let’s summarize the foods that the Lord said were clean.
Of animals that lived on the earth you could eat those that chewed the cud and had a dived hoof. If it didn’t do these two things it was forbidden.
Examples are giving in Deuteronomy 14:4-5 These are the beasts which ye shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, 5 The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the wild ox, and the chamois.
Here is an update on some of those names from the ESV, 4 These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, 5 the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep.
The animals which live in the sea or in the river you can eat only those which have both fins and scales. So you could not have eels, oysters, shellfish, shrimp, lobsters or even catfish.
What about fowls or birds. Here there is no set rule about how it appears but by the examples given its appears that the only birds you could eat were those which ate plants and seeds. You could not eat any bird that ate other animals. Birds of prey, or scavengers were unclean and forbidden.
Now I know all of you are really anxious about this next category of clean animals. The KJV calls them fowls that creep on all fours, but we would understand them as insects that fly also "whatsoever hath many feet," or "goeth upon the belly," as worms, snakes etc., these are unclean (Leviticus 11:42). Of the insects, only one class was clean. It was described as those "which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth," in other words the cricket, the grasshopper, and the migratory locust; all of which, it may be noted. These again are clean feeders, eating only plants and seeds.
It is also interesting that these laws only applied to the animal kingdom, not to the vegetable kingdom. Other nations, like the Egyptians did make such distinctions but God did not.
After God tells the people what animals they can and cannot eat, He then goes on to give the law of defilement. Not what they can or can’t eat but what they can’t touch.
Leviticus Defilement Law - Leviticus 11:24–40
Leviticus 11:24-43 24 And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.
God’s Defilement Guideline
The second section of the Leviticus 11contains laws relating to people being defiled by coming into contact with or eating the carcass of any animal, clean or unclean. If you touched the dead body of animals or humans you were defiled.
The only exception to touching a dead body and not being defiled was if a clean animal had been prepared according to the Levitical method, what we now call Kosher. Leviticus 17:10-16.
Also, even if you touched an unclean animal that was alive it did not defile you. You could ride a camel, or pet a dog, only the dead things, clean or unclean brought defilement.
If you touched the carcass, though, you were unclean and if a tool or a utensil come into contact then it was unclean. If a dead animal, snake, insect fell into your food or drink it was defiled and you couldn’t eat it. There was no 5 second rule under the Levitical dietary law. Leviticus 11:32-35.
God’s People and Physical Health
I think we can understand the restrictions that God gave here. Yes, God wanted his people to avoid contagions and infections. God knew about germs long before anyone ever invented a microscope and he warned his people, That is truly incredibly.
These laws were unique among ancient peoples. To the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Philistines, eating an animal they found dead was no big deal. They just thought they got lucky. I know we kid about roadkill but in all honestly don’t eat anything you found dead on the side of the road. Do I really need to say this?
Let me tell you a story told me by my country Brother-in-law. At least I think it was him, if not then it sounds like a story he would tell. This is the story of the “Dead fox, the station wagon, and the fearful fleas.”
Dietary laws today?
The New Testament is pretty clear that these no longer apply in the same way. Jesus said in Matthew 15:10-11 “Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”
Peter received a vision from the Lord in Acts 10:10-15 “And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
Both of these make it pretty clear that New Testament Believers are not required to keep the dietary laws. That doesn’t mean you should pick up roadkill though. Some of these rules were related to health and that still makes sense. It’s best not to eat wild hogs or rabbits out of season. Don’t go rubbing up on dead bodies and don’t drink out of your coffee cup if a lizard falls in it. There is a physical reason why it’s a bad idea.
But back in Leviticus 11, God doesn’t stop with the physical reasons. The next few verses give us the greater purpose of the dietary laws and if fact most of the reason for the Leviticus laws. It is found here at the end of this chapter. Look at vss. 44-47
Leviticus Dedication Law - Leviticus 11:44–47
For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. 46 This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: 47 To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.
God’s Dedication Bottomline
Here is the bottom-line reason for the dietary laws. Verse 44 begin with “For” this is the reason, this is the purpose behind all that we just read. And that reason is as compelling as creation and life. “For I am the LORD (Jehovah) your God.” Why should God’s people here keep these commandments? Because God is God.
He adds to this “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy.” The word is the Hebrew word qadosh; and it means sacred, a saint, a sanctuary: It comes from another Hebrew word qâḏaš; to sanctify, to dedicate, to consecrate, to be separate, to be set apart.
God goes on in verse 45. Once again, He gives the reason. For I am the LORD that brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. Ye shall therefor be holy for I am holy.” God tells his people I brought you out, I separated you from Egypt, no be separated to me.
Be ye holy for I am holy. 9 times in the book of Leviticus this command is given in one form or another. The theme of the book of Leviticus isn’t what to eat, or wear or what day to work, or what day to worship. All those laws are there of course but their purpose was to make His people understand holiness. His holiness and in Him their own holiness, Jehovah’s sanctification and their own, the Lord’s separation from this world and their own.
In the last verse, vs 47. God reemphasized His purpose, Leviticus 11:47 To make a difference between the unclean and the clean,
You see, the nation of Israel was to make a difference. Abraham the father of the nation had to make a difference and so he was separated from the pagan nation of Ur to search for the city of God. Moses had to make a difference and he was separated from Egypt to Midian. David had to make a difference and God separated him from the flock and from his family to the throne of Jerusalem. Before any of God’s people can make a difference, they must be separated unto God and away from this world.
That separation and the way God defines it, is the core of holiness. And it didn’t stop with the Old Testament.
Be Ye Holy Today
Twice in the New Testament the phase or the idea of holiness from Leviticus is directly applied to God’s New Covenant people.
Peter quotes it directly, 1 Peter 1:13-16 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
Peter tells the early believers who were coming out of the worst forms of paganism, gird up the loins of you mind, prepare for action, be serious, be determined, set your hope completely on the grace you’ve found in Jesus Christ, be obedient, don’t conform to your past sins but Jesus is holy, then you be holy. Then he quotes from Leviticus, “as it is written, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
It is the same command as was given thousands of years before at Mt. Sinai. God is holy. You belong to God because he has brought you out through His grace, therefore be holy because He is holy.
Holiness doesn’t mean sinless perfection. There are people who teach this or even teach that God has made them gods in their own right. That is the worst for of heresy and exactly what Satan told Eve in the garden, “Ye shall be gods knowing good from evil.”
This command has nothing to do with sinlessness. You can’t reach a place in your walk with God while on this earth where you are no longer sinning. You can through God’s grace and power overcome sin and it no longer controls or dominates you, but sin can and will still affect you.
Paul expands on the idea of holiness and separation in 2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
There is a whole month’s worth of sermons here that we don’t have time for this morning, but the overall idea is clear. God is holy, and we are in fellowship with God, so we can’t also be in the same kind of fellowship or relationship with this world and its darkness. “come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”
Holiness is separation to the Lord and away from this world. Simple enough. What is not always simple is how we show that separation. How do we show that we are the people of God by the way we live, dress and act today?
Of course, in today’s world you could argue that just being normal sets you apart. And there is a lot of truth in that. But God is seeking more from his people, than just being normal.
I do think it is important for God’s people to be different enough to make a difference. Some groups dress in dark clothes, long dresses and head coverings to be different. Some don’t use any kind of machinery. Some say you have to wear a tie and coat when you go to church. Others go to greater or lesser extremes
Personally, I think being bald is the true mark of holiness, because there is nothing between the top of my head and God.
Paul writing to Titus gave a list of qualities that should be in the members of the churches that Titus was training pastor to lead. I think if we can seek after these qualities, then we will be well on our way to “Be Ye Holy.”
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
How is your holiness today?
Our holiness, is measured by two things and neither of them is how perfect a saint you are. First how close are you to the Lord? If you are keeping yourself close to Him, then you will be drawn toward Him and away from the world. That is the second measure.
How far away are you from the world? I can’t set some arbitrary standards here. It is not just how we dress or what we do, but if your holiness doesn’t have an influence on those things then something is off, isn’t it. Holiness is a lot like repentance, you turn toward God and his grace and you turn away from this world and its sin. You turn toward His love and away from the world’s hate. You turn toward His eternity and away from the world’s terminality. You turn toward God’s great calling and away from this world’s shallow distractions.
As it is written, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.