Holy Ground (Leviticus 21-22)

Leviticus 21-22 continues the holy standard God was calling Israel to live among the nations. The entire point of these standards was to point the nations to a better way of life. We read Leviticus and struggle through the legal sounds of its words. But, if we can look through the lens of witness, God was calling his followers to a higher place of life.

When Moses first encountered God on the mountaintop through the burning bush, the Lord spoke to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet. You are standing on holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)  When God directs Israel to live a certain way, he is essentially saying the same thing: “Remove this from your life—you are living on holy ground.”

Too often though, we misunderstand striving for holiness. From an outsiders point of view it looks like legalism at best and elitism at worst. However, when I live to be holy—distinct among people as God’s witness—it is not elitism, but honest humility.

Humble submission to God’s way isn’t judging others as worse. Holiness is often used against others. Yet, holiness’ motivation is self-promotion. We want to point at others and show their faults. That’s not holiness at all. Trying to live God’s way doesn’t make me elite—it makes me humble. True holiness is clothed in humble submission to a way of life that is not my own. Living with and for God has never been about self-trust one day. Living this kind of judgmental position, no matter how good you may think you are, quite simply isn’t holiness. True holiness reveals God’s way through truth and love.

True holiness is not legalism either. Obeying a bunch of laws doesn’t make one holy. Your heart can be rotten and yet you can still live legally. True holiness is about heart transformation. The Pharisees (legalist, judgmental leaders of the people of the ancient Middle East) believed rituals led to purity, ceremonial washing was highly important to them, a fetish. It is not surprising, then, that they rebuked Jesus’ disciples for not washing correctly, and they were repulsed that Jesus ate with sinners and touched lepers to heal them. The Pharisees failed to understand, as many people today fail to understand, that ceremonial correctness does not constitute holiness.

The ceremonies of Leviticus are symbols. God intended to use them to teach that there is a difference between clean and unclean, holy and profane, good and evil. Recognizing that difference is the beginning of holiness, not the end.