Have you ever wondered why the LORD gave his people so many detailed statutes about sacrifices, food, marriage, agriculture, warfare, financial transactions and the rest? Developing a holy nation in the midst of unholy nations meant making some very basic distinctions about holiness and then carrying them out through all of life. If God’s people failed to distinguish the LORD as holy and his Law as clean, they would call other gods as holy and their laws as clean (see Ezekiel 20:25). This idolatry would spread, like leaven, through every aspect of their culture. On the other hand, making these distinctions would demonstrate the holiness of God in the life of his people, bring great blessing to them and glorifying his name before a watching world of idolaters.
This came to my attention in my reading through the book of Ezekiel. I have been following the prophet’s stunning descriptions of both the glory of the LORD and the inglorious behavior of his people. Rather than worship the LORD, Judah worshipped the gods of the nations. She turned from her faithful covenant head and “played the whore” (16:15) with false gods. As the words of twenty chapters take hold of your heart, you begin to understand something of the LORD’s fiery wrath that was kindled against Judah. You come to realize that the LORD is serious about his people worshipping him and serving him in every dimension of their lives. You get a taste of what they were missing by not serving him.
The root of Judah’s spiritual adultery was their failure to set the LORD apart as holy. It was a matter of failing to distinguish the holy from the common, the clean from the unclean. Ezekiel records the LORD’s words in this matter:
“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” (22:26)
Failing to distinguish between the holy and the common meant that the priests did not lead the people toward proper reverence for the LORD in their behavior. This spiritual confusion led to social injustice: the princes ruled like wolves tearing their prey, the prophets divined lies and the people oppressed the poor. (22:27-29)
But God is gracious and has given us a perfect and holy priest, Jesus Christ. He was faithful to the Law, properly distinguishing holy and unholy, clean and unclean. As a result, his ministry has not led to injustice but righteousness. He has given himself as the perfect sacrifice, fulfilling the Law, and sanctifying his people by his blood. (Hebrews 10:12, 29) We who were once sinners and unholy have been made his saints. His gracious act has made a distinction in us: we are his holy people. Furthermore, he has given us the Holy Spirit and is teaching us to distinguish between the holy and common: we learn to put to death that which is unclean and put on Christ, or that which is clean. His primary teaching tool is his law, pure and clean, “making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7) This law is the moral law and certain principles in the judicial law, the rest having been abrogated in Christ’s work. But this is another subject and will have a wait for later blogs.