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  • Daniel Botkin

Kedoshim: Defining the Set-Apart Life

On May 11 this year, synagogues and Messianic congregations around the world will be reading Leviticus chapters 19 and 20, the Torah portion called Kedoshim. The title for this Torah portion is taken from Leviticus 19:2. “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy [kedoshim, the plural of kadosh]: for I the LORD your God am holy.”

The theme of holiness is woven throughout the Book of Leviticus. When the English word holy is used in Christian circles, it can mean different things to different people. Some Christians dislike the word because they think of holiness only in the negative context of “holier than thou” self-righteous hypocrites who care only about trivial matters and neglect the weightier matters of the law. Other Christians think that living a holy life means living a pure, sinless, flawless, absolutely perfect life.

But the Hebrew word for holy, kadosh, does not mean absolutely perfect and pure. It means “set apart,” i.e., set apart from others. If you have a group of people or items and you set some of them apart from the rest, those that are separated are kedoshim, set apart. When a bride is betrothed, she is kedushah, set apart for her husband. If certain items are set apart for a specific purpose, those items are kedoshim. Being kedoshim does not mean that the set apart items are necessarily of superior quality, or that the set apart people are necessarily morally superior to others. As a matter of fact, pagan temple prostitutes were called kedoshim. Just as a bride is set apart for her husband, so the pagan temple prostitutes were set apart for perversion.

But we do not want to focus on the “holy” (i.e., set apart) status of pagan temple prostitutes, “for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Eph. 5:12); we want to focus on our status as a holy people set apart for God’s purposes.

Peter wrote about the mystery of Messiah’s sufferings and the glory that should follow, a mystery that is now unveiled in Yeshua. Peter tells us that the prophets of old inquired and diligently searched for the revelation of this mystery, and that this mystery was something that even the angels desired to look into. (See 1 Peter 1:9-12.) Then Peter instructs us how to live in the light of this now-unveiled mystery: “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 Yeshua Messiah; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance, 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” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

When you consider Peter’s instructions, especially that part about being holy, it is important to remember two facts:

1. The only canonized Bible at the time Peter wrote this was the Tenach, the Old Testament Scriptures.

2. Peter was quoting from Leviticus 19:2 (and Leviticus 20:7 & 20:26, where it is repeated) when he wrote “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

Why are these two facts so important? Because Peter was pointing Christians to Leviticus, specifically to this passage that is called Kedoshim, to tell Christians that living a holy life includes obedience to commandments found in Leviticus. Yet ironically, many Christians are clueless about much of the content of Leviticus. Some Christians have never even read Leviticus. And most of those who have read it have been taught that the commandments in Leviticus (some of them, anyway) should now be ignored because Jesus abolished the Old Testament law.

It was these chapters in Leviticus, along with similar chapters in the Torah that list various commandments, that became the catalyst that sent me on my search for a Biblical understanding of how the Torah is supposed to fit into the life of a follower of Jesus.

It was around 1982 when I began to wonder about these things. I had read through the entire Bible probably about ten times by then, and had read through the Torah in Hebrew. I had been taught by Christian Bible teachers that the Old Testament law is not for Christians. I was told we should not follow Old Testament laws (unless they happen to be repeated in the New Testament) because we are “not under the law.”

But the more I read the Bible, the more I saw things that contradicted this negative view of God’s law. Every time I read through a list of commandments in the Torah, I realized that even though Christians are “not under the law,” Christians still believe in obeying many commandments of the law.

I realized what would happen if I were to list all the commandments in Leviticus chapters 19 and 20, and then take a survey and ask Bible-believing Christians to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question: “Does God expect Christians to obey this commandment? Does this commandment still express the will of God for His people today?”

Most Christians would answer “Yes” for commandments that forbid idolatry, stealing, lying, profaning God’s name, gossip, prostituting your daughter to be a whore, occult activity, child sacrifice, cursing parents, sexual immorality, etc.

But most Christians would answer “No” for commandments (in the very same chapters) about keeping God’s sabbaths, not letting your cattle gender with a diverse kind, not wearing a garment of wool and linen woven together, not rounding the corners of your head nor marring the corners of your beard, etc.

I realized that Christians pick and choose which commandments they think still express the will of God for His people and therefore should still be obeyed. I realized that Christians quote from Leviticus to tell homosexuals and witches to stop sinning, yet these same Christians disobey various commandments in Leviticus, sometimes commandments that immediately precede or immediately follow a commandment about sexual immorality or witchcraft. For example, Leviticus 19:29 says to not prostitute your daughter to be a whore (a commandment Christians say should be obeyed). The very next verse says to keep God’s sabbaths (a commandment Christians say should be ignored). Then the very next verse after that says to not consult wizards or mediums (a commandment Christians say should be obeyed).

After I realized these things, I asked myself: “Why do we Christians pick and choose which commandments we think still express the will of God for His people and therefore should be obeyed? Who gets to decide whether or not God expects His people to obey a particular commandment, and what is the basis for saying whether a commandment should be obeyed or ignored?”

I asked myself this question, and I asked a few Christian friends. No one could answer my question.

If you read through Leviticus chapters 19 and 20, you will see that a few of those commandments cannot be kept today, because those particular commandments require a Temple and a functioning Levitical priesthood in Jerusalem. Today there is no Temple in Jerusalem and therefore no functioning Levitical priesthood. But except for these Temple-specific commandments, most of the commandments in this Torah portion Kedoshim can (and should) be obeyed. Most of them deal with human behavior and human relationships.

The point of all this is to demonstrate that holiness is tied to obeying God’s commandments, as Peter reminds us by quoting from Leviticus. However, make sure you understand that holiness is not produced by your obedience. Rather, your obedience is your response to your holy status as a redeemed child of God. You are set apart from unredeemed sinners, and because you are set apart, God expects you (and will empower you) to live a life of obedience to His commandments. Make sure you understand which is the cause and which is the effect. Don’t confuse the two. To live a holy life, you must first see that you are holy.

To see the importance of living a holy life of obedience and the danger of not living a holy life of obedience, you must first see God’s holiness. Isaiah saw the seraphim and heard them cry one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” This manifestation of God’s holiness caused Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me!” We all need to experience a revelation of God’s holiness that causes us to say, “Woe is me! I’m in trouble!”

God’s holiness is different from our holiness. God’s holiness is inherent, while ours is bestowed upon us from an outside Source. God dispenses holiness from Himself, and we receive it.

As stated earlier, the word holy means set apart. So, if God is holy, from what is He set apart? The answer: He is set apart from everything except Himself.

Everything that exists is in one of two categories, the category of the created or the category of the uncreated. Everything except the Creator is in the category of the created. The only thing in the category of the uncreated is the Creator.

As the Creator of all that exists, God is in a category all His own, a category which He shares with no created being or created thing.

As the Creator, God is intrinsically holy; He does not derive His holiness from another. He is set apart from everyone and everything else of His creation. God is involved in His creation. He loves His creatures and draws repentant sinners to Himself. Yet He is still and forever will be the sole occupant of the uncreated category. He is the I AM, the One who owes His existence to no one. He is the Self-Existent Source to whom all else owes its existence.

It is important to remember that we are holy, but even more important to remember that God is holy in a unique way. Because He owes His existence to no one, He is Sovereign. He answers to no higher authority, because there is none, and He certainly does not answer to any lower authority. He is not obligated to explain Himself to anyone for anything He does or for anything He allows. He is the eternal King of kings, an absolute Monarch, a benign Dictator who dictates His laws and commandments to the citizens of His kingdom and expects obedience. He gives these laws and commandments because He loves His people and He knows what is best for them.

Because of who God is, He has the right to command His people. He reminds us of this fifteen times in Leviticus 19, when after giving commands, He says “I am the LORD [YHWH].”

When we consider our call to live a holy, set apart life of obedience, it is important to know what we are to be separated from. As stated earlier, we are set apart from unredeemed sinners. We are also set apart from the world and its ways.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1f).

Some believers ignore this Apostolic commandment and conform to the world. They do their best to be inconspicuous and blend in with Babylon. Their speech, their behavior, their values, their priorities, and their external appearance are not much different from that of the worldlings around them.

Other believers go to the opposite extreme. They create customs and traditions solely for the sake of appearing different from the world around them. They go out of their way to appear weird to the world. They isolate themselves in rural Amish communities, or in Roman Catholic monasteries and nunneries, or in insular Hasidic Jewish communities.

Yeshua spoke about two ways that people can hide their light. One way is under a bushel; the other way is under a bed. The bushel relates to agriculture; the bed relates to ease and comfort. Christians who isolate themselves in insular rural communities hide their light under a bushel. Christians who conform to the world hide their light under a bed of ease and comfort.

The way to avoid world conformity is not by geographically isolating yourself from the world. The way to avoid world conformity is by the alternative to world conformity, namely, by being transformed by the renewing of your mind. The renewing of the mind takes place gradually as “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed [transformed, the same Greek word as in Romans 12:2] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

As our minds are gradually renewed, we begin to think differently. We think differently about God’s commandments. With our carnal minds, we formerly viewed God’s commandments as cumbersome, unnecessary restrictions that hindered us and prevented us from enjoying life. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). But as our minds are transformed into spiritual minds, we will become subject to the law of God. We will want to obey His commandments because we love Him and we trust Him. Even if we do not understand the reasons for some of His commandments, we will still want to obey, because we know that He knows what is best for us. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).

The renewed spiritual mind, transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live a holy life. If you are struggling to live a holy life, get into your prayer closet and spend some time gazing on the glory of the Lord, and let Him transform you by the renewing of your mind.

| DB

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