LEVITICUS 17: BE HOLY BECAUSE I THE LORD YOUR GOD AM HOLY
The next section, Leviticus 17-24, has been commonly called the “Holiness Code” because of its recurring theme of holiness in the life of the community. It’s called the holiness code because of a key verse in this section is Leviticus 20:7: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” Leviticus 17-24 is the “How to” section on loving neighbor.
Everett Fox, in his translation and commentary (Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses, 1983), says the “Holiness Code” is “a significant statement of ethical code of ancient Israel which continues to speak to contemporary problems. The holiness idea is expanded from places and objects to relationships.
Again, the operative question is, If God is holy among us, how ought we to relate one another? This is a universal question for all times and peoples, yet we are given an inside account in the Old Testament of God’s instructions to Israel and clues to how they lived that out.
The primal instinct to be God-like, to image God, is encouraged in proper perspective, says Fox. The improper way is to disregard God and other humans.
There is a strong connection between holiness of God and right relationships in the community. Leviticus draws closely together the idea that God is holy with the importance of fair and just treatment of neighbors, foreigners, the poor and disabled.
“Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:14).
So the commands in this section relate to how to be holy like God in everyday interactions, sexuality, farming, dealing with poor, disabled, and foreigners.
Ancient monastic orders have in some way directly or indirectly drawn from the well of these passages that offer God’s holy presence to those who are in awe and obey him in all areas of life. These holy communities have based many of the “rules” of their monasteries on the Holiness Code.
Here is an important transition from God speaking to Moses then to Aaron and his sons and priests into a broader address to all of Israel.
God tells Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons “and all the children of Israel.” An interesting emphasis is a repeated phrase, “any man, any man.” (Hebrew for man is Ish) Any man, any man who slays an animal outside the camp and does not bring it as a proper offering is guilty and will be cut off from his people. The Lord commands Israel to bring sacrifices back from the open fields and pagan gods to the context of the tabernacle. Worship returns from maverick wilderness and individual wills to the community and the presence of God.
So in Leviticus 17 we find the importance of the community both in the expansion of the commands to all of Israel and in the necessity of sacrificing within the community and not outside the camp as renegades. Life is holy, so sacrifice would be done in a ritually holy way and not freelanced in open fields. Blood and animals are vital to life and in all cases dedicated to God, and taking life at any time should be done with care and concern.
God warns Israel that neither are they to be like the Egyptians, where—God reminds them—they used to live, nor are they to be like the Canaanites where “I am bringing you.” In no uncertain terms, God tells them they are not to practice what those nations do. They are to obey God’s laws carefully. Why? The answer is the hinge of the entire section: because “I am the Lord your God.” Yahweh reminds Israel repeatedly about His own holiness as a model for them to follow.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.