September 3: Leviticus 20:7, 26

For a better idea of what the declaration in Leviticus 19:2 (discussed in the previous note) entails, in the context of the Levitical “Holiness Code” (chapters 17-26, especially chaps. 19-22), it will be helpful to look at several instances where the principle of 19:2 is restated. One of these comes in 20:7:

Leviticus 20:7

“And you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy—for I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One) [i.e. God].”

As previously noted, the regulations in chapter 19 seem to parallel the commands of the Decalogue, and thus function as a kind of exposition on the Ten Commandments. For example, the command against making/worship of images (#2, v. 4), maintaining sacredness of the Sabbath (#4, v. 3b), showing honor to one’s parents (#5, v. 3a), the prohibitions against stealing (#8, vv. 11a, 13, 15) and false oaths (#3, v. 12), as well as a general declaration on YHWH as the (only) God the people are to acknowledge (#1, v. 36). These regulations/requirements are woven around the central command for the people to be set apart as holy to God (v. 2).

Similarly in chapter 20, we have a number of laws and requirements built around the declaration in verse 7, which clarifies to some extent what was meant by the injunction “you shall be holy” (Wyh=T! <yv!d)q=), which might better be rendered as “you shall be (one)s set apart (as holy to me)”. The same phrase occurs in 20:7, but following a reflexive form of the verb vd^q*; the sequence reads as follows:

“and you shall make yourselves holy [<T#v=D!q^t=h!], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q= <t#yy]h=]”

The second verb follows as a result of the first, as indicated by the emphases (in italics), repeated from the translation above:

“and you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy”

The process of “making oneself holy” is explained in verse 8:

“And you shall guard my inscribed (decree)s, and you shall do them—I (am) YHWH, (the One) establishing you as holy.”

By careful preservation and fulfillment of all that YHWH has decreed for them (through the words spoken to Moses)—that is, the regulations/requirements of the Torah—the people “make themselves holy”. However, this merely fulfills what has already been established by YHWH Himself, by way of the binding agreement (the covenant bond, cf. below). He has declared that Israel is a people set apart as holy, belonging entirely to Him; and now, the people must act this out in practice, on a daily basis. Paul states much the same thing for believers in Christ, though realized through the power and presence of the Spirit, rather than observance of the Torah regulations:

“If we live by the Spirit, we must walk in line by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25)

The type pattern for this, in the old covenant, involved the Instruction (Torah) recorded in writings of the Pentateuch, such as the “Holiness Code” of Lev 17-26. We cannot properly understand the dynamic of the new covenant, as described in the New Testament, without understanding its precursors in the old covenant. The regulations in chapter 20, which surround the declaration in verse 7, are of two kinds: (a) Religious—prohibition against worshiping any deities other than YHWH (vv. 1-6); and (b) Ethical—prohibition against adultery and other aberrant sexual behavior (vv. 9-21). The regulations regarding ritual purity (and dietary/hygiene laws) earlier in chapter 11 were similarly followed by a summary declaration on holiness equivalent to that in 20:7:

“For I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One) [i.e. God], and you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy, for I (am) holy…” (11:44)

The additional declaration of God’s own holiness is parallel to primary statement in 19:2, and helps us to understand the idea that He “establishes” the people “as holy” (vb vdq in the Piel stem). Israel’s holiness, their status as a people set apart as holy to YHWH, is rooted in (and depends upon) His own character and nature as the true God and Creator of all. This is given further explanation in another declaration later on in chapter 20:

“And you shall be holy (one)s to me, for I, YHWH, (am) holy, and I have separated [vb ld^B*] you from the peoples, to be(long) to me.” (v. 26)

It is possible to outline this statement as a chiasm:

    • “you shall be [vb hyh] holy to me [yl!]
      • I am holy (I am YHWH, the Creator and true God)
      • I set you apart as holy, separate from all other peoples
    • “(you are) to be [vb hyh] (i.e. belong) to me [yl!]

The idea that the Israelites were set apart, separate from all other nations, as a people belonging to YHWH (and thus holy), is central to the early tradition regarding the religious and cultural identity of Israel. A good example of this is found in the opening section of the Sinai covenant narrative in Exodus 19ff, the key statement of identity coming in verses 5-6:

“And now, if hearing, you shall hear [i.e. if you shall truly hear] my voice, and (if) you shall guard my binding (agreement with you), then you shall be for me a (prized) possession from [i.e. out of] all the peoples. For all the earth (belongs) to me, and (yet) you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

This will be discussed further in Part 3 of the article on “Israel as God’s People” (in the series “The People of God”).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *