Introduction to Part 3 pages 179-180

At the beginning of North’s introduction to Leviticus chapters 17-22, he quotes Lev 22:31-33 which has the Lord declare to the Israelites that they

‘...shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the people of Israel; I am YHWH who sanctify you’

North sees separation mentioned here (I’ve commented on this below) and notes that separation (page 179)

‘ the heart of the Book of Leviticus...’

which indeed it is.

In fact, the entire covenantal obligations (which stretch throughout Exodus right up to the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy) were to show Israel what sort of separation was required from the people who’d entered in to a covenant relationship with Him. It’s not just this book of Leviticus that should be considered as demonstrating this fact and neither, as North goes on to assert (page 179 - my italics), that

‘Leviticus 17-22 presents the laws of separation’

This is too narrow an interpretation of the chapters that are about to be dealt with. True, they do deal with Israel’s separation to God through the covenant but so do the other statutes which show the nation not just what God would have them separate themselves from but what He would have them separate themselves to.

When North states (page 179) that

‘The biblical meaning of holiness is to be set apart by God...’

he’s using an acceptable definition of the word ‘holiness’ but he unfortunately goes on to see (page 179) that

‘Separation and holiness are inescapably linked; or, we might say, inescapably bound

Holiness (when applied to mankind) can indeed be interpreted as separation to God* but the word also carries with it the implication that by being separated to God, the believer is also separating himself away from false gods and idols. When we look at the commandments given to the nation, these also fall into separation from/to categories - they represent either items that the Israelites were to be separated from (such as theft and adultery) but also ones they were to be separated to (such as the way of sacrifice and the festivals).

It’s only these twin aspects of ‘from’ and ‘to’ that adequately define the word ‘separation’ for us (under the New Testament culture, the Jews spoke of them in terms of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ which has particular relevance to some of the sayings that Jesus used them in).

A good example of separation in action is found in the laws relating to the Nazirite and his vow before God - not only do they illustrate this separation of individuals both ‘to’ and ‘from’ certain actions, but there’s a type of New Testament believer foreshadowed in Numbers chapter 6, the passage that deals with them. So as not to clutter up these notes with that teaching, I’ve included it under the ‘Additional Articles’ section of Part 3 and it covers the overall concept of what it meant to be an Old Testament Nazirite with New Testament application.

Separation was an integral part of the covenant - not just these six Levitical chapters of rules and regulations. Therefore these are not specially dealing with holiness and shouldn’t be considered as such - they merely continue the theme of what it means to be ‘separated to God’ and ‘separated from false gods and idols’ that was an integral part of Israel’s agreement with YHWH (Ex 20:3-6) and, as a consequence, what their God required that they separate themselves both ‘from’ and ‘to’ in their conduct before Him (Ex 20:8-17).

*[In the above comments on North’s (page 179)
‘The biblical meaning of holiness is to be set apart by God...’
I have gone along with North’s equation that Holiness=Separation (an equation that he uses a few words later) which may not be correct. Because the Hebrew word is rarely (if ever) found in a secular context, scholars are still divided as to the precise root meaning of the word and the thought that its use is trying to convey.
Strongs Hebrew words 5139/44/45 are more properly seen to directly refer to separation (see on my additional teaching on the subject of the Nazirite) but the idea of separation is probably not very far away from the word group that’s normally rendered by such words as ‘holy’ and ‘holiness’.
However, if pushed for a definitive statement, then I don’t see why ‘holiness’ should inherently mean ‘separation’ when there wass already a word group in current use even though, by implication and context, it can carry this meaning.
I would agree that ‘set apart’ is the best definition of holiness that I’ve seen discussed so far, but ‘separation’ is going just a little too far.
Is there any real difference? While God is ‘set apart’, ‘in a class of His own’, I don’t see that the Bible infers that He is ‘separated’ implying alienation away from His creation. ‘Set apart-ness’ can be defined with reference to His character and presence, whereas ‘separation’ is more relevant to denote a boundary that needs to be implemented or not crossed over.
The point is not worth insisting upon so I’ve followed the phraseology of North even though I would prefer not to use his equation.]


North goes on to state (page 180) that

‘The separation described in Leviticus is multifaceted...’

and then lists many different areas in which that separation was worked out through legislation that doesn’t always appear in these six chapters (Leviticus chapters 17-22). As previously noted, the subject of separation is intrinsically bound up with the entire covenant and its outworkings both in and through the lives of the Israelites. Though it’s accurate to make the statement above as North has, the six chapters are not specially the ‘laws of separation’ (page 179).

The passage that North quotes at the beginning of this introduction is also not a conclusion to the entire six chapters which would summarise the contents of the legislation. It may be that North has taken it to be so as he uses it to sum up the contents of the passage that’s about to be dealt with.

We find similar statements from the Lord in 18:1-5 (which reads like an introduction for the following series of laws), 18:30 (a conclusion to the contents of the preceding chapter), 19:37 (a general conclusion which seems to relate to the entire series of statutes and ordinances) and again at 20:22-26 (which includes a ‘therefore’ in its opening clause indicating that it’s a conclusion, though it appears to be a general statement as is 19:37).

The conclusion actually referred to (22:31-33) sits at the end of a passage outlining the requirements of the priesthood and the sacrificial offerings, and has little context naturally when applied to the six chapters of the various rules that it sits at the end of.

Besides, the passages just cited have some common sentences and phrases that indicate that they’re variations on a recurring common formula.

The command to keep the legislation of the covenant is found in each of the five passages at 18:4, 18:30, 19:37, 20:22 and 22:31 while the statement that the Lord is God is found in four of them at 18:4, 18:30, 19:37 and 22:31. Holiness is a theme in just three of the five but is dealt with differently in the passage quoted by North. In 19:2 and 20:26 we find a command to the Israelites that they’re to be holy (set apart) to God as a mirror image of God, while 22:32 tells the Israelites not to profane God’s name so that He will be holy among the nation.

It should be seen, therefore, that 22:31-33 shouldn’t be used to summarise and categorise the six chapters which run from 17-22 but that it’s a variation upon a common and recurring phrase that occurs within the context of the covenant legislation.


Finally, North perceptively states (page 180) that

‘It is in these chapters [16-22] that the hermeneutical problem with Leviticus - and with the Mosaic covenant generally - presses the commentator’

This is very true and a problem that’s not one that, to date, I see being easily resolved. In our own Western mindset, we see these rules as extremely archaic (or ‘Victorian’ as we say in the UK) and hasn’t the Lord set us free from this sort of bondage? Now that we’re at liberty to serve Christ, surely these rules and regulations have to be seen in the context of the culture in which they were first given and of the sin of the nations that were round about the Israelites?

To put it in simpler terms, if expediency pushes us towards a conclusion that Abortion improves the life of mankind, why shouldn’t we interpret the rules we find laid out for us as being nothing more than temporary restrictions to keep the nation ceremonially clean until the pure light of knowledge and wisdom should be born in us? And the day of science when surgical procedures would nullify certain ‘safeguards’?

In the preceding chapters (1-16), the relevance of the laws have seemed pretty straightforward to evaluate but here we stumble upon rules that don’t always have contexts and applications by which we can assess their intrinsic worth. Besides, mixing seed (for example, Lev 19:19) has, at face value, something to say about cross pollination and, more especially, genetic engineering that’s growing apace in our society - do we really want to stand up and be counted by proclaiming that such practices and research is unacceptable to God, when we risk the wrath and ridicule of mankind being poured out upon us?

Whatever we do, we dare not interpret the legislation solely in the light of culture (whether of the Israelites’ or of ours today) but we must search for absolutes that apply, as North says (page 180)


That is to say, those laws which were universal in intention and scope - those which were not just intended for a localised covenant with a group of people to keep them as an identifiably separate people until their Messiah was to come when He would fulfil the foreshadowing, render unnecessary the ceremonial and give wisdom to believers as to what to do in differing situations as they experienced them.

Above all else, we must search for absolutes.

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