What comes to your mind when you think of the word “holiness”? Do you immediately think of ethical purity? Moral behaviour? Dictionary.com, which pulls from the Oxford English Dictionary, defines “holiness” as “the state of being holy,” which is not particularly helpful until you look up the word “holy” in the same dictionary: “dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose.” Of a person, “holy” is defined as “devoted to the service of God” and only as a third definition does the dictionary offer “morally and spiritually excellent.” These definitions indeed capture the way in which the Bible uses the term “holy.”
To be “holy” literally means to be set apart. Properly speaking, it describes otherness. When the Bible speaks of God as “holy,” it does not primarily have in mind his moral purity but his otherness. The holy God of the Bible is set apart from the common gods of the nations. He cannot be compared to them. He is not like them. He is completely different. Similarly, the temple furnishings were holy because they were different. The temple spoons were different from ordinary household spoons. The temple dishes were different from ordinary household dishes. They were different because they had been consecrated for religious purposes. There was nothing mystical about the materials from which they were constructed but, having been dedicated to the Lord’s service, they were set apart from their more ordinary counterparts and to particular use.
Importantly, objects and people were considered “holy” by virtue of the fact that God set them apart. They might be dedicated to God by a person, but unless God accepted the offering, and set it apart for his use, it was not holy. For example, God did not accept the fire that Nadab and Abihu offered to him (Leviticus 10:1–3). They intended their offering to be set apart for the Lord’s use, but he rejected their sacrifice. There were particular reasons that he rejected it, of course, but the significance of this text, for our purposes, is that (and not why) he rejected the offering. Ultimately, God decides what is holy and what is not, for he sets it apart (or not) for his purposes.
What does all of this have to do with the names of God? The name we are considering this week comes from Leviticus 20:7–8: “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” “The LORD who sanctifies” translates the Hebrew name Yahweh M’Kaddesh, which is the name we are focusing on this week.
Leviticus 20:1–9 presents instruction for punishment for child sacrifice. Israel was forbidden to offer their children to Molech. Molech was a Canaanite god who commanded and accepted child sacrifice, either by fire or in war. As they prepared to enter Canaan, the Lord warned his people that they would be tempted to embrace the worship practices of the Canaanites. He forbade them from doing so. In Leviticus 20, he warned that to give one’s child in sacrifice to Molech was “to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name” (v. 3). Worship of false gods was an offence to the true God.
Not only was active worship of Molech a profaning of God’s name; so was turning a blind eye when others worshipped him. “If the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech” (vv. 4–5).
Sacrificing children is, of course, always wrong, no matter the reason. But the underlying principle in Leviticus 20 goes deeper. The Lord continues, in v. 6, by warning that he would similarly set his face against those who consulted “mediums and necromancers, whoring after them.” The reason that these restrictions were so stringent was because “I am the LORD your God” (v. 7). Yahweh was not Molech. Yahweh was not a necromancer or a medium. He was not like the other gods. He was different and he expected his people to relate to him differently. He could not be worshipped in the way that other peoples worshipped their gods. Notice, instead, his expectations of his people.
First, they were worship him exclusively. “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God” (v. 7). Since he was an entirely different God—a holy God—he expected his people to devote themselves exclusively to him. He was Yahweh, not Molech, and could not be worshipped as Molech was worshipped. They could not worship him and other gods. They could not pay lip service to him on the Sabbath and then offer their children to Molech the other six days a week. He would accept no divided loyalty.
Second, they were to obey his commands faithfully. “Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (v. 8). As an example of keeping his statutes, he reminds them of the need to honour their parents, upon pain of death (v. 9). And notice, once again, the reason that they were expected to worship him exclusively and obey him faithfully: “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” “I am Yahweh M’Kaddesh.”
Yahweh M’Kaddesh had set his people apart. Israel was a holy nation—set apart to the Lord. The Israelites were people, but they were different people. They were not like the nations around them. Yahweh M’Kaddeshhad set them apart as his special people and they were therefore responsible to behave as his special people.
Christians are likewise God’s special people. One of the most frequent names by which Christians are called in the New Testament is “saints,” which means “holy ones”—those who have been set apart by God as his special people. Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). We worship a God who has chosen us and set us apart as his special people—“his own possession”—and this has practical implications, as it did for God’s old covenant people.
As it did under the old covenant, our being set apart (sanctified) as Christ’s “own possession” means that our loyalty belongs to him alone. As under the old covenant, we worship only the God who sanctified us. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). We cannot worship God within the walls of a church building on Sunday and then give our devotion to other things the other six days of the week. We are Christ’s own possession and he demands our exclusive worship and devotion. As Jesus said, “Any of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Matthew 14:33).
Second, being set apart (sanctified) as Christ’s “own possession” means, as it did under the old covenant, that we will live lives honouring to him. In Leviticus 20:7–8, those who were set apart for the Lord were to “keep [his] statutes and do them.” Under the new covenant, those whom God sets apart he trains “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” His redeems his saints “from all lawlessness” and purifies a people “who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).
As you pray this week, remember that you are praying to Yahweh M’Kaddesh, who has chosen you and set you apart as his own possession. Give to him your exclusive devotion and ask him to help you renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to instead live a self-controlled, upright, and godly life in which you resist lawlessness and instead show zeal for good works.