Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

“Be Ye Holy”

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Previously in Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36), Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated for seven days in order for them to be ordained into the priestly service (Leviticus 8:33). Having completed this seven-day period of cleansing and dedication, our Torah portion for this week, Shemini or “Eighth,” now begins:

“Now it came about on the eighth day [b’yom ha’sh’mini] that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel” (Leviticus 9:1).

Aaron and his sons have been consecrated to God and they can begin to offer up the various sacrifices for themselves and the Israelites. Further on, we read that after the different sacrifices have been made on the altar, the glory of God appeared among the people of Israel:

“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD [kavod-ADONAI] appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:22-24).

In an awesome display of His holiness, Aaron the high priest blessed the people of Israel, and a fire consumed the burnt offering. The Israelites shouted and fell on their faces. The Lord was pleased with their obedience and He accepted their offerings.

Within some undetermined amount of time, tragedy came upon the family of Aaron. For unknown reasons, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, presented unauthorized fire before the Lord. In His displeasure He consumed them with a fire from the altar. When you reflect upon the descriptive verses, you can readily conclude that reverence, respect, and awe for the God of Israel are things that He requires of all His servants:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire [eish zarah] before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Nadab and Abihu did something which God considered grossly disrespectful of His holiness. This is explained to Aaron, who in his pain of loss simply remained silent:

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent” (Leviticus 10:3).

However, within a few short verses, our parashah turns to the problem of serving the Lord while under the intoxicating influence of “wine or other fermented drink” (Leviticus 10:9, NIV). Various readers have thought that Nadab and Abihu could have been drunk while offering the strange fire before the Lord, accounting for their lack of reverence before God. As an example for generations since, the dramatic loss of their lives by a consuming fire has indelibly reminded people in positions of spiritual responsibility that the Lord requires absolute sobriety and attention placed upon Him, when one is conducting ministerial duties:

“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:9-10).

Separation Unto Him

Continuing the account, we see a link between not being intoxicated with alcohol and the requirement upon God’s people to make a distinction between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean. This is where the balance of Shemini begins to rivet our attention. The Hebrew verb badal, generally meaning “be divided, separate” (BDB),[1] is frequently used, and becomes the primary emphasis of thought. The royal priesthood, the nation of priests, and all the community of Israel who have been called out to be, as Isaiah declared centuries later a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), are commanded to make a distinction between the holy and profane, and to understand the difference between the clean and unclean.

When you see a cursory usage of the verb badal, you find that it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures in a total of 41 verses.[2] It is used three times at the beginning of Genesis. I would submit that its high occurrence in the opening statements of the Torah is something for Bible readers to take note of:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated [badal] the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate [badal] the waters from the waters.’  God made the expanse, and separated [badal] the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so” (Genesis 1:4-7).

Here, we see a major description of the separation of light from darkness. How more vivid a picture would you like to see of separation? Badal is employed to describe the distinction between the dry expanse and the waters, and the separation between the sky and ground. When we move forward to this week’s Torah portion, the concept of understanding the difference between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean, is about as stark a contrast as the human mind can possibly fathom. Consequently, God’s people should be those with the ability to determine what is holy and what is clean.

In His mercy God chose Israel to communicate His requirement to separate the things that are holy from the things that are profane. The Lord made this clear to Moses as the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, and as they were preparing to receive the Ten Commandments:

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [goy qadosh]. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Moses will repeat these same declarations to the Israelites in the Book of Deuteronomy, as he summarized the works that God had performed for them, prior to their entry into the Promised Land:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God [ki am qadosh atah l’ADONAI Elohekha]; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

The Prophet Isaiah reiterates the call of Israel to be a nation of priests unto the Lord:

“But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast” (Isaiah 61:6).

Finally, in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that the Apostle Peter appropriates the declarations of Moses and the Prophets as he exhorts all Believers in Yeshua to be who they have been called to be. He emphasizes his point by writing how people in the Messiah have been brought out of darkness and into the light of God:

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20], A royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]” (1 Peter 2:9-10).[3]

Clean and Unclean

Moving through Shemini, the balance of the narrative goes into great detail discussing the kosher dietary laws which summarize what God considers clean and unclean animals for human consumption (Leviticus 11:1-47). Moses categorically lists what the Lord considers to be edible an inedible for His people, in terms of what is clean and unclean.

Does the Holy One of Israel know what is best for the human diet? Some say yes, but others are not so sure. Compliance with the dietary laws of Scripture is usually not a problem for those who are following the Torah’s other commandments. Within the broad Messianic community, Jewish Believers are among those with the least amount of hang-ups and difficulties in terms of following kashrut law. Non-Jewish Believers entering into the Messianic movement do have various levels of difficulty when it comes to the kosher issue. This is largely because of certain passages in the Apostolic Scriptures (i.e., Acts 10:1-16; 11:1-10; Romans 14:14; Colossians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:1-5) which are commonly interpreted as negating the significance of the Biblical dietary laws. Each one of these passages, to be certain, is worthy of some careful re-reading and consideration of their ancient context.[4]

In spite of any claims that the kosher dietary laws are unimportant, the Biblical requirement to be holy just as God is holy still remains. The steadfast expectation for God’s people to be holy, perhaps ironically, appears within the very chapter of the Torah that details the significance of kashrut! When the Apostle Peter quotes from Leviticus 11:44-45, is he at all emphasizing the need to be holy by eating kosher?

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45).

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’ [Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7]” (1 Peter 14:13-16).[5]

In 1 Peter 14:13-16, the Apostle applies the various principles we see in Shemini into a short admonition, to direct his audience to see the bankruptcy of their sinful behavior prior to their salvation. He directs them to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (RSV). He wants them to turn from any sin still present in their lives, and turn toward godly and holy behavior. It just so happens that the text he quotes relates to eating kosher.

There is a distinct link in Peter’s words to the possible problem that Nadab and Abihu had with alcohol. Peter reminds his readers to be sober, employing the verb nēphō, “to drink no wine” (LS).[6] Many in Peter’s audience were raised in pagan cultures where unclean meats were eaten. When he talks about the cravings that they experienced as sinners, could this likewise pertain to what they would eat? Keep in mind the fact that at many Roman parties, people would sit and drink, consume so-called “delicacies” (unclean things), and frequently engage in group-related sexual activities. How many of us ever connect drinking, eating, and ungodly sex? In the First Century, it was a bit more common than it is today. And, eating according to God’s Instruction is only one of many areas where the behavior of Messiah followers is to surely be set-apart!

“Be Ye Holy”

Some of you who might be reading this Torah commentary may have not yet concluded that the kosher dietary laws bear any relevance to you. I would ask you to give the words of Moses, Peter, and others some consideration. After all, as God’s people and His representatives in the world, we are commanded to be holy or separated out. Is one way for this to be accomplished, by only eating what God considers clean meat? We are surely to be priests unto Him, who are to demonstrate to the whole world the difference between the holy and profane—between what is acceptable and unacceptable. If we cannot control our intake of alcohol or our choice of the animals we eat, then is it possible that He will chastise us or penalize us as His designated representatives? I pray that you will consider these things as you approach the Lord this week in prayer and study of His Word.

It is very important for each one of us to seek a holiness that comes by obeying God’s commandments. By obeying God, we have been designated as a holy and set-apart people for His own possession. Once you truly recognize that you are His and blessings can abound by obeying Him, pleasing Him via a Spirit-led obedience is a delight beyond all of the desires or cravings of the flesh. And so I urge you: be ye holy!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 95.

[2] This figure was determined using a lemma search of the Hebrew Tanakh (WTT) in BibleWorks 8.0.

[3] Aland, GNT, 789.

[4] For a further discussion, consult the article “To Eat or Not to Eat?” by J.K. McKee.

Be aware that Messianic Apologetics will be releasing a Messianic Kosher Helper sometime in the future, which will address both the significance and theology of kashrut.

[5] Aland, GNT, 786.

[6] LS, 532.

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