Reflection for Shemini

“Perfecting Holiness”

Mark 7:1-23
Acts 5:1-11; 10:1-35; 11:1-18
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
1 Peter 1:14-16


by Mark Huey

In this week’s Torah reading (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), after the consecration of Aaron and his sons for service unto the Holy One at the Tent of Meeting and various altars, the text turns to the dramatic incident of Nadab and Abihu profaning Him by their cavalier approach to offer sacrifice without first receiving His command:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire 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).

Obviously, Nadab and Abihu did something terribly wrong to initiate the wrath of God that led to their premature deaths. Since the text turns to a description about not imbibing in alcoholic beverages in conjunction with ministering to the Lord, some commentators have drawn the conclusion that these two had been intoxicated:

“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, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses” (Leviticus 10:9-11).

Naturally, when the Jewish Sages sought out an appropriate parallel passage from the Prophets, the infamous incident involving Uzzah’s seemingly reflective response during the relocation of the Ark of the Covenant is what was chosen (2 Samuel 6:1–7:17). However, as the description concludes, there is no reference to alcohol, but rather what is described as irreverence[1] as the Ark was being destabilized:

“But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Later, we see that King David, distraught over the death of Uzzah, discovered that it is the responsibility of the Levites to actually carry the ark. David felt indirectly responsible for Uzzah’s death, and followed the proper procedures in order to ultimately get the Ark to the Temple Mount:

“Then David said, ‘No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.’ And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place which he had prepared for it” (1 Chronicles 15:2-3).

Turning to the Apostolic Scriptures for a paralleling passage about dramatic deaths which take place—during what one would suspect to be a time of spiritual activity, similar to serving at the altar or transporting the Ark of the Covenant—the infamous scene of Ananias and Sapphira comes to my mind. These purported Believers in the Messiah Yeshua simply wanted to at least appear to be godly or holy before their peers. In the record, however, one finds how God is more concerned about what transpires in a person’s heart than what appears to occur before human eyes. Their deaths were used by Him to instill a holy fear in those familiar with the circumstances:

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole [assembly], and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:1-11).

Upon recollecting these different scenes from the days following the consecration of the Tabernacle, to the attempt to move the Ark of the Covenant, to the early days of the First Century Messianic movement—the underlying common theme for the lives of Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, and Ananias and Sapphira, is an apparent lack of a holy fear of the Almighty Creator. It appears that despite places of unique privilege as the sons of Aaron, or chosen to be involved in the relocation of the Ark of the Covenant, or being intimately involved with the Apostles of Yeshua—each of these people were pretenders in the sense that none of them seemed to truly believe that the Lord was not only watching their actions, but most importantly, observing their hearts. Clearly, the admonition to be holy as declared in this week’s Torah portion was not something fully embraced:

“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).

The original admonition by Moses to the Ancient Israelites to be holy because God is holy—is not just for a selected few, but rather is a requirement of all who call upon Him. One fairly simple way to show the respect and fear that the Lord desires for His people is detailed in the prohibitions about eating things that are not considered clean or edible. Within Shemini, not only did the Lord detail a list of creatures that were edible and fit, but also creatures that were not fit. These prohibitions require a simple act of obedience to avoid unclean meats, as a demonstration of holiness.

By the time of the Apostolic era, the Apostle Peter actually quotes from this text in order to challenge his readers to be aware of the lusts of the eyes (“appetite”). If God wanted His people to be concerned with a much more simple facet of life like what they ate—he would surely want them to be concerned with areas of ethics, morality, and sexuality:

“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]” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Knowing that 1 Peter 1:14-16 quotes Leviticus 11:44-45—summarizing the purpose of the dietary laws—is quite interesting. Peter’s writing may clue one into the vision that he experienced in the city of Joppa, prior to his declaring the gospel to the centurion Cornelius:

“Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.’ When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat!’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’ Again a voice came to him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.’ Peter went down to the men and said, ‘Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?’ They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.’ So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.’ As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.’ Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, and he said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.” So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.’ Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him’” (Acts 10:1-35; cf. 11:1-18).

Many of our Christian brothers and sisters have interpreted Peter’s vision as God’s annulment of the Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 dietary laws. The challenge with this view is that it is not substantiated from Peter’s actual words after being shown the vision. In his meeting with Cornelius, Peter recounts that the Lord had showed him a vision, and specifically how “God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28, HCSB). Peter’s vision did not at all regard God abolishing the dietary laws, but instead was an emphasis of how all people have been made clean by the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua. Just as the Prophet Ezekiel was shown how various unclean animals could represent the sins of Israel (Ezekiel 8:9-10), so do the animals on the sheet represent the sinful behavior of the nations—now remitted by Yeshua’s atonement not just for Israel—but all of humanity![2]

So might I ask, in this season of Counting of the Omer leading us toward Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks—whether you are seeking holiness and truly fearing the omniscient Creator—how are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling? (Philippians 2:12). Do you take your walk with the Messiah flippantly, or are you sincere in being led by the Spirit as you walk by the Spirit? If you know Him and have been brought into the community of the faithful, are you taking your relationship for granted like Nadab and Abihu might have? Or, if you have been given some privileges by those in positions of authority like perhaps Uzzah, are you irreverent in any way? How about saying things or making pledges without recognizing that your word means something, and should not be abused as Ananias and Sapphira discovered?

The Apostle Paul addressed the Corinthian assembly with some very stark questions that challenged them when it came to relationships, and how they were approaching their relationship with the Messiah. Note how he describes how Believers should avoid the unclean and not yoke themselves in relationships with the unholy and profane. The concluding admonition is simply to perfect holiness in the fear of God:

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Messiah with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE [Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27]. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN [Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34]; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:2).

These verses offer a great set of concepts to meditate upon and consider as we all seek the Almighty this week. Might we all seek Him and His holiness as we are reminded by Yeshua Himself to do the following, in order to receive not only spiritual blessings, but everything we need each day for living:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).

May we each day seek to perfect our holiness, in the peace that only He alone can offer!


NOTES

[1] Heb. shal; “disdain, irreverence” (William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988], 370).

[2] For a further discussion about the kosher dietary laws, consult the article “To Eat or Not to Eat?” by J.K. McKee.


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey