I got to thinking about 3 little words the other morning during Sunday school: wholly, holy and holey. Here's what they mean:
Wholly - entirely; totally; completely; altogether; to the exclusion of all others.
Holy - consecrated; dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion; a sacred place; sanctuary.
Holey - several or many openings through something; gaps; full of holes.
Our church started a study on June 1st called "The Bible in 90 Days." The idea is to get as many people as possible reading the Bible altogether at the same time. The creators of this study recommend that while going through this process you do not try to understand it all or figure it all out, but that you do read attentively every word of the Bible in 90 days. What's been so amazing to me is the enthusiasm within our church walls that this study has generated! People have been genuinely excited about it and eager to accomplish it. Those of you who know me well know that I have a passion for God's word! I love what lies between those leather covers. It's full of mystery and mess. It contains life and blessing! It has the power to convict and change lives! Few things bring me more pleasure than motivating another to read the Bible for themselves. I've read through the Bible cover to cover one other time in my life, but it took me closer to a year to accomplish it. This has been more difficult. It's 12 pages a day and it's really easy to get behind. So, it's making me be disciplined, diligent and determined in my Bible reading. It's all good!
Genesis was interesting, as always, and so was Exodus. The creation story, Abraham and his descendants, Joseph in Egypt, the miracles that God performed on behalf of the Israelites, Moses life and times, the ten commandments -- you can't write fiction this good. Leviticus and Numbers though were like hitting a brick wall, and Deuteronomy wasn't much better. So many rules and laws! It was exhausting. And, the details! Holy cow!!! Burn this up, but don't burn that up. Eat this but not that. If someone is guilty of breaking a particular law, that person must be killed -- if he's guilty of this other law, he must live outside the camp. Who on earth could ever keep straight all the rules for sacrifices and what sacrifices are made for what sin. Do I bring a roasted grain offering or should I grind the grain into a fine powder with some oil added to it? Or, do I bring doves or goats or lambs or heifers or bulls? Or should I just bring some shekels? Good heavens! It goes on and on through these books. And, some of the details of what was considered unclean got a little nauseating like the chapters on infectious skin diseases (it's tough to glean profound, life altering truth from that!). Then, when you're not reading about the rules and laws you're reading through list after list of who beget who. I have to admit, it got a little boring and laborious to read. But, I learned a few things.
I learned all over again that we were created by God and for God and His word is life to us. "These are not just idle words for you, they are your life." (Deut. 32:47) He rules the nations and He wants us to be wholly His. I learned, again, that sin will wholly destroy us. And, because sin is so destructive to us, the sacrifices had to be a serious reminder of how sin destroys life. The priests were busy day in and day out with sacrifices. Nobody could be perfect. God knew that all were going to sin. And, because sin destroys life, life was what had to be taken to pay the price of each sin. When an animal was sacrificed you can be sure that blood was everywhere (if you want it in greater detail, you'll have to read it for yourself). Can you imagine the humane society tolerating sweet little lambs being sacrificed today for someone's careless behavior? Children became attached to the lambs and goats that would eventually have to be taken to the temple. If the sacrifices were not made then the people would die from their sin. And, so they watched and learned and saw the destruction of life right before their eyes so that they could live. In some cases, there was no sacrifice that could be made because the sin was too great, like murder with "aforethought." (Numbers 35:16-21) The only thing that could be done was to kill the person who deliberately took the life of another. Sin destroys life.
I learned, again, that our God is a holy God. He does not tolerate sin because 1) He Himself is sinless, and 2) He knows how sin destroys life. I learned, again, that although the laws are many, they are summed up in the two greatest commandments: "Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:37-40, NIV) God wants us to fear Him and revere Him. God wants us to know how serious He is about His love and justice. He wants us to understand that if we love Him like we should and love those around us like we should then we will live in peace and safety. I understood like never before God's timeless and holy plan to redeem us -- to pay the price Himself for our careless, sinful behavior. The concept of redemption was intricately woven through the Old Testament. Redemption is a concept that the Israelites understood, and yet when Jesus paid the final and ultimate price for their redemption, they spurned His gift. When God sent His son to die for us, the Jews should have understood it immediately -- they should have understood it like no one else. They above all people understood the practice of sacrifices and one life dying for another. This practice was such a prominent and prevalent part of who they were that this One Sacrifice For All should have rocked them to their core, their world and everything in it. But, they did not believe. Unbelief was another concept intricately woven through their history.
I learned one more time just how flawed and faulty and full of holes human beings are. Never before, however, have I read through these books with such anticipation and foresight of a Savior. With every written law and rule I heard the words that Paul wrote to the Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!" (Gal. 5:1, NIV) Israel's identity was wrapped up in their history. All of them, clear up through the time of Christ and beyond, knew of their history with the living God. All of them knew of the miracles that God performed on their behalf in Egypt and while wandering in the desert for 40 years. All of them knew of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They quoted King David. All of them, especially by the time Christ had come, knew of the laws that they must uphold or die. From the time they left behind their captivity in Babylon to the time Christ walked on this earth (about a 400 year span) they had become acutely aware of God's holiness -- so much so that the rules and laws imposed on them milliniums before in the desert they had added to and built upon to the point of utter nonsense making the law even more impossible to live up to. What the law really did was point out God's holiness and our holey-ness. The Israelites (i.e. human beings) were never able to live up to all the laws and rules set before them and the first five books of the Bible confirm this over and over. We are so holey that God's laws pour through us like a seive. What could become of such a messy creation? God's plan was brilliant.
Jesus came. God in the flesh. He died once for all. No more sacrifices to be made. No more would we have to die for our careless sins. Jesus died in our place. (There are still sins that go against the laws of our land that require a death sentence whether that sentence looks like a life lived out in prison or an actual death sentence. But, that's always been the case.) No longer would we die for all the careless acts that in the past required the death of another living thing. No longer would the life of innocent animals be taken to pay the price of my sin. No longer would we be bound to a law so lofty that no one could live up to it. Jesus set us free from the heavy burden of the law and now we live under grace. No longer do we have to be shackled by the weight of sin that so easily grips us keeping us outside the camp. Jesus' death on the cross was too monumental for words! God Himself paid the price for our sinfulness and He had it planned all along. What's more, even though He was working out His plan in all of history, He was always with the individual. He was always moving on behalf of one or two or three or twenty or a thousand or ten thousand. Everybody has a part in His plan and His plan is for everybody.
God made the laws and rules so hard to live up to and the sacrifices so numerous and messy that we should have been FULL of joy and rejoicing at His pardon! The Israelites had centuries and centuries of trying to live up to God's standards and every time failing that news of their Savior should have brought the most exuberant shouts of joy for their most AMAZING GOD! But, instead, the news of Jesus' coming slipped through the holes of their spirits and hearts (and ours!). The Israelites did not believe that Jesus was God and we find that true of so many people still today. (There really is nothing new under the sun.)
I struggle to put into words how amazing God's plan was! Is! I encourage you to read the first 5 books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch as it's called by our Jewish friends). Put yourself in the pages, in the lives, in the thoughts of those who lived during this most incredible time. You will find that there is truly nothing new under the sun. The same sins we struggle with today, they struggled with then. Why? Because we are all human beings born into sin. The good news is that we have a God with a plan. His love lives on. I want to be, to the exclusion of all others, completely and totally, wholly His, the Holy God of our past present and future, as I live this life as one who is very holey.
"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yolke and enabled you to walk with heads held high." (Leviticus 26:13, NIV)
"Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life . . ." (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a, NIV)