The period covered by the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is a time when God separates Israel from the world, to himself. He makes them a holy people.
What does it mean to be a holy people?
To have a higher view of God than I do of myself and to live in obedience to the good news of God’s Word in such a way that God’s purity & purpose is seen by others to be higher and bigger than me.
This separation or distinction (holiness) is marked several ways:
On Day 2 of the creation week, the division of sea and sky created an atmospheric cover for the earth (Gen 1:6-8). The waters (clouds) cover the earth and protect it. During the 1st passover Israel was protected from death under a covering of blood as God passed over the land of Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23).
When Israel prepared for the first night of passover, a veil of blood was painted over their door (Ex 12:7, 22). This veil served to divide Israel from Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23, 27, 42, 51). The veil also features in the tabernacle to separate the most holy place (Ex 26:31-35). That veil is decorated with angels who guard the entry to God’s dwelling place just as an angel guarded the door to Eden.
The terms of God’s covenant are summarised in the ten commandments. (Ex 20:1-21, Deut 5:1-22). To breach the ethics of the covenant makes you liable to the sanctions of the covenant. In this way, the law reveals the righteousness of God and it also reveals our unrighteousness. It is our schoolmaster, teaching us what sin is.
When the Lord makes a new Covenant in the Bible, it is spoken of as a New Creation. The instructions for the Tabernacle (Ex 25-31) are seven speeches which follow the pattern of the Creation Week. The Tabernacle was a miniature “clean” world, a micro-cosmos. It was the DNA for a new Creation.1
Leviticus presents many pictures of Christ and His work of redemption on the cross. Hebrews 10:1–14 makes it clear that in Christ we have the complete fulfillment of each of the OT sacrifices. In return we can still offer sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving and devotion to Jesus and the gospel.
The festivals involved eating and drinking. We are reminded that the Son of Man came eating and drinking (Matt 11:18-19, Luke 7:33-35) and each of these not only point us to Jesus, but call us to celebrate God’s work of redemption. When we observe communion today, with bread and wine (eating and drinking!) we are celebrating Christ and anticipating the full and final feast at the end of history (1 Cor 5:6-8, 11:23-26, Rev 19:9).
All of these gifts are meant to provide Israel with vivid, tangible demonstrations of the greatness and glory of God.
The four books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy cover a period of 120 years.
When Moses is 40, he is set apart as a Judge and Deliver. He is rejected by the people and they are condemned to another 40 years of slavery while Moses goes into the wilderness to receive God’s Word. A new (2nd) generation will inherit God’s promise of deliverance.
After that time, Moses returns, God judges Pharaoh and Egypt and following the first Passover, God delivers his people as he promised.
They are a holy priesthood divided from the world by the water of the Red Sea and will be tested and refined (threshed) so that they can inherit the land given to Abraham.
In the first passover, their faith is tested at the Red Sea, their commitment is tested and during their travel in the Wilderness, their obedience is tested.
When presented with the opportunity to enter and occupy their inheritance from Abraham, the 2nd Generation also fails to trust the judgement and deliverance of God. As a result they are condemned to another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness so that the next (3rd!) generation will receive and benefit from the promises.
How did that happen?
Compare the people’s behaviour in Exodus 15:13-18 with their attitude in Numbers 14.
In Exodus 15, they are focused on what God had done and would continue to do.
In Numbers 14, they focused on what they could not do and looked away from God and to themselves.
They allowed unbelief to cloud their vision of God and the purpose he had called them to.
Biblical faith abides in (lives, rests, tenaciously clings to) the promises of the Word of God and yields an faithful and fruitful life.
Holiness and obedience is based in the Word of God. When we act independently of scripture we do not enter, we do not overcome and we do not occupy the place God calls his people to be. So often, Christians trip up in their pursuit of holiness because they seek something outside of scripture. Whether it be an experience, feeling, or some other “sign”, it moves our focus away from God to ourselves. We are not the centre of the universe.