“You Must Be Holy . . . ”
“In accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—1 PETER 1:15, 16.
1, 2. (a) What reminder was displayed on the turban of the high priest, and what purpose did it serve? (b) Why is a reminder of Jehovah’s holiness appropriate today? (c) What admonition does Peter give regarding holiness?
“HOLINESS belongs to Jehovah.” These stirring words were displayed for all to see, engraved upon a pure gold plate tied upon the turban worn by the high priest of Israel. (Exodus 28:36-38) They served as a shining reminder that unlike the heathen nations who rendered homage to unclean deities, Israel worshiped a clean, holy God.
2 If you are already one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, do you appreciate just how pure, clean, holy, and righteous is the God whom you worship? A reminder of such an elementary truth may hardly seem necessary. After all, as Jehovah’s people, we have been blessed with an insight into “the deep things of God”—intricate Bible prophecies, the application of Bible principles, Bible doctrine. (1 Corinthians 2:10; compare Daniel 12:4.) Yet, it is evident that a heartfelt appreciation of Jehovah’s holiness is lacking on the part of some. Why? Because thousands each year lapse into forms of immorality. Thousands more invite calamity by engaging in actions that are just short of being violations of Bible law. Clearly, some do not grasp the seriousness of the words at 1 Peter 1:15, 16: “In accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”
Holy God, Holy Worshipers
3. What does Moses’ song indicate as to Jehovah?
3 ‘An imperfect person—holy? Impossible!’ you might say. However, consider the background of Peter’s admonition. The apostle here quoted words that were first addressed to Israel shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. Through this miraculous deliverance, Jehovah had been revealed as a Deliverer, a Fulfiller of promises, “a manly person of war.” (Exodus 3:14-17; 15:3) In a song celebrating the Egyptian debacle at the Red Sea, Moses now revealed yet another facet of Jehovah: “Who among the gods is like you, O Jehovah? Who is like you, proving yourself mighty in holiness?” (Exodus 15:11) This is the first recorded occasion on which holiness was ascribed to Jehovah.
4. (a) In what way is Jehovah “mighty in holiness”? (b) How did Jehovah thus contrast with the gods of Canaan?
4 The Hebrew and Greek words rendered “holy” in the Bible convey the idea of being ‘bright, new, fresh, untarnished, and clean.’ Moses thus portrayed Jehovah as clean in the superlative degree, devoid of impurity, beyond corruption, unrelentingly intolerant of uncleanness. (Habakkuk 1:13) Jehovah stood in radiant contrast to the gods of the land the Israelites would soon inhabit—Canaan. Documents unearthed at Ras Shamra, a town on the north Syrian coast, give a limited, but nonetheless illuminating, glimpse of the Canaanite pantheon. These texts describe gods that were, according to John Gray’s book The Canaanites, “contentious, jealous, vindictive, lustful.”
5, 6. (a) How did worshiping dissolute gods affect the Canaanites? (b) How did worshiping the holy God affect the Israelites?
5 Predictably, Canaanite culture reflected the dissolute gods they worshiped. Explains The Religion of the People of Israel: “Acts in imitation of the deity were regarded as service to the god. . . . [The sex goddess] Ashtart had a number of men and women ministrants who were described as consecrated persons . . . They consecrated themselves in her service to prostitution.” Adds scholar William F. Albright: “At its worst, however, the erotic aspect of their cult must have sunk to extremely sordid depths of social degradation.” The worship of phallic “sacred poles,” child sacrifices, magic, binding with spells, incest, sodomy, and bestiality—all of these became ‘the way of the land’ in Canaan.—Exodus 34:13; Leviticus 18:2-25; Deuteronomy 18:9-12.
6 Jehovah, on the other hand, is “mighty in holiness.” He could not tolerate such degradation in his worshipers. (Psalm 15) So, unlike the degrading Canaanite gods, Jehovah elevated his people. Uttering the words Peter would later quote, Jehovah repeatedly exhorted: “You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.”—Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:26.
‘The Law Is Holy, Righteous, and Good’
7, 8. (a) How could the Israelites ‘prove themselves holy’? (b) Contrast Jehovah’s Law with the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.
7 ‘Proving themselves holy’ meant neither perfection nor an assumed air of false piety; it meant obedience to an extensive law code given to Israel through Moses. (Exodus 19:5, 6) Unlike any other national law, God’s Law could be described as “holy and righteous and good.”—Romans 7:12.
8 True, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which is said to predate the Mosaic Law, covered a similar span of subjects. Some of its statutes, such as the law of ‘eye for eye,’ or talion, are similar to Mosaic principles. Critics thus claim that Moses merely borrowed his laws from Hammurabi’s code. Hammurabi’s code, however, did little more than glorify Hammurabi and serve his political interests. God’s Law was given to Israel ‘for their good always, that they might keep alive.’ (Deuteronomy 6:24) There is also little evidence that Hammurabi’s law was ever legally binding in Babylon, serving as little more than “legal aid for persons in search of advice.” (The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 1985 edition, Volume 21, page 921) The Mosaic Law, though, was binding and carried just penalties for disobedience. Finally, Hammurabi’s code focuses on how to deal with wrongdoers; only 5 out of its 280 laws are direct prohibitions. The thrust of God’s Law, however, was toward preventing, not punishing, wrongdoing.
9. What impact did the Mosaic Law have on the lives of the Jews?
9 Because it was ‘holy, righteous, and good,’ the Mosaic Law had a powerful impact upon the personal lives of the Jews. It regulated their worship, provided for Sabbaths of desisting from work, controlled the nation’s economic structure, outlined some requirements as to clothing, and gave beneficial guidance in matters of diet, sexual activity, and hygienic habits. Even normal body functions came under the scrutiny of the Mosaic Law.
“The Commandment of Jehovah Is Clean”
10. (a) Why did the Law concern itself with so many areas of life? (b) How did the Law promote physical cleanness and good health? (Include footnote.)
10 Such detailed regulations covering day-to-day living had a lofty purpose: to make the Israelites clean—physically, spiritually, mentally, and morally. For example, laws requiring them to bathe themselves, bury their excreta, quarantine the contagiously ill, and avoid certain foods all promoted health and physical cleanness.a—Exodus 30:18-20; Leviticus, chapter 11; Le 13:4, 5, 21, 26; 15:16-18, 21-23; Deuteronomy 23:12-14.
11. What did it mean to be ceremonially unclean?
11 Yet, good health and sanitation were really secondary to spiritual cleanness. That is why one who perhaps ate one of the prohibited foods, engaged in sexual relations, or touched a dead body was also declared unclean in a ceremonial way. (Leviticus, chapters 11, 15; Numbers, chapter 19) Such an unclean one was thus barred from participation in worship—in some cases under the pain of death! (Leviticus 15:31; 22:3-8) But what did such prohibitions have to do with spiritual cleanness?
12. How did the laws of ceremonial cleanness promote spiritual cleanness?
12 Pagan worship was characterized by prostitution, the worship of the dead, and revelry. But The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia points out: “No sexual act was permitted as a means of worshiping Yahweh. All such activity in this regard, therefore, rendered one unclean. . . . In Israel the dead received their proper honor, but in no way were they given undue veneration nor did they become objects of worship . . . Further fellowship at the festivals of pagan neighbors, which would include banqueting, was impossible for an Israelite, because their food was unclean.” The regulations of the Law thus constituted a “wall” of separation from unclean religious elements.—Ephesians 2:14.
13. How did the Law promote mental cleanness?
13 The Law also worked for the mental cleanness of the Israelites. Its statutes regarding marital intimacies, for example, served to elevate man’s thinking. (Leviticus 15:16-33) Israelites learned self-control in sexual matters, not giving in to unrestrained passion like the Canaanites. The Law even taught its adherents to control their feelings and desires, condemning covetous thinking.—Exodus 20:17.
14. How was God’s Law unique as to promoting moral cleanness?
14 Most remarkable of all, though, was the Law’s stress on moral cleanness. True, Hammurabi’s code also condemned such wrongs as adultery. However, an article in The Biblical Archaeologist observed: “Unlike the Babylonians and the Assyrians who viewed adultery only as a crime against the proprietary rights of the husband, the Old Testament legislation considers adultery also as a grave offense against morality.”
15. (a) Illustrate how an Israelite might have had to put forth considerable effort to remain clean. (b) How did the Israelites benefit from such efforts?
15 How true, then, the psalmist’s words: “The commandment of Jehovah is clean, making the eyes shine.” (Psalm 19:8) Granted, at times remaining clean required considerable effort. New mothers, just weeks after the birth of their children, had to go up to Jerusalem so as to engage in purification procedures. (Leviticus 12:1-8; Luke 2:22-24) Both men and women were required to cleanse themselves ceremonially following marital relations, as well as in other related situations. (Leviticus 15:16, 18; Deuteronomy 23:9-14; 2 Samuel 11:11-13) If they conscientiously followed the Law and remained clean, they would ‘benefit themselves’—physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. (Isaiah 48:17) Furthermore, the importance and seriousness of remaining clean would be indelibly impressed upon them. Best of all, such sincere efforts to maintain holiness would win them God’s approval.
Clean in an Unclean World
16, 17. (a) To what extent are Christians today required to remain clean? (b) Why is remaining clean so difficult today? (c) How have prominent individuals failed as role models?
16 We can now better appreciate Peter’s words to Christians: “As obedient children, quit being fashioned according to the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, but, in accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—1 Peter 1:14-16.
17 Admittedly, this is not easy. Everywhere we look, we see people practicing deceitfulness, dishonesty, sexual immorality. The New York Times reported: “Americans are increasingly choosing to live together before marrying.” Even prominent people set poor examples. Some of the most popular people in the world today in the fields of sports, politics, and entertainment openly practice forms of uncleanness. “It’s terribly disappointing,” bemoaned a sports fan, “to have faith in someone as a role model and have them turn out to be tainted.” The problem? Several popular athletes had confessed to drug abuse. How often it is that individuals held up as idols lead unclean lives, yes, even sordid lives, as adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, Lesbians, thieves, extortioners, and drug addicts! They might appear clean physically, but their mouths are filled with foul gutter language. They may even take delight in flouting public decency, boasting about their immoral escapades.
18. How are many who lead unclean lives ‘reaping what they have sown’?
18 Yet, the Bible’s words are not easily brushed aside: “God is not one to be mocked. [“There is no thumbing your nose at God.”—Byington] For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh.” (Galatians 6:7, 8) Lewd behavior often results in sickness, or even untimely death, from diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and AIDS, to name the outstanding ones. Mental and emotional imbalance, depression, and even suicide are also at times the result of promiscuous life-styles. So while those sharing in immoral practices may laugh in scorn at those trying to keep themselves clean, the laughter stops as the mockers begin ‘reaping what they have sown.’—Compare Romans 1:24-27.
19, 20. How have Christendom’s clergy proved themselves religiously and morally contaminated?
19 We also live in a religiously defiled world. The clergy may wear beautiful, clean garments, but they teach impure Babylonish practices and doctrines, such as idolatry, the Trinity, hellfire, immortality of the human soul, and purgatory. They are like the religious leaders of whom Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. In that way you also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”—Matthew 23:27, 28.
20 The clergy even condone uncleanness in their flock. Individuals who are known as immoral and unclean—practicers of fornication, adulterers, homosexuals—are permitted to remain in good standing. On this point, Newsweek reports: “Maryland psychologist Richard Sipe, a former priest, concludes that about 20 percent of the 57,000 U.S. Catholic priests are homosexual . . . Other therapists think the true figure today may be closer to 40 percent.” Catholic theologian John J. McNeill (an admitted homosexual) openly justifies homosexuality: “The love between two lesbians or two homosexuals, assuming that it is a constructive human love, is not sinful nor does it alienate the lovers from God’s plan, but can be a holy love.”—The Christian Century.
21. How is the reminder “Holiness belongs to Jehovah” appropriate for us today?
21 The reminder displayed on the high priest’s turban is thus more apropos than ever: “Holiness belongs to Jehovah.” (Exodus 28:36) Jehovah requires, yes, demands, that we remain clean in all respects! But just how can one do so? What areas might need particular attention? The following article will discuss these questions.
a Hammurabi’s law had no such provisions; nor has a comparable hygienic code been discovered among the ancient Egyptians, although they practiced a relatively advanced form of medicine. Says the book Ancient Egypt: “Magical spells and formulae are freely interspersed [in Egyptian medicine texts] with rational prescriptions.” God’s Law, however, had no demonic overtones but was scientifically sound. Only in modern times, for example, have doctors seen the need to wash after touching corpses, something the Mosaic Law required millenniums ago!—Numbers, chapter 19.
Questions for Review
◻ How is Jehovah “mighty in holiness,” and what does this mean for his worshipers?
◻ How did the Law of Moses differ from the laws of all other nations?
◻ How did the Mosaic Law promote physical, spiritual, mental, and moral cleanness?
◻ How are many who lead unclean lives ‘reaping what they have sown’?
[Picture on page 11]
The worship of dissolute gods led to the degradation of the Canaanites
Courtesy of the British Museum, London
[Picture on page 12]
Hammurabi’s law brought order to the realm and glorified the king, but it did not bring holiness to the Babylonians
Louvre Museum, Paris