Photo credit to everydayfamily.com
“He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.” Ezekiel 42:20
So here You are, Lord, continuing to give us detailed information about Your future sanctuary. And then at the end of this chapter You tell us You are making a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place. And I wonder if most of the time we just read over that like the reading itself is beneficial for us. Now I’m not saying the reading isn’t beneficial, but reading without thinking or understanding, where is the benefit? Reading and thinking this was only important then but not now, how beneficial is that? What if You want me to grasp some of this now? What if You do want it to be beneficial to me? What if it does matter today as well as then?
Maybe it would do me good to take time to see what You mean by this separation. Maybe I should try to understand Your meaning of sanctuary and what You mean by the profane place. Maybe all this would help me as I live out my life in You today.
The sanctuary in Hebrew is from the word qodesh. On the other hand, the profane place is from the Hebrew word chol. In one sense we can think of it as a separation (Hebrew badal) between the holy and the secular. But I think this requires a deeper investigation to understand. This word chol actually means profaneness or commonness. Qodesh, on the other hand, is sacred and holy. So right away we can see that there is a contrast between these two words, these to concepts.
If we jump back to Leviticus 10:8-11 we can see these words in play. “And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest you die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generation: and that you may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.” Is separating between holy and unholy and unclean and clean that important? It appears so. But what does that mean to us today?
Here were Aaron and his sons set apart by God to represent His holiness and to be the ones to come before Him in the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people of Israel. Not only were they to live and act separated unto Him, but they were to teach the people to be separated unto Him. But separated from what? Separated from the common, separated from the world, separated from the secular. But here’s the deal. Hey, we are secular, we live in the secular, so how can we be separate from what we are? After all, secular is just the stuff of the world without regard to the spiritual. It’s the mundane part of living without attaching the spiritual aspects. It’s the common stuff of life.
But maybe here’s the other part of the deal. We’re not just secular. Or at least we weren’t created to only be secular and common. We were created with a spiritual aspect in the image of God our creator. And the spiritual acts differently than the wholly common or secular. The spiritual knows there is something greater and far more valuable to life.
I can just stop and think about God’s words to Aaron and his sons. Wine and strong drink are common things, secular if you will. They are not inherently bad. But if Aaron and his sons have been chosen and set aside to point people to God and to act as intermediaries, then their focus and energy and hearts ought to be focussed on God and bringing people back into right relationship with God and each other. God is not common. God is holy and above all. God should be in control of our every thought, not alcohol. We are called to make a separation. What is important? No, what is beyond important for my life? What does holiness look like in my life? What needs to be separated out so that my focus truly is in God?
It’s important that I understand this. There are things that are not harmful but neither are they beneficial. There are things that are common but will only lead me to the common. And then there is the holy. And then there is the holy which can use some common things and make them holy. But be careful because some common things can make the holy, unholy, like strong drink that led Aaron’s sons to not be able to separate between holy and common. And they took a holy censor and offered common worship and were killed in their commonness. That’s a tragedy because they were set apart to be holy and to know holiness. They were called out of the common to lead others to holiness. But they didn’t understand and they didn’t let go of their commonness.
Yochanan Zaqantov explains that qodesh (holy) has nothing to do with being untouchable or more righteous or greater than we. Qodesh has everything to do with being set apart and made “not ordinary.” We can see that in Exodus 3:5 when Moses was told to approach the burning bush and told to take off his sandals because “the place on which you stand- it is holy ground.” What made that ground holy? Before the bush was burning, wasn’t it ordinary ground that Moses may have walked over many times before? But now, God had set this ground apart for a purpose and because God had set it apart, it was to be treated and responded to differently.
In Exodus 16:23 God reminded again that the Sabbath, that particular day of the week was to be set aside. It was set apart to be different from the others. Prepare for the Sabbath so that the Sabbath can be what it was set apart to be. We can treat it like any other day, but God has set it apart as no longer common. It has been set apart and made holy. Do I treat it as common? Am I guilty of the sin of Aaron’s sons?
In Exodus 28:36-38 God instructs a pure plate of gold to be made with “Holines for Adonai” engraved upon it. This gold plate was to be threaded onto Aaron, the high priest’s turban, over his brow so that “Aaron is to bear the iniquity of the holy-offerings that the Children of Israel offer, all their gifts of holiness; it is to be on his brow regularly, for (receiving) favour for them before the presence of Adonai (God).” So stop and think about that. Who was Aaron? Aaron was just a common man. In himself he had no ability to bear the sin of the people. But God called Him and separated Him unto Himself and equipped Him by Himself to be holy. God separated Aaron onto Himself and imparted His holiness upon him. But Aaron, like his sons, and like us, must choose to differ between the common and the holy and walk in the holy where and as told to walk.
So now I’ve seen where You, God, take the common and make it holy and You teach us the difference between holy and common. I saw Aaron’s sons die because they would not live by the difference. Are they the only ones?
Hear what God tells to his people through Ezekiel in Ezekiel 22:24-26. “Son of man, say unto her, ‘You are the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated My law, and have profaned My holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and the profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them…’” Do I get that? When I take what is holy and make it everyday and disrespect what God has set apart, I not only make it common or chol, I make God appear as common, as profane.
The priests themselves were guilty of doing this, were guilty of taking what they knew God had set apart for Himself, had set apart as holy, and they irreverently used it or displayed or misused it in common ways for their own purposes. And it destroyed the people because it marred the image of God before them. Do I want to be guilty of that? Do I want to profane what You have set apart, God? Do I want to take what is sacred and make it irreverent? Do I want to be one that abuses Your sacred things and treats them and You with irreverence? Would I rather be filled with contempt than reverence for You? It’s what will happen if I don’t keep separated what You have already separated in my life and the life of others.
Let’s go one more place in the Old Testament. Here we are in Ezekiel 44 hearing about the sons of Zadok again. Ezekiel 44:15-24, “‘But the levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My Sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me- they shall approach Me to minister to Me; they shall stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood-‘ declares Adonai. ‘They alone may enter My Sanctuary and they alone shall approach My table to minister to Me; and they shall keep My charge.’” Notice that in contrast to the previous priests who had profaned God’s separations, the sons of Zadok had been faithful when everyone else bailed out on God. Now, not all of Aarons descendants will be priests but only those of the line of Zadok.
If we keep reading further on, God separates the clothing they must wear, linen and not wool. He separates how they are to dress. He separates them from the people in the outer court and has them remove their clothing from the inner court so as not to “consecrate” the people by touching the clothing. Get that? God’s set apart clothing could set a person apart? Wow! He sets apart their hair style and their consumption of alcohol while on duty. He sets apart their future wives. He sets them apart as judges. Why? Because they know how to set things apart. They already know how to divide the holy from the common, the clean from the unclean. They understand the difference and they already chose to live by it in a time when everyone else abandoned it.
These sons of Zadok are set apart to instruct others in understanding and choosing what is sacred and what is profane, what is clean and unclean. They have been set apart to live in accord with God’s rules and to teach others to do so. They are set apart to preserve God’s teachings and laws and fixed occasions and Sabbaths. Why the sons of Zadok? Because they were set apart and accepted their set-apartedness when others rejected it. They lived as they were created to be by God. I have that same choice.
David got it. He was a common kid. Even his dad and his brothers didn’t think anything special of him. But God set him apart for purpose in Him. In Psalm 4:3 David says, “But know that the Lord has set apart him that is godly for Himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto Him.” The funny thing is that David wasn’t born godly, and neither was I. I think we’re born, all of us, with this godly potential. And God wants to set each of us apart into that godliness of Him. But not all of us accept His invitation when He sets us apart. Why? Because being set apart for God and in God means being separated from many other common things we are used to. Being set apart for and in God means we don’t use the common as common any more. We follow His lead on when to use and how to use and if to use it because He takes the common and makes it uncommon and holy in Him.
One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is in Revelation 17:14. It says, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” God is still setting people apart for Him. He calls, He appoints, He separates and it’s up to us to be faithful to His calling, His appointing, and His separating.
Have I allowed God to separate me for His service? Am I allowing Him to separate me every day and every moment of my life? Am I living according to His separation? 1 Peter 2:8 tells me, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light…” See, peculiar is not strange. Peculiar means I’ve been acquired and set apart by God. And if that makes me peculiar by this world’s standards, it’s because I’m not just common and secular any more. I belong to a God who is changing me into His image instead of the image of the world. The common is being folded into something uncommon and holy. I am God’s masterpiece, learning to imitate Him as I conform to His separation. May I continually learn and live the difference between the common and the holy.