Today we will be looking at the topic of holiness, and how those who live and abide by God’s precepts are doing so because it makes up the very essence of who they are. These ongoing actions of obedience cause believers to be holy and set apart from all others.
We begin in Jeremiah 46:28 – Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you,” says Yahweh.
The one thing that set ancient Israel apart from their neighboring tribes and countries was that their God was present with them. While other kingdoms and countries had their gods, their idols, and their temples, Israel actually had the very presence of the God of the universe with them. God allowed himself to be physically present somehow within their Mishkan, the tabernacle, or the portable sanctuary that traveled with them. His presence resided in that Most Holy Place, by all accounts hovering above and within the ark of the covenant which contained the tablets of the Ten Words, or what we call the Ten Commandments.
This covenant, these Ten Words, are what separated Israel from their neighbors. This is what made them holy. They had been instructed to abide by the actual commands of God, written with his own finger, etched eternally into stone.
A Jewish site called Chabad which explains various aspects of the Hasidic Jewish traditions, conveys what happened at Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
“Of the 613 biblical commandments, G‑d selected these ten commandments for special attention. He directly communicated them to the Jews without using Moses as an intermediary, and inscribed them on the tablets which were placed in the Holy Ark within the Holy of Holies. It is evident that although all the mitzvot [commands] are vital, the five carved into the first tablet were chosen because they form the basis of our relationship with the Creator, while the latter five serve as the foundation of our relationship with fellow people.” What happened at Matan Torah?
Even according to their own teachings, to Jews the Ten Commandments form the basis of all of the rest of the instruction of God. This ironically echoes the teaching of Messiah where he also relates the importance of the most important commandments:
Matthew 22:35-40 – And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? ” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. “This is the greatest and most important command. “The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Since the first five of the Ten Commandments apply to the Creator, and the second five apply to our fellow people, we see how the teaching of Yeshua validates obedience to the Ten Commandments.
Now, the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai was not a private event that would simply be related thousands of years after the fact. There was no fanciful prophetic vision or private revelation; these words had been conveyed to the entire assembly of Israel at once as God himself spoke these words from Sinai. Everyone heard his voice, everyone felt the weight of his presence and struggled with the fear, real fear, at hearing the resounding and penetrating voice of God. Scripture tells us:
Exodus 19:16 – On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.
Hebrews 12:19-21 – For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
Even to this day, Jews recount the awful dread at the unique event that had overtaken that vast community of wilderness dwellers. From the Jewish News of Northern California, an article discusses what happened when God spoke at Sinai:
“For example, the rabbis have said that each of the commandments was said simultaneously in 70 languages and that the Torah was written with black fire on white fire. Another midrash [traditional legend] suggests that each individual heard revelation differently, according to their capacity, just as the manna tasted different to different people.” When God spoke at Sinai
Sefaria, a Jewish site that presents and evaluates the Hebrew text of the Tanakh conveys the following in an article titled “What really happened at Sinai?”:
“What did they see? The Torah was given through seven voices. And the people saw the Master of the Universe revealed in every one of these voices. That’s the meaning of the verse ‘All the people saw the the voices.’ (Exodus 20:15) These voices were accompanied by sparks of fire and flashes of lightening that were in the shape of the letters of the ten commandments. They saw the fiery word pouring out from the mouth of the Almighty and watched as they were inscribed on the stone tablets, as it says, ‘The voice of God inscribes flames of fire’ (Ps 29:4). And when the people actually saw The-One-Who-Speaks-the-World-into-Being, they fainted away. Some say that their spirits left their bodies, while others say that they entered a prophetic trance. These visions brought them to trembling and shaking and a blackout of the senses.” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah) What really happened at Sinai?
Once again going back to the previous Chabad article on the Matan Torah:
“This was no simple handing over of a book of lore; G‑d gave us His Divine laws for us to study and follow. This was a transitional moment in our history—a moment known as Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah.) No longer were we merely the descendants of a great man named Abraham, or simply a Middle-Eastern people known as the Israelites. We had now become G‑d’s people, chosen to learn His Torah and keep its laws. It’s a moment we celebrate every year on the festival of Shavuot.”
Israel was born of revelation of God himself, a revelation of his expectations of conduct that were conveyed to an entire people at once. To Christians, the term “the Revelation” references the last book of the Bible, where the risen and glorified Yeshua reveals an outline of the outworking of the Day of the Lord, the culmination of the age. To Jews, the Revelation always references Sinai, where Yahweh revealed himself to the entire nation at once. It is THE watershed event in all of Jewish tradition and their sacred history, and rightly so. This revelation of God is what set them apart as holy and distinct from all other nations. The ten commandments born of this Revelation of Yahweh were placed into the heart of their most sacred place (the ark of the covenant) and they carried them within this central sanctuary throughout their wilderness journeys and into the land promised to them.
So, if this revelation of God is so central to the history of God’s people, it makes sense that it would also still be central to the ongoing history of God’s people today.
To this day, what sets God’s people apart is this same covenant, the Ten Words. There is no equal among the religious communities of the world.
The illustration for believers today comes through what is pictured in the wilderness journeys of Israel: just as God resided in that Most Holy Place within and above the ark of this covenant, God’s very presence resides within these Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. Just as the Ten Commandments were placed into the “heart” of the tabernacle within the ark of the covenant, God’s commands are placed in the heart of every believer through the renewal of the holy Spirit. As we seek to fulfill these commands placed in our heart, then we are truly following in the footsteps of our Lord, the Messiah Yeshua.
Matthew 5:17-19 – “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
According to Yeshua, the Kingdom of Heaven is populated by those who abide by the commandments of God. This is the everlasting covenant that remains forever. Most people don’t realize that the Ten Commandments ARE this everlasting covenant, therefore it can never go away.
Exodus 34:28 – Moses was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights; he did not eat food or drink water. He wrote the Ten Commandments, the words of the covenant, on the tablets.
Deuteronomy 4:13 – “He declared his covenant to you. He commanded you to follow the Ten Commandments, which he wrote on two stone tablets.
This is why they were written in stone, by the very finger of God himself. In what other way could God ever illustrate the importance and everlasting nature of these commands?
By contrast, the “new” covenant ushered in through the ministry, life, and death of Yeshua is a martyr’s covenant. It is a covenant of dying to self so that the words of the everlasting covenant, the Ten Commandments, can actually be lived through us in this life.
The apostle Paul writes about it this way
Romans 6:6-7,11-12 – “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin … So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Messiah Yeshua. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires.”
Through faith in Messiah, this everlasting covenant is placed in the hearts of those who would receive them, those who are called by his Name and who live and abide by its precepts because it makes up the very essence of who they are.
Jeremiah 31:33 – “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says Yahweh. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Through faith in Yeshua, the holy Spirit of God resides within believers to cause them to abide by the universal principles of God’s commands. This is related by the apostle John:
1 John 3:7-9 – “Children, let no one deceive you. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who commits sin is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s works. Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God.”
This is a difficult passage for most Christians, because they are taught all people are sinners due to a fallen nature and they can never escape the clutches of sinfulness until after physical death. But the Bible doesn’t teach this. In fact, John says that “everyone who has been born of God does not sin.” This type of language causes Christians to stumble; however, it is not meant in the absolute sense, but in the practical sense. Why do believers not sin, according to John? Because, having died to themselves, the commands of God that have been placed in their hearts can be truly lived out. He describes it as “his seed [that is, God’s seed] remains in him.” As Proverbs tells us:
Proverbs 4:23 – Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.
The heart is the seat of all emotion and the wellspring of actions, so if the heart is good, the actions are good. If the seed is good, the tree is good. And as Yeshua said, if the tree is good, the fruit is good.
Matthew 12:33 – “Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.”
Therefore, as believers abide by the commands of God placed in their heart through the holy Spirit within them, they do not sin, because sin, by definition, is the breaking of God’s commands, or his law.
1 John 3:4 – “Everyone who commits sin practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.”
However, if, as God spoke through Jeremiah when he said, “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts,” then the passage in 1 John makes sense because it says, “whoever has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God.”
God has not done away with this old covenant, the Ten Commandments. In fact, according to Jeremiah and Yeshua, the commandments of God are the very heart of the new covenant in Messiah.
Here’s something else to consider: Paul wrote that the faith of the early Messiah believers depended on the fact of the resurrection of Messiah.
1 Corinthians 15:17, 19 – And if Messiah has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. … If we have put our hope in Messiah for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
The resurrection of Yeshua was the validation of everything he taught and lived; that is why it has such priceless value to believers today. And, just as the Ten Commandments were revealed to a large group of people, the resurrected Messiah was also revealed to multiples of individuals, eyewitness who could be consulted by those living at that time, as Paul relates:
1 Corinthians 15:5-8 – … he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.”
So, if the resurrection never happened, Paul reasons, then our faith is in vain. In like fashion I would add that if the Ten Commandments have been done away with, then all faith is worthless, because those words are the very heart of the eternal covenant. The Ten Commandments are the central foundation of the Kingdom of God that Yeshua ushered in, both in this life and beyond. To be set apart for the purpose of God is to be obedient to him and his ways, here on earth now and into eternity.
This is holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God. He is present within the words of his covenant, and as the covenanted words are in our heart, he is present within us. God is present: this sets us apart; this makes us whole. This holiness through obedience to his words in our heart is the very essence of his kingdom on the earth.
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