The holiness of God’s people, then and now

God’s standards of holiness don’t change.

Leviticus 20:26 – You must be holy because I, Yahweh, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.

This admonition to holiness is set amidst the context of the practices of the nations of Canaan that Israel was displacing.

Leviticus 20:23 – “You must not follow the statutes of the nations I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and I abhorred them.

In the context of Leviticus 20, the “things” the nations were guilty of were the contaminations of idolatry (which included spiritism and child sacrifice), sexual immorality, and eating of unclean foods. Avoiding all of “these things” is what would set ancient Israel apart from the other nations; this is what would make them “holy.” This setting apart is the holiness that distinguished Israel as God’s people.

In consistent fashion, the holy Spirit of God led the first recorded council in Jerusalem to similar conclusions. As those among the nations were coming to faith in Messiah along with the scattered Jews and God-fearers in the synagogues, there were idolatrous practices being introduced into the community of believers, such as food offered to idols and cultural promiscuity. Paul and the other apostles deal with some of these issues in their epistles to various groups of believers. But the council, through the guidance of the holy Spirit, had issued a decisive template for the believing congregations to follow that was worded very similarly to the injunction of Moses to the ancient Israelites in remaining holy.

Acts 15:28-29 – “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision ​– ​and ours ​– ​not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements: “that you abstain from idolatrous offerings, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”

As can be seen by these comparative texts, avoidance of practices associated with idolatry, sexual immorality and unclean foods have always been the earmarks of God’s people that set them apart from the other nations. Therefore, I believe these distinctions should in like fashion remain as the defining characteristics that demonstrate the holiness or set-apartness of God’s people even today.


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Who can attain to the ideal of the woman of noble character in Proverbs 31?

If Proverbs 31 is viewed as the ideal for all of God’s people, we can be encouraged to collectively attain its lofty ambitions.

She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.

Proverbs 31:27

The thirty-first chapter of Proverbs contains a famous passage providing the characteristics of a “noble” or “virtuous” woman. Many a wife has reviewed this passage with trepidation, as the ideal set forth in these verses can indeed be intimidating.

However, instead of describing the ideal woman and holding wives to an unreachable standard, this passage can be viewed from a different, and perhaps more attainable, perspective that aligns with the middle-eastern propensity to couch word pictures and ideas in parabolic language.

Especially in the prophets, God has revealed himself as desiring his people as a husband desires the pure love of a faithful bride. He is equally disappointed when that love is not returned to him, but is instead wasted on the idolatry of the nations around them.

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight.

Hosea 6:4

But he holds out the promise of renewed faithfulness and marital fidelity for the people of Zion.

Never again will [Jerusalem] be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Isaiah 62:4-5

This theme is echoed in the book of Revelation:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.

Revelation 21:2-3

If this noble woman in Proverbs is viewed as the ideal for all of God’s people as his prophetic bride, then it begins to make sense of the overall passage lining out the expectations God has for his people, not just wives.

One of the characteristics God expects of his people is the vigilance with which this woman watches over her family, that nothing is outside of her purview. She carefully looks ahead to the needs of her family, identifying dangers ahead of time, like a watchman on the walls of a city.

This vigilance is contrasted with laziness, or more literally the eating of “the bread of idleness,” as one who sits idle, concerned only with their own appetite and nothing else. In today’s terminology, they might be considered a “deadbeat mom.”

However, we have the opportunity to view the passage in its entirety of what God expects of his people, and his goal for us is not to remain trapped in the idleness of our own selfish passions, but to be ever watchful, caring for the welfare of those of our “family.”

As an ideal for wives, Proverbs 31 can be intimidating and unattainable. However, viewed as an ideal for all believers, collective attainment of its lofty ambitions suddenly becomes more applicable and practical. We would do well to imbue our lives with her character of vigilance for her family in respect and honor of our Husband and Provider.