How do things become holy?
I the LORD am holy. – Leviticus 20:26
18 The LORD has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands.
19 And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the LORD your God, just as he promised.”
What does it mean for something to be sacred? In simple terms, it means something that has special significance to a group of people usually with religious overtones. TV and movies are replete with references to sacred things or people. In Avatar, the Na’vi, a species of 10-foot tall sapient humanoids live in harmony with nature on Pandora and worship Eywa. Their most sacred object is the Tree of Souls. Countless westerns reference the sacred hunting grounds or sacred burial grounds of Native Americans. Religious buildings, artifacts, or symbols are often considered sacred.
The Scriptures provide a similar but distinctive concept of the sacred.
In an absolute sense, God alone is holy. He alone possesses intrinsic holiness. Holiness describes both His essence and character.
When the Father self-describes Himself as holy, the term encompasses elements of purity, faultlessness, righteousness, and moral perfection. Holiness is contrasted with uncleanness and defilement (Leviticus 11:44).
The Hebrew word translated as holy is qadosh which means to be set apart or consecrated, holy, or dedicated. It is a term that was used of things dedicated or set apart to God. “God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor” (Grudem).
The Father unequivocally states that He is holy. He is unique, special, and different than all else. Apart from Him, nothing else is innately holy. However, holiness is one of the Father’s communicable attributes which He shares with people, things, and places. For example, the Nation of Israel was set apart as a holy nation.
Deuteronomy 14:2 You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure.
The Jewish people were commanded to be holy, that is, be separate from all nations. They were to be holy, as the Father Himself was holy.
Leviticus 19:2 Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
What makes something holy?
Holiness is transmissible by divine fiat or designation. At Mount Sinai at the site of the burning bush, the ground was just ground plain, ordinary dirt, until it was altered by the presence of the living God. When the Father was present, He declared that the ground was holy and it was so.
Exodus 3:5 “Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”
Before something was declared sacred what was it? It was profane, common, ordinary, mundane, and secular. Holiness does is not an intrinsic quality or substance of a person or thing.
Pause and consider for a moment the implications. All holiness is imputed or assigned holiness. All that was declared sacred and holy by the Father was previously profane and secular. Everything that became sacred was originally not sacred.
REFLECT & PRAY
13 You are the salt of the earth
14 You are the light of the world
Father You alone are intrinsically Holy. Yet by Your word, You have declared many things holy that were common and profane, even children of the King
In the Scriptures, some things were made sacred by putting them to use in the Father’s service. Children of the King began with that which was common, profane, ordinary, or secular because there was nothing else with which to start. It is analogous to using clay, which is nothing more than a form of common dirt, to create beautiful pottery. Often, “the Lord uses ordinary objects to do extraordinary things so that it can be plainly seen that the power is from God” (MacDonald).
Moses’ staff is an excellent example. Moses’ staff was a common ordinary piece of wood, the staff of the shepherd. It becomes the rod of God (Exodus 4:2, 4:20 (KJV)). It was later used to perform miraculous works in the land of Egypt and at the Red Sea. The staff itself had no ability apart from the wonder-working power of the living God.
Another example is the Hebrew alphabet. At the time when Moses lived pretty much everything that was written was pagan, secular, and profane.
As the Semites developed their languages, they wrote about their myths and cultic practices. Many of these myths and cultic practices were part of the Canaanite culture and religion. Some of their cultic practices are vulgar and totally obscene.
The Father repurposed secular and profane languages to write His Holy Word. Hebrew was one of the Semitic languages of ancient Canaan. It is quite similar to the alphabet and grammar that the Canaanites used to write their course and profane stories and rituals. The Father repurposed that which was at best secular and or worse profane and morally repugnant. He set it apart as the Hebrew language employed to write the Holy Scriptures.
Despoiling the Egyptians is another example. On their way out of Egypt, the children of Israel were given gold, silver, precious gems, and cloth. These items were back pay, compensation for all the labor that the Jewish people have done as slaves in the land of Egypt. The gold and silver articles included jewelry, pagan artifacts, and most probably household idols.
What did the Father intend with this vast treasure of pagan gold, silver, and gems? He intended to be repurposed and sanctified for the worship of the God of Israel. The gold and silver were literally melted down and formed into various articles that were used in tabernacle worship of God (Exodus 25-28).
That which was once scandalous and idolatrous was repurposed and consecrated for the worship of the living God.
In church history, the songs of the people were often repurposed and became sacred music.
Martin Luther quipped “Why should the Devil have all the good music?” Luther practiced and encouraged contrafacta [The practice of borrowing a song from one sphere and making it suitable for use in another by the substitution of words]. He routinely set sacred texts to the tunes of secular songs. “Some musicologists have speculated that Luther’s famous hymn tune “Ein’ Feste Burg” is based on a drinking song” (http://everything2.com/title/contrafacta).
Many extant Christian hymns are the combination of sacred words with secular classical music. Two obvious examples are: Be still, my soul and Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.
The tune for the hymn, Be still, my soul, borrowed the music from Finlandia, written by Jean Sibelius. Finlandia later became the national anthem of Finland.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, composed in 1824, concludes with the “Ode to Joy.” It was repurposed and became the classic Christian hymn: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.
Much the same can be said of gospel music. “Gospel music as we know it began in the 1930s but the roots can be seen much earlier in the southern states. African American communities in the late 19th century would come together in their churches to give praise and sing poignant spirituals and hymns. The power of the message and rhythm of the music would often come out through the hand-clapping and foot-stomping still seen in churches to this day.”
Throughout the Scriptures and in the history of the church, rather than the sacred being contaminated by the secular and brought down, it is the secular which is repurposed in service of the sacred.
We should be the conquerors and redeemers of the common and profane.
Indeed, before the Father conquered and redeemed each child of the King, we were once common and profane. Rather than becoming unclean by engaging the common, we make the common clean.
© Dr. H 2022
One thought on “How do things become holy?”
I enjoyed the synthesis of Holiness ie Leviticus 19:2. God repurposing things and people for his purposes simply by his designation of what is holy. This is was very informative. JN