IN THIS MEDITATION I want to bring two passages together: "I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.
Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy" (Lev. 11:44-45); "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1).
What does holy mean? When the angels cry "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty" (Isa. 6:3; cf. Rev. 4:8), do they mean "Moral, moral, moral is the LORD Almighty"? Or "Separate, separate, separate is the LORD Almighty"? Just to ask such questions demonstrates how inadequate such common definitions of holy really are.
At its core, holy is almost an adjective corresponding to the noun God. God is God; God is holy. He is unique; there is no other. Then, derivatively, that which belongs exclusively to him is designated holy. These may be things as easily as people: certain censers are holy; certain priestly garments are holy; certain accouterments are holy, not because they are moral, and certainly not because they are themselves divine, but because in this derivative sense they are restricted in their use to God and his purposes, and thus are separate from other use. When people are holy, they are holy for the same reason: they belong to God, serve him and function with respect to his purposes. (Occasionally in the Old Testament there is a further extension of the term to refer to the realm of the sacred, such that even pagan priests can in this sense be called holy. But this further extension does not concern us here.)
If people conduct themselves in a certain way because they belong to God, we may say that their conduct is moral. When Peter quotes these words, "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16), the entailment, in his context, is a turning away from "evil desires" (1:14) and living life "in reverent fear" (1:17). But it is no accident that these words in Leviticus 11 are found not in a context of moral commands and prohibitions but of ceremonial restrictions dealing with clean and unclean foods. For belonging to God, living on his terms, reserving ourselves for him, delighting in him, obeying him, honoring him — these are more fundamental than the specifics of obedience that we label moral or ceremonial.
Indeed, this stance is so basic in God's universe that only the fool says, "There is no God" (Ps. 14:1). This is the precise opposite of holiness, the most conspicuous and fundamental demonstration, "They are corrupt, their deeds are vile" (14:1).
Leviticus 11-12; Psalms 13-14; Prov. 26; 1 Thess. 5