8 And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”
As I’ve been preparing for this week’s message in Leviticus 10, these verses have jumped out as central. No, it’s not because I’m going to launch into a diatribe of abstinence from alcohol; although it is important to understand this instruction. This text in context (of both the chapter and the book) is focused on the distinction of God’s people for God’s purpose… His Glory.
This passage is striking because it is the first instruction given to Aaron DIRECTLY to Aaron from God (instead of alongside Moses or thru Moses). The other instruction Aaron received is no less the Word of God than these, but as the High Priest, Aaron is given direct responsibility as the recognized mediator between the people and God. As priests, Aaron and his sons were charged to be distinct. This is marked by their abstinence of drink (fermented). This is no requirement put on all the people, but the distinguishing mark of holiness is.
I feel as if this is perhaps the “Great Commission” of the Old Testament. Matthew 28:18-20 charges the church to “make disciples…teaching to observe all (of Christ’s teachings).” Here, the priests are charged with a teaching ministry that is bolstered by their own example and life. The people are to be distinct. Not like the pagan culture they came from or the one they are about to possess. They are to look, think, act like the people of God.
This distinction is not about perfection and imperfection. God tells Aaron it has to do with what’s holy and what’s common. Holy things are set apart for the purpose of God…glorifying Him. Common things can be merely that, or profane, essentially “taking” glory from God. God’s interest is for the people of God to be set apart in life and doctrine so they are careful to worship Him rightly, glorifying Him in all things, especially with that which relates to worship — the priests were being instructed in how to conduct worship and offerings, as the people were continually provided means of dealing with sin so that God would inhabit their praises. Of course, we’ve looked at how all of this is fulfilled in the person of Christ (Heb.4 & 9).
When you consider how central the charge “be holy, for I am holy” is in the Scriptures (Lev.11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16) it appears to be the larger underlying theme to our Great Commission charge to “go and teach.” The aim for the body of Christ is to reflect the character and person of God in this world. This is nothing less than being Holy. We are to be different…distinct. This distinction is not bound up in some church culture of contemporary cool-ness or 40-year ago traditional-ness. This distinction is bound up in knowing and observing what Christ has taught us and knowing what He’s been for us for God (that He is the fulfillment of God’s promises for His people).
So, while we are a people in a culture, we must sojourn as aliens and strangers, governed by the Scriptures more than shaped by the culture. We are called to be holy, distinct, set apart for God-glorifying purposes in Christ Jesus. This may or may not mean we dress differently, speak differently, drink differently. What we must understand is that our behavior must be shaped by God’s distinctives, not man’s.