Ezekiel 44:17-27: Contagious Holiness

Faith is beautifully contagious.
— Madeleine L’Engle (The Genesis Trilogy)

File this one under commands ripped out of context. Has anyone ever told you it’s unchristian-like to get a tattoo? The reason probably came from the Torah. Hear the word of the Lord:

You shall not . . . tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord. (Numbers 19:28, NRSV)

Now, the obvious problem is that you can rip any obscure law out of the Old Testament and make it a law for Christians today. If we’re going to do that, then let’s be consistent in our law-making. My new favourite out-of-context rule comes from Ezekiel concerning the Zadokite priests:

They shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat. (v. 18, NRSV)

What a great law. Don’t wear anything that makes you sweat when you’re ministering before God. Does that mean I should throw out my ties and suit jackets? What if they’re covering a tattoo?

This passage of Ezekiel is a big job description. It lists the tasks that God expected from his Zadokite priesthood. Some of these rules seem very antiquated, but there’s one concept I’d like to explore: contagious holiness.

. . .

Here’s the rule:

When they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall remove the vestments in which they have been ministering, and lay them in the holy chambers; and they shall put on other garments, so that they may not communicate holiness to the people with their vestments. (v. 19, NRSV)

In simple terms, the priests had to change before they left the inner court, so they wouldn’t smear any residual holiness from their clothing onto unholy people. This sounds bizarre to me, but Daniel Block mentioned in his commentary that this was a pretty standard belief back then. Holiness was contagious, but not in a good way.

One of the most difficult aspects of interpreting the Old Testament for Christians is seeing it through the lens of Jesus’ life and death. One of the biggest changes Jesus affected was making holiness portable. In the Old Testament, holiness was a controlled substance with special rules for handling. In the New Testament, the curtain to the holy of holies is ripped, and the divine presence lives in every follower of Jesus.

The Zadokite priests had to be careful lest they spread God’s holiness in the common places. We are called to spread God’s holiness far and wide. How are we doing at that?

. . .

People look at the issue of holiness today in a couple of ways. The traditional “holiness” camp tends to stress Old Testament-style separation (I’m speaking in generalities now). You don’t want your holiness impinged by contact with something common.

When I look at Jesus, though, a second view is taken. He deliberately spent time with the common people, the sinners, so that his implicit holiness would spread to the world.

Which way do you view holiness? Is it something to be guarded and protected, or something to be spread freely?

. . .

Holy God, make your holiness communicable in me.  Help me to live your holiness and spread it to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 44:9-16 | Levite or Zadokite?

Ezekiel 44:28-31 | A Choice >

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