Contagious Holiness

I am in the book of Daniel how in my Bible reading.  Can I just say that I found most of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations downright depressing?  Reading it this way, you can really see how much Israel hurt God by worshiping other idols.  His judgments and recriminations seem endless.  I think sometimes we think God really doesn’t care about us, what we say or do.  It’s simply not the case.

Skip on through Ezekiel, and things get funky.  Ezekiel was a mystic.  Jewish boys, I remember from Dr. Bobo’s Major Prophets class, weren’t even allowed to read the book until they turned 30.  Probably words for all of us to live by.  Ezekiel is part of the captured group living in Babylon, by the Kebar River.  He sees visions.  He is taken up and transported to Jerusalem.  He sees cherubim, with their wheels inside of wheels and many, many eyes.  He’s not your average prophet.  Though, in hindsight, I don’t suppose “average” and “prophet” belong in the same sentence.

Brief summation of Ezekiel:  He pronounces judgment on Jerusalem.  God rails again about the apostasy of His people.  But this time, he talks about giving them a new heart (36:26), giving them a tender, responsive heart in place of their stony, stubborn heart.

After some more judgments on the surrounding nations, Ezekiel gets to see, via a vision, God’s vision of a new temple.  It’s new and improved!  He sees an angel whose “face shone like bronze” (40:3), measuring the temple. The measurements mean something symbolically, but I’m not sure exactly what.  The dimensions of each room, the decor and setup are given in detail.  We learn about the gateways.  The outer and inner courtyards are described.

Now, the priests.  They have special rooms and special clothes they must wear.  The angel instructs Ezekiel:  “When the priests leave the sanctuary, they must not go directly to the outer courtyard.  They must first take off the clothes they wore while ministering, because these clothes are holy.  They must put on other clothes before entering the parts of the building complex open to the public” (42:14).

Huh?  The priests need to avoid transmitting holiness?  In fact, God says exactly that, plus no perspiring:  “They must wear only linen clothing.  They must wear no wool while on duty in the inner courtyard or in the Temple itself.  They must wear linen turbans and linen undergarments.  They must not wear anything that would cause them to perspire.  When they return to the outer courtyard where the people are, they must take off the clothes they wear while ministering to me.  They must leave them in the sacred rooms and put on other clothes so they do not endanger anyone by transmitting holiness to them through this clothing” (44:17-19).

I’ve read the Bible numerous times, most likely on autopilot for this portion, because I never saw this before.  This holiness, straight from God and lingering on the priests, could kill the common person.  I had no idea holiness was contagious.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines holiness like this:

1: the quality or state of being holy —used as a title for various high religious dignitaries <His Holiness the Pope>.  This tells us nearly nothing.  We need to look at the definition of holy.
1: exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
2: divine <for the Lord our God is holy — Psalms 99:9(Authorized Version)>
3: devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity <a holy temple> <holy prophets>
4a : having a divine quality <holy love>

 b : venerated as or as if sacred <holy scripture> <a holy relic>
5—used as an intensive <this is a holy mess> <he was a holy terror when he drank — Thomas Wolfe> ; often used in combination as a mild oath <holy smoke>
We have several definitions here.  It’s safe to say #5 is not applicable.  So we’re left with: exalted or worthy of complete devotion, divine, devoted entirely to the work of the deity or having a divine quality, venerated as if sacred.  The essence of the divine loitered on the linen priests wore.  It’s mind-blowing, isn’t it?  I’m not in a denomination that has icons or tangible rituals – save communion.  We don’t enshrine relics or espouse pilgrimages.  But here it is, in the Word:  God hangs out in a physical manifestation – literally – with his servants.  Incredible.
If something is holy, it’s dedicated to God.  It’s set apart for worshiping him only.  I think the point the Lord was making is that the holiness flowing off the priests’ garments would seriously damage the congregants, the “great unwashed”, if you will.  Think of it as the Israelites trekking up Mt. Sinai uninvited.  Another plague could break out.
How does this affect us today? To me, it shows just how much we need a savior.  Only a holy one could bridge that gap.  He intercedes for us, taking the damning part of the holiness in the propitiation for our sins. Romans 8:1 says:  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And yet, we are a “royal priesthood, a holy nation”, grafted into the fellowship.  Hallelujah!   Our transformed lives, our witness and words, become that contagion to this world. We no longer wear linen turbans (or undergarments!).  We put on holiness every day as a matter of our walk with Christ. We wear Jesus’ work on the cross to cover us. We are the “set apart ones”.

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