Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beyond the Holy of Holies as a Place

It just struck me for the first time as I was reading/listening to Numbers 18 that ‘most holy’ as a superlative category has a fairly wide range of referents. I have thought of the Holy of Holies as the only “most holy” item, but that is incorrect. In addition to referring to the Holy of Holies, the terminology  קדשׁ קדשׁים is used for the following items:
  1. Altar of burnt offering (Exod. 29:37)
  2. Altar of incense (Exod. 30:10)
  3. Tent of meeting, ark of testimony, table of showbread and its utensils, altar of incense, altar of burnt offering, lamp stand and utensils, laver and base (Exod. 30:26-29)
  4. The incense (Exod. 30:36)
  5. The remainder of the grain offering (Lev. 2:3)
  6. The sin offering (Lev. 6:25, 29)
  7. Guilt offering (Lev. 7:1, 7)
  8. Showbread (Lev. 24:9)
  9. All items “devoted” (cherem) to Yahweh (Lev. 27:28)

    Note: Lev. 21:22 identifies the types of food a priest with a defect may eat as “both the most holy and the holy”

    The Kohathites work with the “most holy things” (Num. 4:4). They alone are allowed to touch them.

    There is a repeated statement that “whatever touches” a most holy object will become holy. The tent of meeting, ark of testimony, table of showbread and its utensils, altar of incense, altar of burnt offering, lamp stand and utensils, laver and its base--all these are said to transmit holiness (Exod. 30:29). In addition, the altar of burnt offering (Exod. 20:27), the grain offering gifts (Lev. 6:18),  and the flesh of the sin offering (Lev. 6:27) are singled out as items that sanctify whatever touches them, unless touched by someone who is unclean from touching a dead body (Hag. 2:13). Although not in the category of “most holy,” the priestly garments also can transmit holiness and thus are not to leave the tabernacle/temple precincts (Ezek. 44:19; cf. 46:20).

    This changes my picture of the tabernacle having a steady upward gradation of holiness from the outside to the inside of the “most holy” place. “Most holy” things were throughout the tabernacle courtyard, holy place, and most holy place. “Most holy” things were being handled (utensils) and interacted with (altars, lamp stand, showbread, showbread table) on a daily basis.

    2 comments:

    a work in progress said...

    I appreciate this post as a factual processing of the terms and think that is a good point to make. The one thing that I wonder about though, is how this applies to normal people today? We no longer have the things talked about so maybe there isn't, but I like application so I thought I would ask.

    Philip Brown said...

    Good question.

    Except for references to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Heb. 9:3, 8, 12, 25; 10:19; 13:11), the phrase 'most holy' occurs in the NT only in Jude 1:20 where it refers to "the faith."

    Jude admonishes us to "build yourselves up on your most holy faith."

    Before application must come understanding of the principles involved. One of the principles that this data verifies is that there are degrees of holiness. All that is holy is not equally holy.

    Another way to say this is that something may be completely holy without being as holy as it might be.

    Since holiness is the condition of being separated unto God and there are varying degrees of separation unto God, there must be varying degrees in which we can be separated unto God.

    The degree to which a most holy item was close to God's manifest presence determined the accessibility of it. Yet now we have immediate access to the real most holy place (remember, the tabernacle was only a copy of the real tabernacle in Heaven).

    Application: (1) We should be appreciative of our immense privileges in Christ -- immediate access to the presence of our thrice holy God. (2) We should recognize that being holy does not mean we cannot become more holy. As we are increasingly transformed into the image of Christ, we grow increasingly holy. That, I think, is the theology behind Paul's admonition in 2 Cor. 7:1 "Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves of all fithiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.