from Virtuous Daughters, February 2013~Volume 12, Number 11
God's family is diverse yet unified. He draws people with different gifts and experiences and melds them into one body, the head of which is Christ (Eph. 5:23). Members of the body may have unique functions (1 Cor. 12), but all of us share the same calling—the same identity and purpose in Christ. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
We are a priesthood, the Bible says—a holy nation. To be holy means to be set apart, separate from dingy or ordinary things for the sake of receiving the extraordinary. This was the chief characteristic of the Old Testament priesthood. Priests were holy, uniquely set apart to minister in the very presence of God. Of course, the whole nation of Israel was His chosen, holy people; but the tribe of Levi had a special calling beyond that, while the priests (descendants of Aaron) had a holier calling still.
We are called to walk in holiness, too (1 Pet. 1:16); but there are different degrees of separation assigned to different ones of us. The ways we are set apart may depend upon the tasks God has given us to do—the functions He wants us to fulfill within His body—or upon the season of life in which He's placed us. We can see in the Old Testament that different kinds of separation were required for different people.
Take, for example, the Levites. Because they feared God zealously and shunned sin when other tribes did not (Exo. 32:26, 29), the Levites were separated from among the children of Israel to be the Lord's unique possession (Num. 8:14). “At that time, the Lord separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister unto him, and to bless in his name, unto this day” (Deut. 10:8). These sacred duties were entrusted to them alone; yet the privilege came with a price. The Levites were not numbered with the other tribes in Moses' nationwide census (Num. 1:47). They received no inheritance (territory) of their own in the land (Num. 18:23b); the Lord Himself was their inheritance (Deut. 10:9). They were to camp around the Tabernacle to guard it in the wilderness (Num. 1:52-53), and they were not allowed to leave it. Even when the other tribes went out to war against their enemies, the Levites were to stay near the sanctuary (Num. 1:45, 47). Their job was not to fight, but to handle the holy things; and if anyone else tried to do this, he or she would be put to death (Num. 1:50-51). God took the Levites' role very seriously; their disobedience would bring His wrath upon the rest of the congregation (Num. 1:53). It was their separation from the ordinary occupations of others that enabled the Levites to fulfill their holy function.
For the priests, even higher standards of separation were required. As the ones who entered God's holy presence to offer sacrifices, foreshadowing the atonement that Jesus would complete as our High Priest, these men were banned from contact with death. They could not follow standard mourning practices when friends or relatives died. Only for their closest family members (parents, children, or brothers) could they make exceptions (Lev. 21:1-3). They were also required to marry within the highest standards of purity. Even a widow would not make an acceptable wife for a priest, unless her late husband had been a priest himself (Eze. 44:22). Priests were not allowed to “shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long,” but had to keep a neatly trimmed hairstyle at all times (Eze. 44:20). These requirements may sound a bit severe to us; but God wanted His set-apart ones to model separation and high standards for others: “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Eze. 44:23). For the High Priest, the standards were even higher (see Lev. 21:10-15). His sacred role and special calling demanded this.
One other group of holy people was the Nazarites. Their separation was unique because it was usually voluntary. It did not depend on their tribe or lineage but on individual desire to set themselves apart for the Lord. Sometimes God would designate someone to be a Nazarite, even before the person was born (such as Samson or John the Baptist); but more often than not, a person would decide for himself to take the Nazarite vow. It seems, in such cases, that the vow was often temporary, for a set period of time (as with the Apostle Paul's vow—see Acts 18:18). However that may be, the Lord makes it clear that all Nazarites had to separate themselves from certain specific things: “He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body. . . . All the days of his separation he is holy unto the LORD” (Num. 6:3-7, 9).
Amy Carmichael perceived herself and her fellow missionaries as people who had taken a Nazarite vow. She writes in God's Missionary that grapes and raisins were not harmful in themselves, and eating them was certainly not sinful. Yet the Nazarite was forbidden to enjoy them. He or she must choose to separate from these good or harmless things in order to focus on the best and holiest things. “It is not that [God] forbids us this or that indulgence or comfort of our life,” her pamphlet explains; “it is not that He is stern, making upon us the call of the ascetic; but it is that we who love our Lord, and we whose affections are set on the things that are in Heaven, voluntarily and gladly lay aside the things that charm and ravish the world, that . . . our hearts may be ravished with the things of Heaven . . . ”
The heart of the matter is this: God calls all His children to be set apart from the world. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). We are commanded to cultivate holiness, “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The question we must take to the Lord individually is, What degree of separation do You want for me, Lord? From what should I be separate? To what extent? Perhaps the Lord is calling you to a season of specific separation like a Nazarite vow. He will show you what to set aside and will guide you through your parents' counsel. Perhaps He has impressed on you a very high standard like the standard of the priests. What a privilege to be someone uniquely set apart to minister to Him and keep His charge! (Eze. 44:16). We know that no sacrifice or step of obedience is wasted – each one is pleasing and precious to God. Or perhaps He has given you a role like the Levites' role, to stay behind and keep the tabernacle while others go out to fight great battles or find a physical inheritance in the land. Never forget that in God's kingdom, victory belongs just as much to those who “tarry by the stuff” (1 Sam. 30:24) as it belongs to the fighters of the battle. Both parts are crucial, and neither may be despised. David made this an ordinance for Israel when his men fought the Amalekites after the raid at Ziklag (1 Sam. 30:25).
Whatever personal calling God places upon you and your family, remember also the corporate calling that all believers share. In Christ, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9), separate unto God. This is a matter of discernment, then obedience. Keep a willing heart and open hands; then the Lord will make the details clear.
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