What is to be holy, as YHVH is holy?

Posted by on Sep 16, 2019

The word “holy” as in the phrase “Be holy, for I am holy!” is believed to have positive meanings of being morally and spiritually excellent; also saintly, godly, pious, God-fearing, righteous, good, virtuous, moral, sinless, pure, perfect.

This perception is often derived from the Apostle Shimon Kepha’s quote from Leviticus, … as the One who called you is holy, so you also should become holy in all behavior, because it has been written, “Be holy, for I am holy”. (1Pe 1:15-16)

While “holy” may have all those meanings of positiveness, the Hebrew word translated as “holy” may not. As a matter of fact, it has none of the above meanings and it may even have a very negative connotation, as we will study in this article.

But, before we start, we may ask the question as to why the apostle would have quoted the Torah of YHVH in the first place, if he had believed and taught accordingly that the Law had been done away with. Read more in the article “Has the Messiah abolished the Law of God?“.

The first occurrence of the word “holy” is in Exo 19:6, as we read,

And now, if you diligently obey My voice, and shall guard My Covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession above all the peoples – for all the earth is Mine – and you shall be to Me a reign of priests and a holy nation. Those are the words which you are to speak to the children of Israel. (Exo 19:5-6)

The whole Torah is enforced by an appeal to the calling of Israel, as a holy nation, to be holy as YHVH our Elohim, who had brought us out of Egypt, was holy. YHVH chose Israel as His dear possession out of all the nations of the earth, for the sake of the fathers Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov. But, before having led the children of Israel into a covenantal relationship with Him at the mountain, He promised them to make them a nation of priests, a holy nation.

We should note here that the Covenant at Sinai is a conditional covenant, unlike the covenant YHVH made with the patriarchs, as we discussed this elsewhere. The condition is “If you diligently guard My Covenant”.

While the first appearance of “holy” is in Exodus, the phrase “Be holy, for I am holy!” first appears in Leviticus 11, as we read,

For I am Yehovah your Elohim, and you shall set yourselves apart. And you shall be holy, for I am holy. And do not defile yourselves with any swarming creature – the one creeping on the earth. For I am Yehovah who is bringing you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim. And you shall be holy, for I am holy!. (Lev 11:44-45)

A Torah observant believer knows the appearance of “Be holy, for I am holy!” in this particular chapter is not accidental. And since everything in the Torah has a purpose, the command to be holy as YHVH is holy in the chapter where the so-called “dietary laws” are given must serve its purpose, too.

And indeed, in Leviticus 11 the Creator of all visible and invisible things in the universe has explicitly stated what is and what is not food (see Lev 11:47) with no possibility to be changed or much less to be removed from this list.

This exclusion of any (even remote) possibility of doing away with is precluded with the command: And you shall be holy, for I am holy!”. And this is a command that cannot be revoked.

By now, we should have come to the conclusion that if the Creator has concluded His laws of what is and what is not food with the command And you shall be holy, for I am holy!”, the word “holy” must have been meant to have an important signification.

What is to be holy?

The Hebrew word behind “holy” is קָדֹשׁ (an alternative spelling is קָדוֹשׁ) kadosh, which means sacred (ceremonially or morally); a saint, a sanctuary. It comes from the primitive root קָדַשׁ kadash, which means to be (causatively make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally). While these translations are correct, they are abstract terms that do not give the true meaning of the Hebrew word kadosh.

The literal meaning of kadosh can be seen in the Creation story when Elohim created all in six days and set-apart the seventh day as a special day of rest from all His work. We read,

And Elohim blessed the seventh day and set it apart, because on it He rested from all His work which Elohim in creating had made. (Gen 2:3)

Hence, we see that kadosh or “holy” is something set apart for certain purposes.

Kadosh can also mean “dedicated” as seen in 2Sa 8:11, when King David dedicated to YHVH all silver and gold he took from the nations he subdued.

Therefore, kadosh literally means something or someone set apart for special purpose, but also to appoint, consecrate, dedicate, prepare, purify, sanctify, but more literally: to set apart something or someone.

A related word to kadosh is קֹדֶשׁ kodesh, with the meaning of a sacred place or thing; a set-apart or dedicated thing, and it also means a sanctuary.

However, the word kadosh, set-apart or dedicated for a special purpose may have a very negative connotation. We read from the Torah, thus,

None of the daughters of Israel is to be a cult prostitute, nor any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. Do not bring the hire of a whore or the pay of a dog to the House of Yehovah your Elohim for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to Yehovah your Elohim. (Deu 23:17-18)

Another related word to kodesh is קָדֵשׁ kadesh. In the context in Deu 23, it means a (quasi) sacred person, that is, a male devotee (by prostitution) to licentious idolatry; also a sodomite.

The feminine form of kadesh is קְדֵשָׁה kadeshah, and means a female devotee (that is, prostitute), a harlot, a whore in the pagan temples.

The exclusion of cult prostitution was involved in the command to root out all the Canaanites from the Land of YHVH. When YHVH gave His land to the children of Israel, He commanded them not to learn the way how the inhabitants of this land worship their “gods”. The reason being was that the cult prostitution was part of the Canaanitish worship of theirs idols. (see also Gen 38:21 for the use of these Hebrew words for cult prostitutes)

The Hebrew words for cult prostitutes above קָדֵּשׁ kadesh and קְדֵשָׁה kadeshah were persons who prostituted themselves in the worship of the Canaanitish “goddess” of fertility Astarte (Ishtar or Easter). Her symbol of worship was a rabbit: the symbol the ancient pagans believed was a symbol of fertility.

The phrase “the hire of a whore” is what the kedeshah was paid for giving herself up for prostitution. And “the pay of a dog” is a figurative expression used to denote the gains of the kadesh, and received his name from the dog-like manner in which the male prostitutes, kadesh, degraded themselves (see Rev 22:15, where the unclean are distinctly called “dogs”).

The opposite of קָדֹושׁ, kadosh, set-apart, dedicated, is חֹל chol (from the primitive verb חָלַל chalal, usually translated as exposed; hence profane, common, profane (place), unholy. But more literally, it means to be loose and as a noun: the unbound, not devoted to set-apart purposes and uses.

Its literal meaning can be seen in Lev 10:10 where chol couples with טָמֵא tamei, morally and ceremonially unclean, and kodesh with טָהוֹר tahor, morally and ceremonially clean.

… so as to make a distinction between the set-apart and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, … (Lev 10:10)

Therefore, the ones who are loose or unbound to YHVH by a covenant, i.e. loose, free on any bond between them and He, are called chol, profane, unholy.

With that being said, we may ask the question as to why kadosh can have such diametrically opposed meanings. It can, because kadosh does not mean godly, pious, righteous, good, virtuous, moral, sinless, pure, and perfect, but it simply means “set-apart”, whether for good or evil purposes.

And this makes the whole difference: one can set him/herself apart to either the Creator or to an idol, as Yeshua the Messiah teaches,

No one is able to serve two masters, for either he shall hate the one and love the other, or else he shall cleave to the one and despise the other. You are not able to serve Elohim and the world! (Mat 6:24) Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995

In other words, Yeshua is saying, “You cannot set yourself apart to YHVH and to the worldliness! Choose one or the other!”

Set-apart as YHVH is set-apart

And the four living creatures, each having six wings, were covered with eyes around and within. And they do not cease, day or night, saying, ‘Set-apart, set-apart, set-apart, Yehovah El Shaddai, who was, and who is, and who is coming!’ (Rev 4:8)

By now, we should have also noticed that to set ourselves apart to the Creator, that is to be holy, is something we do. As we stated above, it is a command from the Master, which behooves us to set ourselves apart, to dedicate ourselves to out Creator. And this makes all the difference between obedience and disobedience; between to walk the walk and to talk the walk. Read more about “What is to walk with Elohim?

Contrary to the man-made doctrines in Christianity, we are to set ourselves to YHVH, as this is something we do. We were sinners and walked contrary to the Creator. We repented for the crimes against Him and by His mercy which endures forever, we are forgiven; we are redeemed from the world.

But this is where our walk in obedience to YHVH begins: we are to set ourselves apart to Him completely and wholeheartedly. And this commitment to Him begins with the first steps we do to be set-apart, to be holy: by rejecting our old nature.

Or, as the apostle has said it, “What I loved now I hate, and what I hated, now I love”; even such basic things as what we used to eat.

Or, was it not the same apostle who said, “Work out your own salvation!”

For more insight of this controversial for many topic, refer to the article “You are not under the Law of God” Exposed.

With this knowledge of the Will of YHVH for us, we now comprehend why YHVH concluded His laws concerning food with the command, “You shall be set-apart, because I YHVH am set-apart”.

That YHVH Himself is set-apart is seen in Rev 4:8 where the four heavenly creatures are praising the King of the universe, YHVH El Shaddai day and night saying, ‘Set-apart, set-apart, set-apart, Yehovah El Shaddai, who was, and who is, and who is coming!’

This scene in heaven which we see in Revelation is what the prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) saw and wrote,

Above it stood seraphim. Each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said, ‘Set-apart, set-apart, set-apart is Yehovah of the heavenly forces; all the earth is filled with His glory!’ (Isa 6:2-3)

Note: Isaiah 6 is the only passage in the Scripture in which the seraphim (in plural form) are mentioned. If we compare the cheruvim in Ezekiel, which carried the chariot of the heavenly throne and here the seraphim which surround it, we will find that the seraphim and cheruvim are heavenly beings of different kinds and they are one and the same, and certainly the seraphim do not signify merely spirits, but very powerful beings, if not the highest of all. In 1 Enoch 61:10 the cheruvim, seraphim, ophanim (“wheel” or ophan in Eze 1:15), the messengers of power and the messengers of the principalities are listed as different classes of the host (heavenly forces) of Elohim.

In 2 Enoch 39:11-12, we see again the seraphim singing and exalting the Highest in heaven, saying:

Those who sleep not bless Thee: they stand before Thy glory and bless, praise, and extol, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Spirits: He filleth the earth with spirits”.

YHVH Himself is the Set-apart One (kadosh), the Separate One, beyond, outside, and above the physical world, the true light, the perfect Elohim, the Absolute One. The will of all the work of the Creator is that His set-apartness should become universally manifested through knowledge of Him and His glory should become the fulness of the whole earth (see Isa 11:9, Num 14:21 and Hab 2:14).

The Prophet Yeshayahu uses the title of YHVH “the Set-apart One of Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל קְדֹושׁ, kedosh Israel), which is merely the echo of the seraphim’s praise song. Kedosh Israel occurs twenty-nine times in Isaiah (including Isa 10:17, Isa 43:15, and Isa 49:7), and three times in the Psalms (Psa 71:22, Psa 78:41, and Psa 89:19), and twice in Jeremiah (Jer 50:29, Jer 51:5).

The prophet being a mere mortal human could not see YHVH and be still alive (see Exo 33:20). A mortal human being dies in the presence of the Set-apart of Israel, because the set-apartness of YHVH is to the sinner a consuming fire.

The prophet, therefore, regarded himself as lost, because he himself was a sinner of unclean lips. And although he had not seen YHVH face to face, he had seen the throne, and therefore, His set-apartness and majesty.

This is what set-apartness of YHVH means: a consuming fire (see also Isa 33:14). If we have not set ourselves apart to YHVH and still be of unclean lips, as Yeshayahu was, we will be consumed, as the pure oxygen does not tolerate filthy grease stains in its presence.

To say and much worse to believe that because we are forgiven by the blood of the righteous Messiah, we can walk loose and unbound by any obligations and responsibilities of the Covenant, is to abuse the sacrificial death of the Passover Lamb of YHVH and resurrection of the First-fruit.

For more insight into the work of the Messiah and the Appointed times of YHVH, refer to the dedicated work of Time of Reckoning Ministry (TORM).

Now we can read correctly Lev 11:44-45, the will of YHVH for us to set ourselves apart,

For I am Yehovah your Elohim, and you shall set yourselves apart. And you shall be set-apart, for I am set-apart. And do not defile yourselves with any swarming creature – the one creeping on the earth. For I am Yehovah who is bringing you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim. And you shall be set-apart, for I am set-apart. (Lev 11:44-45)

We will set ourselves apart and be set-apart, for He is set-apart by not defiling ourselves with any detestable things the nations eat, because YHVH is the One who brought us out of “Egypt”, to be our Lord.

Why is it so important for the Creator that we do not defile ourselves with eating what is not food? Do we need to know in order to obey Him?

Does the pot question the potter why it is made such?

Does a servant question his master?

Is it not sufficient for us that He said so?

Why then do so many people question His laws and even worse–reject them?

For more insight as to why it is detestable to eat what is not food, the reader may refer to the article “How far mankind can go in eating detestable things?“.

To be set-apart in the Covenant

Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, “Be set-apart, for I Yehovah your Elohim am set-apart!”. (Lev 19:2)

The commandment in Lev 19:2, “to be set-apart for YHVH is set-apart” expresses the paramount principle on which all the commandments in the Covenant that follow in Leviticus are based, namely that those who call themselves the children of YHVH are to keep His laws before Him, as a nation set-apart to YHVH.

1. You shall have no other Elohim Exo 20:2-3 Lev 19:4
2. You shall make no idols Exo 20:4-6 Lev 19:4
3. You shall not swear falsely in the Name of YHVH Exo 20:7 Lev 19:12
4. Guard the Sabbath Day Exo 20:8-11 Lev 19:3
5. Honor your parents Exo 20:12 Lev 19:3
6. You shall not murder Exo 20:13 Lev 19:16
7. You shall not commit adultery Exo 20:14 Lev 19:20-22
8. You shall not steal Exo 20:15 Lev 19:11, 13
9. You shall bring no false witness Exo 20:16 Lev 19:15-16
10. You shall not covet Exo 20:17 Lev 19:17-18

By reiterating the commands of the Covenant at Sinai (see Exodus 20) here in the Torah is as important as to emphasize them with the prelude, “Be set-apart, for I Yehovah your Elohim am set-apart!”

In conclusion, the appeal for a holy life, set-apart to YHVH, behooves us to consider the great cost of our redemption, lest our worldly desires go after forbidden things. We must be set-apart, as YHVH is: and this can be realized only when we do what we are told to do.

When we say that we eat Kosher food and observe the Sabbath Day, the world knows who our Lord is, because only one Elohim has said, “Do not defile yourselves with any swarming creature. And you shall be set-apart, for I am set-apart”.

And only one Elohim has said, “Sabbath is a sign between Me and My children”.

This is how we set ourselves apart to YHVH: by what we do.

Only then we can see our image in Him, when “Set-apart to Yehovah” on the plate of clean gold of the High Priest, reflects in us.

And you shall make a plate of clean gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: Set-apart to Yehovah. (Exo 28:36)

לַיהוָה קֹדֶשׁ

Kodesh l’Yehovah


May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.