3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. – Genesis 2:3 ESV
42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. – Exodus 29:42-43 ESV
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. – Leviticus 10:1-3 ESV
In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”
The verses above are just a small sampling of the many passages found in the Old Testament Scriptures that use the word qadash to convey an important message from God concerning such things as the Sabbath day, the tabernacle, and the priests who ministered there. Sanctification was important to God and was directly tied to His own holiness. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology describes sanctification as follows:
The generic meaning of sanctification is “the state of proper functioning.” To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is “sanctified” when used to write. Eyeglasses are “sanctified” when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose.
The sanctification or setting apart of something by God is related to His own holiness or distinctiveness. He is like nothing or no one else. And while man was made in God’s image, he does not replicate that image, He reflects it. God is transcendent and completely separate from His creation. He is eternal, having never been created and, as such, He exists outside of time and space. He is completely righteous, without sin and completely free from any form of flaw or defect.
And when God made the universe, He sanctified or set it apart for His glory, deeming it good (towb) or excellent. The same was true for His creation of man. God created Adam and Eve and sanctified them as His own. They belonged to Him and were designed to bring Him glory by living their lives according to His will, giving proof of God’s goodness, greatness, and love by their very existence as His creation. The apostle Paul reminds us that all of creation was intended to reflect God’s glory and majesty.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV
Even in its fallen state, the creation still reflects God’s glory. It’s beauty, while marred by sin, still points to its original Designer and reminds man that there is someone out there greater and more powerful than himself. And while man may not recognize God as the creator of all things, Paul states that they have made a habit of worshiping someone or something as the force behind the universe.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV
But the Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly deal with the concept of sanctification. God set apart Abram, selecting him from among all the people on earth, and making him the recipient of His divine blessings.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV
And God kept His word, making of Abram a great nation, a people He set apart as His own special possession.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV
And God gave the people of Israel the tabernacle, designating it as the place where He would come and visit them. And He set apart priests who would serve Him in the tabernacle, offering sacrifices on behalf of the people that were designed to remove the guilt of their sin and make them acceptable to God. Even the elements used within the tabernacle had been set apart by God and were not to be used for anything else. They were holy to the Lord and were to be treated that way by the people of Israel. To take the utensil set apart by God and use them for any other purpose would be to defile them or make them unholy.
As the verses above reflect, God was serious about sanctification. After He created the universe and all it contains, He deemed the seventh day as holy or qadash. He set it apart as different from the other days of the week. It became the sabbath day of rest and was to be treated with reverence and respect by God’s people. One of the ten commandments God gave to the people of Israel covered their relationship with the sabbath.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy [qadash]. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy [qadash].” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV
In Exodus 29, God reminds His people that the tabernacle would be sanctified by His glory. It would be His presence within the tabernacle that made it holy and unique. In and of itself, it was just another structure made by human hands, but by filling the Holy of Holies with His presence, God made it qadash. And the people were to treat it as such, refusing to defile and desecrate it by using it inappropriately or irreverently.
The Leviticus 10 passage deals with a scene in which God was forced to destroy Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. These two men had been set apart by God to serve as priests in the tabernacle. But they offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1 ESV). While we are not provided with specifics regarding their sin, they obviously disobeyed God and treated His commands with disrespect. And the result was their immediate deaths.
And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. – Leviticus 10:2 ESV
And immediately after their deaths, Moses reminded the people of the words of God: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3 ESV).
Through their actions, these two men had failed to treat God as sanctified or qadash. They treated His commands as unimportant, choosing to do things their own way. But God warns that those who draw near Him are expected to treat Him as sanctified or set apart. He is to be honored as holy and given the respect He deserves as the one true God. And Leviticus 10:3 reminds us that sanctification is directly related to the glory of God. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God so that they might reflect the glory to God. All creation was intended to bring glory to God, but the entrance of sin into the world damaged or marred creation’s sanctified state. Which is why the apostle Paul states:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:18-21 ESV
At the heart of sanctification is the glory of God. God set apart the sabbath for His glory. He made man to reflect His glory. He punished Nadab and Abihu for diminishing His glory. He set apart the tabernacle by filling it with His glory. So, when all is said and done, God’s purpose for sanctification is His own glory.
“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else…” – Isaiah 42:8 NLT
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New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.