Holiness characterises God himself and all that belongs to him: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26). God’s name, which expresses his character, is holy (Leviticus 20:3; 22:2, 32). His name is profaned (desanctified) by idolatry, swearing falsely, and other sins (Leviticus 18:21; 19:12; 20:3; 21:6; 22:2). God demonstrates his holiness in judging sin (Leviticus 10:3; Numbers 20:13).
Apart from these remarks there is no explanation of what God’s holiness is in itself. Holiness is intrinsic to God’s character.
Anyone or anything given to God becomes holy. For example, the fruit of a newly planted fruit tree is not to be eaten for three years: the fruit of the fourth year is “a holy praise offering to the Lord” (19:24). Only in the fifth year can the owner enjoy the fruit himself. Similarly the priests’ portions of the sacrifices are holy.
The tabernacle and its equipment are holy (Exodus 40:9; 29:36; 30:29). So too are the Sabbath and the other religious festivals (Leviticus 23). A person dedicated to the service of God is holy. Preeminently holy in this sense are the priests (Exodus 29:1; 39:30; Leviticus 21:6). Similarly the Levites were given wholly to the Lord in place of the first-born Israelites who had been sanctified. This dedication involves separation from uncleanness, as the case of the Nazirite makes clear: “he shall not go near a dead body. . . . All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord” (Numbers 6:6-8). In a more general sense all Israel is called out from the nations to serve God and is therefore holy (Exodus 19:5-6; cf. Leviticus 20:26).
God dwelt in the tent of meeting, the sacrifices carried out before it on the altar are described as being performed “before the Lord” (e.g., 1:5, 11, etc.). It was because of the divine presence in the holy of holies that the high priest was allowed to enter it only once a year after performing the elaborate rituals described in Leviticus 16. It was from the tent of meeting that God spoke to Moses (Leviticus 1: 1), and it was over the tent that God appeared in cloud and fire signifying his dwelling within it (Exodus 40:34-38).
According to Exodus 29:43-45, God’s real and visible presence in the tabernacle was at the heart of the covenant. “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory… . And I will dwell among the people of Israel, and will be their God.” After the covenant was broken by the manufacture of the golden calf Moses pleaded with God to renew his covenant: “If thy presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).
All human efforts are in vain without divine aid. The same point is made several times in Leviticus 26. If the Israelites disobey the law, God will walk contrary to them (vv. 21, 24, 28, 41). But if they obey, they can expect to enjoy the highest of all divine blessings, his personal presence. “I shall walk among you and become your God, and you will become my people” (v. 12). All that was initially promised in the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19:5-6) will then prove true in reality.
For the New Testament Christian, one whom has been “born-again into the spirit. God’s presence was made known in the incarnation. Alluding to the Old Testament description of the tabernacle John wrote, “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us …; we have beheld his glory” (John 1:14). For Paul every Christian is a walking shrine, a temple for the Holy Spirit in which God is to be glorified (1Cor. 6:19-20). Like the Old Testament tabernacle the Christian enjoys the permanent presence of the Spirit, but just as the old shrine enjoyed a special manifestation of God’s glory from time to time, so the Christian should be filled with the Spirit and display God’s glory to the world (cf. Acts 6:15: 7:55- 56; 2 Corinthians. 3; Ephesians 5:18).