God’s Pop-Up Book

With a group of friends, I am reading Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted To God, a book about holiness and the ways in which God instructs us to be holy even as he is holy. In this week’s reading I found a helpful illustration of the Old Testament rites and ceremonies and thought you might benefit from it as I did. Ferguson describes them as acting like pop-up picture books…

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The Lord unfolded it at first through liturgical rites and ceremonies prescribed in the law given to and expounded by Moses. Think of these as being like the pop-up picture books we give to and read with small children. They learn not only from words but also from pictures. The appeal is made to their senses: they hear the words; but they can also see and touch what these words express. In the same way the Lord built physical ceremonies and objects into old covenant life, which the people could hear, see, touch, and even smell. They experienced a multi-media expression of their sin and of God’s grace and way of salvation. They also learned that they were to be separated from the world, different from others, and devoted exclusively to the Lord. Their lives had a distinct rhythm outwardly (they had a unique calendar), their daily existence was governed by personal and community laws that made them different from other nations. It was all meant to express the basic principle that the Lord had claimed them for himself. They were his. Therefore they were different from those who were not his. That was what being holy meant. The Lord had chosen them, redeemed them from Egypt, and claimed them for himself. Now in turn they were to reserve themselves exclusively for him. There was to be no unrequited love.

As the narrative of the Old Testament progressively unfolded, God explained what being devoted to him meant at a personal and moral level. This process reached something of a climax in the ministry of the prophet Isaiah, especially in the way he spoke about God as ‘the holy one of Israel’. In his own experience and prophetic ministry it became crystal clear that holiness was never intended to be merely a matter of keeping the Old Testament rituals, nor simply of outward obedience to the Ten Commandments. Holiness meant knowing God, the Holy One, and reflecting and expressing his character—having fellowship with him in such a way that, as his bride, his people became like their Husband, the One with whom they lived.