How can Yahweh’s name be profaned? Can holiness leak out?

In a recent Princeton dissertation (This Is the Thing that the Lord Commanded You To Do) Bryan Bibb notes that some qualities depend on the response of a community; they are socially constructed qualities:

“personal qualities (like authority or charisma) depend to some extent on the validation of others. A leader has authority because the society collectively agrees to give that person authority. A popular teacher has high status because the students and colleagues affirm the teacher’s skill and charisma. In the Holiness material, God declares a priest to be holy through the process of sanctification. Also, however, the people participate in this process since the community also declares the priest to be holy by giving him the requisite deference and authority (cf. Lev. 21 :8). Yahweh is holy (as the text declares vociferously), but Yahweh’s holiness is at some level contingent upon the people’s reception (and mirroring) of Yahweh’s holiness” (195).

This doesn’t apply directly to Yahweh, because Israel is incapable of taking away from “God’s real, life-giving power.” But human beings are capable of denigrating and reducing respect for Yahweh’s holiness in the community: “In performing the public acts of Molech sacrifice or a false oath, the offender calls into question the lordship of Yahweh. These acts profane Yahweh’s name because they publicly declare that Yahweh has no authority over that person’s actions. These sins show flagrant malice toward Yahweh and his rule in the community. In the eyes of the community, then, Yahweh’s authority is denigrated. The person has profaned the name of Yahweh; he or she has taken away from Yahweh’s holiness, a serious offense. The only way that Yahweh can preserve the holiness of the name is to punish that person with death (Lev. 20:3)” (198).

In this way Israel “sanctifies the name of Yahweh” (Leviticus 23:32).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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