In the book of Leviticus, we read God’s mandate to His people:
For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Lev. 11:44–45)
In Creation, man was made in the image of God. Part of the significance of this truth is that, being stamped with the divine image, human beings are called to reflect the character of God.
When God formed Israel as a nation unto Himself, He called the people to holiness, a kind of moral “otherness” or “apartheid.” God’s people were to be different, to be consecrated or “set apart.” They were to be unlike other nations and peoples. And the difference was to be seen in their loyalty and obedience to God.
In one sense, the Old Testament record is the history of Israel’s failure to obey this mandate. The people’s covenant infidelity was marked by a desire to be like other nations, to abandon the uniqueness to which they were called. Instead of being a light to the gentiles, they were enticed to embrace the darkness of the world around them. This was seen in the people’s clamoring to Samuel for a king. Despite both the warning of Samuel and of God Himself, the people persisted:
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles’ ” (1 Sam. 8:19–20).
Several years ago, I read an analysis of the development of children written from a psychological perspective. The author argued that from birth to age 5, the most important influence in the life of a child is the mother. From 6 to 12, the most powerful influence is the father. Then, from 13 to 20, the most significant influence is the person’s peer group. Adolescence is seen as the period of highest pressure to conform to one’s immediate culture.
I don’t know how accurate this analysis is, but it certainly seems to be borne out in the behavioral patterns of adolescents. For the teenager, it is often a fate worse than death to be considered “out of it.” To be “with it” is a powerful seductive force that, sadly, does not end at age 20. The desire to be accepted by the mainstream of the culture has been a fierce and destructive force to the people of God in every generation. The tendency to accommodate the faith to the culture did not end with the Old Testament.