Badal: Separate/Set Apart/Divide

Separate/Divide/Make Distinct/Set Apart: Badal. Verb (Strong’s 914).

Root: בדל

Sounds like: b’dawl or v’dawl

The verb to separate, to divide, to set apart tends to have a negative connotation in English. A separation in marriage, a divided workplace, a segregation of races, all these things evoke sadness because of human division. 

But in the Bible division was sometimes good and beneficial. In the creation account YHWH separated some things out in order to have them stand on their own:

Genesis 1:4-19

God saw that the light was good; and God separated [wai-v’del] the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness He called “night.” And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate [ma-v’dil] the waters from the waters.” 

God made the expanse, and separated [wai-v’del] the waters that were below the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse “heaven.” And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land “earth,” and the gathering of the waters He called “seas”; and God saw that it was good. 

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit according to their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. 

The earth produced vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, according to their kind; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate [l-ha-v’dil] the day from the night, and they shall serve as signs and for seasons, and for days and years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 

God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate [u-la-ha-v’dil] the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

God separated the light from the darkness and created the sun, moon, and stars to govern over the day and the night. YHWH would separate the day-light and dark-night in order for the world to be livable and sustainable.

God also separated the waters from above and below and put a boundary of land on which to grow vegetation so that we could have a livable habitation where water was contained and accessible.

Separation in creation meant putting things in working order and clearing up chaos by dividing and putting things in their place.

Of course the creation narrative also tells us how we once walked, face to face with YHWH, in His beautiful garden Kingdom, and how that all fell apart. Because of humanity’s terrible choice in Eden (the choice to disobey God and try to become little gods of our own making) we were separated from God and unable to look at His face or be in His presence. 

Tabernacle Veil

To fix our separation-from-God problem, humans built a tabernacle where the ark of the covenant, which housed the presence of God, could dwell behind a curtain: 

Exodus 26:31-35

You shall also make a veil of violet, purple, and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skilled embroiderer. Then you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, their hooks also of gold, on four bases of silver. 

You shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve as a partition [w-hi-v’dilah] for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. 

You shall put the atoning cover on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand opposite the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side.

The Temple reflected the story of Creation. The dramatic hues and the decorative cherubim would bring Eden to mind. In the creation account God separated water from land and light from darkness. In the Tabernacle the builders separated the spaces: the most holy from the holy, and the holy from the common.

Centuries later, Ezekiel announced that the wall around the Temple was used ”to divide [l-hav’dil] between the holy and the common” [Ezekiel 42:20b].

There were unique set-apart spaces, and walls and veils distinguished between different levels of holiness.

Separating Unclean from Clean

Places weren’t the only things to be separated or set apart. There was to be a distinction between the animals, clean and unclean, edible and not edible:

Leviticus 11:46-47

This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, to make a distinction [l-ha-v’dil] between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.

People were also to be distinguished and singled out. Followers of YHWH were to set themselves apart from the harshness of this world and to live as representatives of God.

The Hebrew Nation was Singled Out

Out of all the humans, YHWH chose one nation to act as Priests to all other nations. The Hebrew people, would follow YHWH’s laws, and be the progenitors of the future Messiah, the Saviour to redeem all of humanity. From this one family, redemption would come:

Leviticus 20:24-27

So I [YHWH] have said to you, “You are to take possession of their land, and I Myself will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am YHWH your God, who has singled you out [separated you: hi-v’dal’ti]  from the peoples. You are therefore to make a distinction [w-hi-v’dal’tem] between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird, or by anything that crawls on the ground, which I have distinguished [hi-v’dal’ti] for you as unclean. So you are to be holy to Me, for I YHWH am holy; and I have singled you out [wa-av’dil] from the peoples to be Mine.”

YHWH cherished His chosen family. They were a people set apart to do wonderful things for YHWH. Within the Hebrew family there were twelve tribes. The Tribe of Levi was to be set apart specifically for the purpose of priesthood: 

Numbers 8:14

[YHWH:] “So you shall single out [w-hi-v’dal’ta] the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine.”

Aaron and his descendants were set apart to be priests and to serve and bless YHWH:

1 Chronicles 23:13

The sons of Amram were Aaron and Moses. And Aaron was set apart [wai-yi-badel] to sanctify him as most holy, he and his sons forever, to burn incense before YHWH, to serve Him and bless in His name forever.

As set-apart priests, Aaron and his descendants were to remove themselves from the consumption of alcohol so they could maintain the separation between the holy and the unhallowed:

Leviticus 10:8-11

YHWH then spoke to Aaron, saying, “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you do not die—it is a permanent statute throughout your generations— and to make a distinction [a separation: u-la-ha-v’dil] between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which YHWH has spoken to them through Moses.”

The tribe of Levi was also singled out to carry the ark of the covenant:

Deuteronomy 10:8-9

At that time YHWH singled out [hi-v’dil] the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of YHWH, to stand before YHWH to serve Him and to bless in His name, until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion of inheritance with his brothers; YHWH is his inheritance, just as YHWH your God spoke to him.

The Fallen Set-Apart People

This incredible honour, bestowed on the Hebrew people, was not always cherished. Over and over they turned away from YHWH and turned towards other gods to worship. But YHWH was always willing to forgive His people. Solomon knew this and he prayed that YHWH would forgive His singled-out people:

1 Kings 8:50a, 52-53

[Solomon in prayer to YHWH:] Forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their wrongdoings which they have committed against You, and make them objects of compassion… so that Your eyes may be open to the pleading of Your servant and to the pleading of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to You. For You have singled them out [hi-v’dal’tam] from all the peoples of the earth as Your inheritance, just as You spoke through Moses Your servant, when You brought our fathers out of Egypt, Lord YHWH.”

YHWH consistently forgave His chosen family, but if they were not repentant there would be an ever-growing gap between YHWH and the people: 

Isaiah 59:1-2

Behold, YHWH’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.

But your wrongdoings have caused a separation [ma-v’dilim] between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”

The prophet Ezekiel outlined the grave misdeeds of the Hebrew prophets and priests:

Ezekiel 22:25-28

There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her. Her priests have done violence to My Law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction [lo hi-v’dilu] between the holy and the common, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have closed their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am defiled among them. Her leaders within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to make dishonest profit. And her prophets have coated with whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘This is what the Lord YHWH says,’ when YHWH has not spoken.

Eventually the singled-out Hebrew nation fell so far from grace that they were overtaken by the Babylonians. But God did not forget his promise to rescue them and bring them back to their homeland. The Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, and Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, allowed a remnant of the Hebrew people to return to Jerusalem and renew their practises of faith. 

Once they had returned, they reinstated the feasts, including Passover:

Ezra 6:19-21

The exiles held the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month. For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure. Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs for all the exiles, both for their brothers the priests and for themselves. And the sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves [ha-ni-v’dal] from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek YHWH God of Israel, ate the Passover.

The chosen Hebrew people allowed “all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations” to join them in the Passover celebrations. It wasn’t about race, it was about faith in YHWH. Anyone could join YHWH’s family.

Separating the Foreigners

But as things progressed, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem continued, the people tried to return to the laws of the Torah, which was right and good, but in their zeal they made some harsh decisions:

Ezra 9:1

Now when these things had been completed, the officials approached me [Ezra], saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated [ni-v’d’lu] themselves from the peoples of the lands, as to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.”

This upset Ezra greatly. Anyone who claimed to be an image bearer of YHWH was to single themselves out and away from pagan practices, and marriage to foreigners might have been a temptation to reject YHWH. Ezra prayed to God, asking forgiveness. At the end of the prayer one of the leaders, Shecaniah, said this to Ezra:

Ezra 10:2-3a, 4

“We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let’s make a covenant with our God to send away all the wives and their children… Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”

This was a bold and radical suggestion. These women and their children had been part of the Hebrew family for, potentially, a few years. There was nothing to say that these women had led anyone into idolatry. But to counterbalance the temptation of idolatry Ezra took action and made the proclamation to divorce and separate the foreign wives and their children from the community. There were a few people who stood up and opposed this edict (Ezra 10:15) but they were outnumbered and Ezra made the call:

Ezra 10:10-12 

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to YHWH God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves [w-hi-bad’lu] from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 

Then all the assembly replied with a loud voice, “It is our duty to do exactly as you have said!”

Here’s where things get a bit murky. Their duty was not to follow what Ezra said, they were to follow what YHWH said. Did YHWH ever tell the people not to marry foreign wives? 

Once, when Moses led the people  out of Egypt and towards Canaan, they were told not to marry Canaanites (see Deut 7:3-4). But there was nothing stating that they couldn’t marry women from other nations. In fact, Moses himself was married to Zipporah, who was a Midianite. Boaz was married to Ruth, a Moabite; David was married to Maacah, a Geshurite and daughter of Talmi, king of Geshur; and Solomon was married to Naamah, an Ammorite. There was nothing sinister about the marriage of two people devoted to YHWH, regardless of their racial background.

A wife who tempted a husband into changing their allegiance from YHWH to pagan gods (like Jezebel did) was not good. But a foreign wife who placed her faith in YHWH (like Ruth did) was to be wholly adopted into the chosen family (as Ruth was).

In fact, foreigners who chose to follow YHWH were to be wholly accepted because YHWH accepted them:

Isaiah 56:3a, 7

[YHWH:] Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to YHWH say, “YHWH will certainly separate [separate separate: ha-v’del ya-v’dilani] me from His people…

 …the foreigners who join themselves to YHWH, to attend to His service and to love the name of YHWH, to be His servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath so as not to profane it, and holds firmly to My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer.

Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

The decision of Ezra and the leaders of the people, to divorce the wives and ban them and their children, was in opposition to how YHWH cherished human connections and hated divorce. This kind of religious fundamentalism lacked compassion and tore apart the family community.

Ezra’s decision also glaringly opposed Paul’s teaching:

1 Corinthians 7:12-14

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if any woman has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

Ezra understandably compared his community to the wilderness wanderers of Moses and the people entering the lands of the Canaanites. And YHWH specifically told Moses and His holy people to not marry the Canaanites because they would lead them into pagan worship (Deut 7:3-4). To Ezra the foreigners around them were like the Canaanites and so they purged them out of the community, not because they weren’t a holy people (which was the emphasis in the Deuteronomy passage), but because they were not of the holy race:

Ezra 9:2

For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race [seed] has intermingled with the peoples of the lands.

This emphasis on race over people was not the separation that YHWH was looking for. In fact that kind of racial separation encouraged many to embrace horrific belief systems that led to atrocities like the holocaust and other forms of racial segregation and apartheid.

Segregation and separation divides people, and it was never the goal for the Hebrew people to stay separated from the rest of YHWH’s followers. All of humanity was created to be the image bearers of God, not just the Hebrew people. The adoption of other nations into the family of God was part of YHWH’s endgame. 

The chosen people were set apart so they could be the nation to deliver the Messiah, but the Messiah would come for all people of all nationalities. He was the redeemer of the world, not of one race, but of all people. Paul boldly claimed that the Gentiles werefellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in the Messiah Jesus through the gospel [Ephesians 3:6]. 

YHWH wanted to save all of humanity… they were all his children. This was reflected in the words of the Messiah, prophesied by Isaiah:

Isaiah 49:5-6

And now says YHWH, who formed Me [the Anointed One] from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (for I am honoured in the sight of YHWH, and My God is My strength), He says, 

“It is too small a thing that You [the Messiah] should be My [YHWH’s] Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the protected ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Yeshua would light up all the nations, from every corner of the earth. That was His purpose, to open the gates of heaven to all the inhabitants of the world. A ticket to Eden was theirs for the taking, if they wanted it. 

But that’s just the thing… many people had no desire to accept the free gift of salvation. They separated themselves out of the family of God and chose to live on their own.

Image by Kristin Baldeschwiler

Singled out for the Grave

YHWH wanted all of humanity to bond together as children of God and be united as a family, but that’s not fully possible in a world where the division of power, sex, and economic status had a firm and unwavering hold. In the end, there would be one great separation in the human story.

All who rejected YHWH, who turned away from the gift of life that YHWH offered, would be separated from YHWH’s people and go to the grave. It was the choice they made.

The Torah gave us a foreshadowing of this final judgement. God had singled out the family of Korah to be ministers to the tabernacle congregation, but Korah and his family did not respond well to their calling. They desired more power and possessions… and they disobeyed God to get what they wanted. So YHWH separated them out again, this time to their destruction.

Numbers 16:8-11, 20-24

Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: Is it too small an honour for you that the God of Israel has singled you out [hi-v’dil] from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to perform the service of the tabernacle of YHWH, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? But are you seeking the priesthood as well? Therefore you and your whole group are the ones gathered together against YHWH; but as for Aaron, who is he, that you grumble against him?”…

…Then YHWH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate [hi-bad’lu] yourselves from among this congregation, so that I may consume them instantly.” 

But they fell on their faces and said, “God, the God of the spirits of humanity, when one person sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?

Then YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from the areas around the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’”

At first YHWH asked Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation, but they implored YHWH to resist destroying the entire congregation. YHWH heard their pleas and asked the entire congregation to move away from the tents of Korah and his family. Only those who had turned away from God’s grace, and the gifts He offered, would be singled out for destruction. The family of Korah was swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:32-33) because they did not embrace God or His plan for them. They wanted power on their own terms… and they followed that power to the grave.

Those who turned away from YHWH would be, at their own choosing, separated from God and the eternal life He offered. Those who chose other gods, made of wood and stone, signed their own death certificates… they would be swallowed up, annihilated, and removed from God’s Kingdom. They had the chance to repent, but their stubbornness and penchant for destruction brought them to their own demise: 

Deuteronomy 29:19-21

And it shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will consider himself fortunate in his heart, saying, ‘I will do well though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land along with the dry.’ 

YHWH will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of YHWH and His wrath will burn against that person, and every curse that is written in this book will lie upon him, and YHWH will wipe out his name from under heaven. And YHWH will single him out [w-hi-v’dilow] for disaster from all the tribes of Israel, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant which is written in this Book of the Law.

The desire for the wicked to destroy the watered land along with the dry was an attack on YHWH’s created earth. It pointed back to the creation narrative where YHWH separated the waters from the land. In the end, YHWH would not let the wicked destroy His creation. There would be a final judgement where the names of the destroyers would be wiped out and they would not enter YHWH’s Kingdom.

Yeshua (Jesus) also referred to this final judgement:

Matthew 25:31-46

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate [Greek: aphorisei] them from one another, just as the shepherd separates [Greek: aphorizei] the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 

And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you accursed people, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 

Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or as a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 

Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for Me, either.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There would be a separation between those who reflected God in their lives and those to rebelled against God in their lives. The fire was eternally waiting to consume and wipe out God’s adversaries. And who were the adversaries? Those who ignored God’s commands to show compassion to a hurting world, and those who put their allegiance in power over people, rather than submitting to God’s will that we be servants to each other. The wicked would be annihilated and dead forever, but those who compassionately loved God, and others, would be alive forever. 

No Longer Separated

Paul was a champion of human equality. He understood that the duty for the Hebrew people to be set apart was no longer their own duty once the Messiah arrived. The Jews were set apart to be the family to usher in the Messiah, and that Messiah would save the whole world. Now that Yeshua had come, the separation between Jew and Gentile was no longer necessary. They were to be both set apart as holy. Together they were to become one body, one Temple, one created humanity to work, and serve, and worship God in unity.

Paul wanted the Gentiles to know that they were to be in full partnership together with, and no longer separated from, the Jewish people:

Ephesians 2:12-22

[Paul to the Gentiles:] Remember that you were at that time separate from the Messiah, excluded from the people of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Jesus the Messiah you who previously were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two one new person, in this way establishing peace; and that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 

So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the Messiah Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Humanity was meant to unite under the loving guidance of YHWH and Yeshua made that possible by His painful and loving sacrifice.

Matthew 27:46-51

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli Eli lema sabaktanei?” that is, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” 

And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, “Let us see if Elijah comes to save Him.” 

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and gave up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

When Yeshua died on the cross, the veil of the Temple split in two. Why? Because the separation from God had ended. Yeshua paid the price so that we could freely walk into God’s heavenly Kingdom and stand face to face with YHWH our Creator. All together one world, one nation, standing and worshiping in the Presence of YHWH… what a day that will be!

Next week: (Good) Morning

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