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    Aug 03, 2014

    Class 6: Leviticus

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, The Holiness of God, Atonement, Grace, The Law, Nature of Sin



    Good morning and welcome back! Today we’re covering the book of Leviticus.  It’s got very little narrative.  And at times it provides a lot of detail about things that seem quite unrelated to modern life.  So it’s often neglected.  But without Leviticus, we would lose a huge body of knowledge about God’s holiness, our sin, and Christ’s work on the cross.  So I’m looking forward to our time in Leviticus today.





                Let’s begin with some context.  Leviticus picks up right where Exodus left off. In fact, the entire book takes place less than a month after the tabernacle was finished[1]. It is still around the mid 15th century BC.  We’re still at the foot of Mount Sinai, where God brought the Israelites after their escape from Egypt, and where Moses received the 10 commandments.  It was on Mount Sinai where Moses also received the instructions for building the tabernacle.  And after the Israelites built it, we saw that God’s glory filled it, and it became the physical manifestation of His dwelling with His people.  So what’s next?  That’s where Leviticus comes in.

                The book’s name is derived from the Greek Septuagint, meaning, “things concerning Levites.”  But beyond just dealing with the Levites, its purpose is to further codify the relationship between God and Israel after the initial Covenant terms given at Sinai. In light of the New Covenant, Leviticus lays the foundation for Christian understandings of the need for holiness, the representative and exalted role of the high priest, and some other important theological concepts.

                In the even broader context of Biblical theology, Leviticus is another step forward.  It’s a like a pit-stop on the way to the promise land.  God is having His people remain at Mount Sinai just long enough for Moses and Aaron to receive these words on holiness.  He wants to make it clear that being the people of a holy God is no light matter. 



    Our theme sentence this week is an easy one:


    God is holy, and therefore His people must be holy too.


    To be holy is to be distinct, to be different, and to be wholly pure.  God is holy like this.  He’s unlike any thing or anyone.  He is perfect.  There is no flaw in Him at all.  He has no shortcomings in ethics, wisdom, justice, or any other virtue.  And because God is holy, His people, must also be holy.  Why?  Because as His people, they say something about Him to rest of the World. 


    Let's start with a question before we get into Leviticus.  Why is it important for God's people to be holy?


                The outline printed in your handout allows you to quickly see how Leviticus emphasizes these themes and it’s this outline that we’ll be using in our review this morning.


    Notice that the flow of the book follows a real gospel train of thought:  First there are laws to tell the Israelites how they might approach God (part I).  But when they fail in their obedience, provision is made for them in the form of a substitutionary sacrifice (part II).  Then, from that position of forgiveness and grace, the people are called to live holy lives (part III)[2]


    For the rest of the class, I’m simply going to walk you through this outline to show how Leviticus puts all these pieces together.  We’ll start with the offerings.  Then the priesthood.  Then the holiness code—which is both 11-15 and 18-27.  And we’ll finish with the section in between, 16-17, the Day of Atonement.


    Chapters 1-7: The Offerings

    Chapters 1 though 7 explain how ordinary Israelites are to bring offerings to God. There are five main offerings: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering.


    We’ll start with the burnt offering; it’s meant as atonement for sin.  Look at chapter 1, verses 3-5.


    “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.


    The placing of the hands on the head is a symbolic act of the transfer of the sinner’s guilt onto the bull.  Then the bull is killed for that person’s sins.  So when an Israelite is aware of his sin, this is what he needed to do.  How many bulls, sheep, goats, birds, etc. do you think a single Israelite might offer in his entire adult life?  You think the Lord takes sin seriously?  Well, the Israelites had that graphically imprinted on them through these offerings.


                Then we have the grain offerings (2:1), offered as acts of devotion and remembrance.   And there were peace offerings (3:1), which emphasized the fact that all that belonged to the Israelites was really the Lord’s (3:16-17).  Another offering was the sin offering (4:3), which was meant to cover sins that were unintentional, or done in ignorance (4:2).  Even if one doesn’t know some action is a sin, it still is.  God’s standards are measured by His own holiness, not by our own awareness.  Interesting thought.  Did you ever think that if you didn’t mean to sin, it wasn’t sin?  Apparently, intentions aren’t everything.

    Finally, there is the guilt or trespass offering (5:6), which is meant to highlight the wickedness of sin and atone for it at the same time.  This particular one is to be offered when one becomes ritually unclean or sins against his neighbor.


    Then, chapters six and seven layout how these sacrifices are to be made. Every detail is laid out: how much of what offering is to be sacrificed, how animals are to be slaughtered, what utensils are and are not to be used, etc. God intends his people, both then and now, to feel the sheer burden caused by our sin.  What’s most noteworthy here is the uncompromising exactness of our Holy God—all as a foreshadowing of how Christ was the perfect lamb who was slain on our behalf.




    Chapters 8-10: Establishment of the Priesthood

                Having established how individuals are to offer sacrifices, Leviticus now turns to how the nation as a whole is to worship the Lord. Looking at chapters 8-10, we see Aaron’s appointment as Israel’s first high priest with all of his decedents “set apart” as priests (cf. Exodus 28.1). Within these chapters are more regulations and guidance on how priests are to conduct themselves in the execution of their duties. Again, the main lesson for us is that the sins of God’s people require great effort to be “covered” by a seemingly unending flow of sacrificial blood. And once again, Christians are reminded of how Christ perfectly fulfilled his role as our “great high priest.”  After his sacrifice was complete, the great curtain in the holy of holies that separated God from man was torn in two.  Now, God’s people are now able to boldly approach the throne of grace in the name of Jesus without any human priest as mediator.



                With that, let’s dive into the text.  Turn to chapter 9.  We’re going to start in verse 22.  What’s going on here is that God has just given all these directions I mentioned, and Aaron has followed all the directions.


    And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.


    This is a real climax to the book so far.  We’ve had 9 long chapters of what to do with dead animals, oil, fat, kidneys, flanks, livers, blood, fire, clean things, unclean things, priestly clothes, and the proper days to do it all on.  There is exactness in all that God commanded.  Then, in this amazing display, God shows that he has accepted the Israelites’ worship.  Of course the people fell on their faces. 


                But the story doesn’t end there.  Let’s keep reading.  Chapter 10, verses 1-3.


    1Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.


    What does Moses mean that they offered “unauthorized” fire?  [WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO ANSWER]  Other translations call it “strange” fire, or “profane” fire.  In short, it is fire, and worship, that God has not commanded.  Aaron’s sons have here decided to worship God their own way.  They’re seeking to worship God.  They’re not worshipping some false God.  But they are worshipping God according to the dictates of their own hearts, not according to the way God has instructed.  Their worship may have been well-intentioned.  But good intentions are not what matters. Nadab and Abihu did not regard God as holy.  They did not treat Him as distinct.  Rather, they disobeyed and risked leading all of Israel into disobedience and were, therefore, punished. God will defend His name by guarding His holiness. 


    [Briefly Take Questions]


    Chapters 11-15, 18-27: The Holiness Code—Then and Now

                Let’s move along to chapters 11-15 and 18-27 that’s sometimes called the “Holiness Code.” We’ll deal with these two sections together.  They are the chapters, maybe you’ve read them before, about which kinds of foods the Israelites can or can’t eat, or even touch.  There are laws concerning ritual cleanliness in childbirth and when someone has leprosy.  There are directions about what to do if someone has a bodily discharge.  There are even instructions about what to do if a bodily discharge touches a particular piece of pottery or wood.  Now what in the world could be the significance of all that? 


    The answer is in chapter 11, verses 44 and 45, the first of an oft-reoccurring statement in Leviticus.  Turn there with me.


    “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”


    The Israelites are to be holy because God is holy.  The reason for all these commands is so that the Israelites can be holy, distinct, different—an accurate reflection of the God they represent.


    This teaching is all over Leviticus, and we would do well to take it seriously.  Look at 20:26


    “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”


    There you hear the explicit setting apart from the other nations.  22:31-32:


    “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord.  And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel.


    Does anyone know what it means to “profane” God’s name?  [WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO ANSWER]  It means to treat as common or ordinary or mundane that which is really special and distinct.  So God’s “name,” that is to say, His image and reputation, is tagged onto Israel.  So they can’t be a people who take this identification with God lightly or irreverently.


    God is giving them these commands so that in their everyday lives, they’ll be reminded that they are a holy nation, a people set apart for the Lord.  God has written it into their very culture that wherever they turn, they will be reminded of their distinct status, and their call to be holy.


    Now do we need to obey these laws?  Do we need to pay attention to what we eat and touch and so forth in order to be holy, or in order to draw near to God?  We’ll talk about this more in a few weeks, so no need to answer this question fully today.  But in short, No.  We are not the nation-state of Israel under the old covenant.  We are not called to be a political-geographic-nation distinct from the other nations.  All of the law was fulfilled in Christ.  And these particular laws were fulfilled in Christ in such a way as to no longer govern us.  That said, we are also to be a special people, set apart by and for the Lord.  The Church is called to be holy for the same reason that Israel was. Israel bore the name of the One who delivered them from Egypt and bondage.  And just like them, we proclaim with our lives the glories of the One who has delivered us out of the bondage of sin and death!*


    1 Peter 1:14-16 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”




    16:1-34: The Day of Atonement

    So that was the holiness code.  But you’ll notice that we’ve skipped over the section sandwiched in the middle—the “grace” section of our outline as I laid it out at the beginning of class.  That’s where we’ll focus now.  In chapter 16, we find an annual ceremony for the Israelites.  It’s called the Day of Atonement.  One day out of the year where God would provide a way by which everyone’s sins would be covered—atoned for—and the nation made holy again.


    We’ve already seen that the priests make sacrifices every day for all kinds of sins.  But what about reconciliation?  Is there any provision made for the people to be reunited with God after they’ve sinned?  No.  And that’s where the Day of Atonement comes in.  Reconciliation will require the sacrifice of a substitute and prayer on behalf of the people.  Then the high priest will return to the people with the joyful declaration that their sins have been atoned for and that the people are now reconciled to God!  Let’s look at the Day of Atonement. 


    Look at verse 16:2.  “And the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.”


    The Most Holy Place was the most inner part of the tabernacle.  It was where God’s very glory dwelt.  Why would Aaron die if he went in?  [WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO ANSWER]  The glory of the Lord would crush him because of his sin.  So the high priest can’t just go in there whenever he wants to.  Look at verses 3-6.


    But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

    “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house.

     First, Aaron must atone for his own sins.  That’s verse 11.  Only with a sacrifice of atonement can he enter into the Most Holy Place.  But he still has to do so very carefully.  Look at verses 13-14.


    And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.


    The smoke was meant to cover the glory of the Lord so that it wouldn’t lash out and consume him! 


    Now that his own sins are covered he can commence his role as representing the people and interceding for the people.  First he’ll take two goats to the entrance.  One goat is used for a sin offering for the entire nation, and the other will serves as a scapegoat.  Then, after Aaron has atoned for his own sins, he can make atonement for the people.  That’s verse 15.  Then verses 16-19 show that the blood of the sin offering is for cleansing the Most Holy Place, the tabernacle, and the altar that are defiled because of the people’s sins.  


    Next, Aaron will deal with the scapegoat.  Look at verses 21-22. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.  The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”


    This was a powerful visual parable.  The people would all see their sins being transferred to the head of this goat, and watch as their sins were, metaphorically, taken away – never to be seen again! 


    This ritual was to be performed once a year.  Every year.  As verse 30 says, it is a “statute forever.”


    It was a serious and solemn day.  And at the same time, it was a joyous occasion because on this day all the sins of the nation were forgiven and they were reconciled to God.  It is still a very important day on the Jewish calendar.  It’s called Yom Kipper. 


                Now, why did I take you through all that detail?  Well, think about it.  All that to do.  All that blood.  Such a tedious process year after year.  Great that sins were forgiven, but it would have to be done again the next year.  Blood is all over the place, and everyone has to come watch.  How serious God must take sin!  All this emphasizes God’s holiness.  It emphasizes the people’s sinfulness.  It this emphasizes God’s grace.  And all this emphasizes that it doesn’t really work.  Jump ahead to Hebrews, chapter 10.


    1For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.


    The author of Hebrews continues, explaining that the priests performed their duties endlessly—because the problem of sin was never solved.  But Jesus?  “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”


    His work, as he said on the cross, was FINISHED.  We are justified in His sight! 


    So why is the Day of Atonement the centerpiece of the book of Leviticus?  Because the law was never intended to be something that would be kept perfectly by anyone except Jesus.  It was there to show our need for a Savior.  And the Day of Atonement was the clearest expression of that.




    Conclusion and Application

                The call to be holy is a serious one, and we hear it with great sobriety.  But we hear it as people who are aware of our sin and in need of atonement outside of ourselves.  We look to Jesus to establish our standing before the Lord.  We will never reach God’s perfect standard of holiness this side of heaven, and so we need the Lord Jesus Christ; we need the gospel.  Then with the grace God gives, we can live distinct lives – lives of faith and obedience.


    Let’s make two points of application before we close. First, feel the weight of sin. If there is one thing made perfectly clear in the book of Leviticus, it is that our sin has massive consequences and can only be properly dealt with through the shedding of blood. And keep in mind, as we read in Hebrews, that even all of this never fully dealt with sin.  All the sacrifices, all the regulations, all the warnings, all the prohibitions, and all the commands found in this book have a single purpose.  To drive us to God’s provision for our sins.  Ultimately, what’s this provision?  It’s the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross! Be encouraged once again by the author of the book of Hebrews:


    Hebrews 10:19-23  19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled cleanfrom an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.


                Second, if your are a Christian, look forward to the day when all sin is done and we are freed to worship God in perfect holiness for all eternity!! John’s Revelation concludes with a stirring account of this future day:


    1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”


    This is our great hope! Yes our sin is heavy and costly, but it is not forever if we know Christ! It is a passing burden that has been atoned for by our great high priest. There will come a day when all is made new.  When you and I will sing the glories of God face to face with our Creator.  Because He has removed all barriers, all hindrances, all sin! Live in joyful expectation of this day and pray that God will keep you and sustain you so that we might all be together once more in eternity.






    [1] Between the first month of the year (Ex. 40.1, 34-35; Lev. 1.1) and the second month of the year (Num. 1.1) following the exodus from Egypt

    [2] As a practical help, I encourage you to note the following key passages for further study:

    • Lev. 17.11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”
    • Lev. 20.7-8: “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”
    • Lev. 16: Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is the most significant day in the Hebrew calendar because this is when the high priest entered into the holy of holies within the tabernacle to, “make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” (Lev. 16.30)


    * So the call to be holy remains, it just manifests itself in a different way in light of what Jesus has done, as He Himself says, “18 "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'?  19 For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")  20 He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.'  21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" (Mark 7.18-23)

    You see, the intent was never to make some legalistic standard that anyone could live up to by sheer force of will, but to remind the Israelites of how they are different.  Now that the promised Messiah has come, the principle is the same, but the manifestation is different.  We have things like baptism and the Lord’s supper to remind us of our uniqueness and special obligation to be ethically upright.  So we focus on our hearts, and we guard our hearts, so that we can be different in areas such as evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.