The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus) - Lesson 3

By Glen Pemberton

Lev 1-7 (Part I)

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will discuss basic ideas included in the concept of atonement in the Old Testament.
  2. The student will discern that sacrificial atonement, as taught inLeviticus and the prophets, was to be the expression of a humble and contrite heart, not a meaningless ritual. The attitude of the heart was God's greatest concern.
  3. The student will agree that atonement (i.e., salvation) in theOld Testament was by the grace of God, not human works.
  4. The student will recognize the connection between God's decision to live with his people (Exodus 25-40) and the role of atonement sacrifice to make this possible.


  1. A Bible for each Student.
  2. A chalk board or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #3 ("The Sacrifices of Leviticus 1-7"). Special Note: This worksheet will be used for both this lesson and the next. Consequently, not all the blanks on the worksheet will be filled out at the end of this class.


God decided that to resolve the problems created by human sin he would enter a special relationship with Israel, a relationship that included "pitching his tent" and living among them (Exod25:8). The crisis at Mt. Sinai (Exod 32-34; lesson #2)demonstrated the danger and apparent impossibility of such a close relationship: How can a holy God live with the unholy people whom he loves without destroying them? The early chapters of Leviticus respond to this crisis. God provides a sacrificial system for making atonement, i.e., keeping the tent and the people clean. We should not understand atonement sacrifice as an effort by the Israelites to save themselves by good works. This lesson, rather, will demonstrate that at the heart of sacrificial atonement is God's concern for the heart of the sinner. Further, God was the one who created and initiated the system (not Israel); God was the one who declared the system potent to cleanse (not Israel); and God was the one who provided the sacrifices for atonement (not Israel). In other words, sacrificial atonement in the book of Leviticus taught theIsraelites that "by grace you have been saved through faith,and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the results of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Welcome visitors and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Spend time taking prayer requests and leading the class in prayer.

Learning Experiences

  1. Review and set the stage for today's study.
    1. In the book of Exodus, God rescued the Israelites fromEgypt and invited them to enter a special relationship with him (Exod 19:3-6). This relationship had several features:
      1. God called Israel to become a "priestly nation" that would reach out to the rest of God's world.
      2. God set out basic requirements for maintaining the covenant ? the ten commandments (Exod 20).
      3. God wanted to live with his people in an intimate daily relationship, to pitch his tent and camp with them(Read Exod 25:8). Consequently, God calls Moses up the mountain to give him specific plans for his tent(Exod 25-31).
    2. Events at Mount Sinai, however, demonstrate the incredible danger of the presence of God among his people.
      1. Q. Can anyone remember what Aaron and the people did at the foot of the mountain while Moses was receiving plans for God's tent? A. Aaron made golden calf and declared that "these are your gods, who brought you out of Egypt" (Exod 32:4). They broke the essence of God's covenant with them: No other gods before me (Exod 20:3).
      2. Consequently, God threatens (and appears resolved) todo two things.
        1. Q. What is God's first threat? A. Destroy all the people and start over with Moses (Exod 32:7-10).
          1. Q. Does this happen? A. No.
          2. Q. Why not? A. Among other things,Moses reminds God of his promises to Abraham.
        2. Q. What is God's second threat? A. Refuse to go with the people to the promised land.
          1. Q. Why? A. If God goes with them he will kill them because they are "stiff-necked" (ReadExod 33:5).
          2. Q. What would be some of the ramifications of God's refusal to go? A. Forget the tabernacle! God is not going to live with them.
          3. Q. Does this happen? Do they leave Sinai without God? A. No. Moses again successfully intervenes on behalf of the people and God agrees to go (Exod 33:12-16; 34:8-10).
          4. So, at the end of the book of Exodus the tabernacle is completed and God moves into the tent.
    3. The problem raised by the crisis at Sinai, however, has not been resolved.
      1. God has agreed to live among his people, but they are still "stiff-necked" and unholy.
      2. How can a holy God live with the unholy people he loves without destroying them? How can this relationship ever work?
  2. [Leviticus 1-7]
    1. Leviticus begins where Exodus ends.
      1. In Exod 40:34, the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle.
      2. Read Lev 1:1. Now, the Lord speaks to Moses from the tabernacle. And the Lord immediately begins to giveMoses instructions regarding sacrifice (Read Lev 1:2-4).
        1. Leviticus 1-7 contains instruction regarding several different types of sacrifice (e.g., whole burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering,and guilt offering).Note to the Teacher: Next week's lesson will further examine these sacrifices.
        2. Two of these sacrifices include (as primary) the purpose of atonement: the sin (purification) offering(4:1-5:13), and the guilt offering (5:14-6:7).(WKSH - Purpose of Sin & Guilt Offering:Atonement) The burnt offering also includes the idea of atonement, but apparently as a secondary concern (1:2-17, esp. 4; see next lesson.)Note to the Teacher: The sin offering and guilt offering are distinct sacrifices that have different specific purposes. However, for the sake of simplicity, this lesson will combine these sacrifices under the name "atonement sacrifice."
      3. Do not miss the connection! Q. What is the solution to the crisis raised at Sinai? How can a holy God live with the people he loves without destroying them? A."Atonement" Sacrifice.
        1. The concept of "atonement" (Hebrew: kipper) is complex and hotly debated among scholars.
        2. At the very least, atonement in the OldTestament includes the following ideas: Note toTeacher: As time allows, read a few of the texts in order to help the student understand each point. The texts are listed in order of clarity and importance for the point.
          1. An action that restrains or calms anger,including the reversal of consequences (Gen32:20 [NIV "pacify" = kipper]; Prov 16:14 [NIV"appease" = kipper]; Num 16:44-48; 25:11-13).(WKSH - Restrains or calms anger)
          2. Atonement is an act cleansing or removal of a threat to a relationship. Atonement removes the cause for offense and thereby reconciles the involved parties (Isa 6:7; Lev 10:17; 16:30).(WKSH - Cleanses or removes an offense)
          3. Atonement, consequently, brings forgiveness to the sinner (e.g., Lev4:20,26,31,35; 5:6,10,15,16,18,26). (WKSH ?Forgiveness of the sinner)
          4. Atonement may consecrate people or things to an especially holy status (Exod 29:36-37; Lev 8:15). (WKSH ? Consecrate to an especially holy status)
      4. Through atonement sacrifice, then, God provides a way whereby he can live with the people he loves without destroying them.
        1. Sacrifice that restrains and calms God's anger.
        2. Sacrifice that cleanses the people and their impurities that infect them and God's tent.
        3. Sacrifice that leads to the forgiveness of the people.
        4. Sacrifice that consecrates God's tent, its furnishings, and its special ministers as holy.
      5. Two observations:
        1. This system of sacrificial atonement was God's idea, not Moses' or the people's.
        2. This system obviously worked. God does travel with his people to the land and live with them. But how did it work? Really? How could and did sacrifice enable God to live with his people? This is the focus of the rest of today's lesson.
    2. According to the instructions in Leviticus 1-7, there were 4prerequisites of a person who brought an atonement sacrifice. In other words, a person cannot just show up,offer a sacrifice and assume that everything is okay. For an atonement sacrifice to be effective, the person must do the following.
      1. Realize their offense. (WKSH ? The person must realize their offense) A person must become aware of a specific sin (Read Lev 4:13-14a). Notice: It is only after they become aware of their sin that they bring a sacrifice (see also 4:22-23, 27-28; 5:3,4).
        1. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance of sin threatens continued violation, the infection of God's tent, and prevents sacrificial atonement. Yes, God does forgive hidden sin (Ps 19:12). But sacrificial atonement dealt only with known sin.
        2. Sin is too serious and atonement too costly forLeviticus to suggest a routine atonement sacrifice for"generic" sin. The Levitical writer would be aghast at our frequent and somewhat flippant prayer "forgive us of all our sins." Sin is too serious and atonement too costly for such generalizations.
      2. Recognize their guilt. (WKSH: The person must recognize their guilt )
        1. The term translated "guilt" in most English translations (Hebrew: Asham) carries two distinct ideas.
          1. To be guilty in an objective sense (Lev4:13-14; 5:2). When persons sin they are guilty? whether or not they realize they have sinned or feel guilty.
          2. To feel guilty, to recognize and accept one's guilt.
            1. Read Lev 5:3-5. Notice: Here "guilt"comes after the realization of the offense.
            2. In an objective sense, the person is already guilty (whether or not they realize it).
            3. But in a subjective sense, only after the person becomes aware of their sin and feels guilt will they be in a position to bring a sacrifice.
            4. Read Lev 6:4-5. Notice: Again, it is only when a person has "realized their guilt"(begun to feel guilty) that they are to take action.
        2. When a person sins the person is guilty, whether or not they feel guilty. However, a person who brings an atonement sacrifice must feel guilt or remorse for their actions.
      3. Confess their sin. (WKSH: The person must confess their sin)
        1. Read Lev 5:4-6.
          1. In Leviticus, outside this text, confession is only mentioned in 16:21 (day of atonement)and 26:40 (for the nation).
          2. Consequently, it is not entirely clear whether such confession was required for sins other than those mentioned in chapter 5 (e.g.,failure to testify in court, failure to keep an oath).
        2. However, by nature, atonement sacrifice demanded an admission of guilt. The presentation of the sacrifice itself was confessional.
      4. Make restitution (when appropriate). (WKSH ? The person must make restitution)
        1. Read Lev 5:15-16 and 6:5-6. Notice: When a person had sinned in such a way as to damage the property of the tabernacle or the possession of any other person, before bringing a sacrifice ? the person must make restitution!
        2. Atonement with God cannot ignore the damage done to others.
    3. Then, and only then, would
      1. A person
        1. Present an atonement sacrifice (4:28).
        2. Lay their hands on the head of the animal (4:29).
        3. Slaughter the animal (NB: The person, not the priest kills the animal [4:29]). (WKSH ? The person kills the animal)
      2. A priest
        1. Use the blood as a "ritual detergent" to cleanse the tabernacle (4:30) (WKSH ? The priest manipulates the blood)
        2. Burn the animal on the altar (4:31)
        3. Eat part of the offering (6:26,29)
      3. The four prerequisites reveal a fundamental principle of atonement: God's greatest concern is for the heart of the person!
        1. Each of these prerequisites focuses on the heart or attitude of the person.
          1. A person must be aware of his offense and realize his/her guilt (remorse)
          2. A person must confess and make restitution.
          3. In other words, the person must repent before bringing the sacrifice. A person who offers a sacrifice without the proper attitude of contrition and repentance is wasting his time.
      4. The practice of sacrifice was never intended to be mere external rituals, but action flowing naturally from a broken heart. (WKSH ? Basic idea - The Heart andForgiveness)
      5. Over time, for many people, sacrifice became a meaningless ritual. But this was not the original idea behind sacrifice.
        1. The prophets of ancient Israel clearly express the original idea and urge the people to restore this idea:
          1. Isaiah 1:11-17 (Read if time permits)
          2. Hosea 6:6; 8:11-13
          3. Micah 6:6-8
          4. Amos 5:21-24
        2. The prophets were not opposed to sacrifice, but to meaningless sacrifice in which a person went through the motions without the proper attitude.
    4. But, still, how could it work? How could the sacrifice of an animal work atonement?
      1. Read Lev 17:11. Notice:
        1. The idea and initiative for sacrificial atonement came from God, not Moses or the people. Atonement sacrifice is God's gift.
        2. The potency of the blood to atone was due toGod's decision and declaration.
        3. The sacrifice for atonement was provided by God!"I have given it to you for ma king atonement" (Lev17:11, NRSV).
          1. Israel did not provide her own sacrifices.God gave the animals for sacrifice (because God owned their life-blood, only he could give it).
          2. Israel's atonement and salvation,therefore, was by the grace of God and only by the grace of God! (WKSH: Israel's atonement was by God's Grace and only byGod's Grace) Humans did not invent the system, make the system potent, or provide the sacrifice.
      2. A good summary for how sacrificial atonement worked in the OT is Ephesians 2:8-9 (Read).
        1. Salvation by grace is not a new idea in the NewTestament.
        2. But the continuation and ultimate expression of what God has always done.
      3. Note to the Teacher: Hebrews 10:1-4 does not contradict the clear claims of Leviticus that the sinner was forgiven when the appropriate sacrifice was made.By God's grace, sins were forgiven through the Levitical sacrifices. But these sacrifices, because they were imperfect, could not ultimately overcome the power of sin. Thus, they were a constant reminder of the power and continuing rule of sin. Only by the blood of Christ was it possible to ultimately and finally take away sin and its power over human life.

Applications: Discuss one or more of the following topics.

  1. This lesson has demonstrated that the atonement/salvation of Israel was by the grace of God.
    1. Q. Did salvation by grace in Leviticus set aside human responsibility? WKSH A. No.
    2. Q. What responsibilities did the person have in order to claim God's gift? A. Faith in God. Trust in the reliability ofGod's provisions and instructions. Penitence. Obedience toGod's instructions.
    3. Q. What relevance does this convergence of grace and responsibility have for us? What do we learn about salvation today? A. Salvation is by grace (Eph 2:8-10), but this does not exempt human responsibility to accept God's gift by obedience to God's terms.
  2. Over time, many people misunderstood and corrupted the sacrificial system instituted in Leviticus into little more than an empty ritual or a "magical" act that guaranteed God's forgiveness regardless of the attitude of the person. Q. WhatGod given acts of worship are prone to the same kind of misunderstanding and abuse today? A. (Allow time for discussion) Possible answers include worship in song,communion, baptism, and church attendance.
  3. Q. How does this study of atonement sacrifice in the OldTestament help your understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus?Q. Does this change your understanding or appreciation for this ultimate sacrifice?
  4. Q. What does this study from Leviticus teach us about our own prayers for forgiveness? A. Allow time for discussion.Requests for forgiveness should not be flippant or simply a matter of habit. A prayer for forgiveness must be preceded by repentance!


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