The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus) - Lesson 4

By Glen Pemberton

Lev 1-7 (Part II)

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will be able to describe the book of Leviticus as a whole and the persons for whom the book was written and its general contents.
  2. The student will differentiate between common misconceptions about Leviticus (e.g., "Levitical Handbook" and "Legalistic") and what Leviticus itself teaches.
  3. The student will discern that sacrifice extended well beyond concerns for sin and impurity. Sacrifice also included celebration with family, friends, and God.
  4. The students will evaluate their own life and decide to: a) be more actively engaged in their own practice of worship and celebration before the Lord, and/or (depending of the decision of the teacher) b) be more proactive in making God a real part of their own family celebrations.


  1. A Bible for each Student.
  2. A chalk board or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #4 ("The Sacrifices of Leviticus 1-7"). Special Note: This worksheet was used in the previous lesson. The handout for today's lesson is identical to this previous worksheet except that the blanks from last week's lesson have been filled out for the student.


This lesson moves in two rather distinct directions. First, basic introductory material regarding Leviticus has been postponed until this lesson. Here, we address some basic misconceptions regarding Leviticus (e.g., "Levitical Handbook" and "Legalistic")and provide an overview of the book and its contents. Second,we return to Leviticus 1-7 to complete our study of sacrifice.The whole offering and peace offering, distinct from the atonement sacrifices, emphasize the commitment and,especially, the joy of a person who lives in the presence of God.The peace offering was a celebratory meal that included the rare luxury of meat eaten with family and friends in the presence of God. Life with God includes celebration with God of the good times.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


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

Learning Experiences

  1. Now that we are well engaged in our study of the book ofLeviticus, it is appropriate to say a few things of a general nature about the book.
    1. The name of the Book. The name of the book "Leviticus" is somewhat misleading.
      1. Q. Where do we get the title "Leviticus"? A. We get this name through the Greek and (later) Latin translation Levitikon. Incidentally, the Hebrew title comes from the opening word of the book vayyiqra' ("and he called").
      2. The English title seems to suggest that:
        1. The book was intended for the Levites.
        2. The book was not really intended for the people of Israel.
      3. Both conclusions are incorrect.
        1. The Levites, as a distinct group, are only mentioned in one short text (25:32-34).
        2. Even if we define Levites more generally as"priests," it is still incorrect to say that the book ofLeviticus was primary for the priests.
          1. Only a few texts are spoken exclusively to the priests (6:1-7:21; 10:8-15; and 16:2-28).
          2. The book of Leviticus, as a whole, is addressed to all the people of Israel (see 1:2["speak to all the people of Israel"]; 4:2;7:22,28; 11:1-2; 12:1-2; 15:1-2, etc.).
      4. Leviticus was not a priestly handbook!
        1. Leviticus, as we have already seen, instructsIsrael how to live in the presence of a holy God. This is not a concern or responsibility for priests alone,but for all God's people.
        2. Therefore, the teachings of Leviticus describe the responsibility of both priests and people.
    2. The contents of Leviticus. Although we began to study the first 7 chapters of Leviticus last week (atonement sacrifice),again it is appropriate to pause for a few more minutes today to take a "walking tour" of the book to better orient our study. Note to the Teacher: A longer survey of the contents of Leviticus is available in Lesson 4, Appendix I.
      1. The book of Leviticus follows a fairly clear structure or outline.
        1. Chapters 1-7: Instructions for sacrifice (we will begin studying these chapters later in this lesson).
        2. Chapters 8-10: The institution of the priesthood.Here, in one of the few narratives (stories) inLeviticus, Aaron is ordained to the position of high priest and his sons are ordained as priests.
        3. Chapters 11-15: The problem of human uncleanness and God's tent. The key idea behind these instructions is expressed in two places:
          1. Read Lev 11:44-45. God's people must be holy. Contact with certain earthly things defiles (we will study why this is the case in a few weeks).
          2. Read Lev 15:31. Q. What is the purpose of keeping the people of Israel from uncleanness? A. If they are unclean, they will contaminate God's tent: and God will destroy them!
          3. The primary concern, as before, is God's presence among his people!
            1. This and the preceding material reach a climax in the next section.
          4. Chapter 16: The day of atonement (Yom Kippur).The Day of Atonement was an annual event in whichGod's people and God's tent were cleansed from all types of uncleanness, thus enabling God's continuing presence with his people.
          5. Chapters 17-26: The Holiness Code (Instruction for Holy Living)
            1. The title of this section is derived from the common refrain "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (e.g., 19:2; 20:7,26; cf.22:31-33)
            2. This long section contains practical instruction on holy living.
          6. Chapter 27: An appendix on special vows and offerings.
      2. (Summary) The theme of Leviticus is holiness. How canIsrael live in the presence of a holy God (the tabernacle)and not be destroyed?
        1. Consequently, as odd as it may seem to us, the book of Leviticus is not written in the spirit of legalism, but grace.
        2. God desperately wants to live with his people and bless them. Leviticus provides the gift of instruction for how this can be a reality.
        3. The idea that Leviticus is a harsh legal code thatIsrael must perform in order to gain her salvation simply misses the intent of the entire book.
    3. (Transition to the second half of the lesson).
      1. Last week we examined the sacrifices that had to do with atonement (the sin offering and guilt offering).
      2. Today, for the time we have remaining, we want to return to these opening chapters of Leviticus and examine two other types of sacrifice: the whole offering and the peace offering.
      3. Special Note to the teacher: The grain offering (2:1-16),for the most part, was not an independent sacrifice.Rather, grain offerings accompanied other types of sacrifices and supported their purposes.
  2. The Whole Offering and the Peace Offering
    1. The Whole Offering
      1. The ritual of the whole offering is described in Lev 1:2-17 and 6:8-13. This sacrifice has several noteworthy or distinguishing features:
        1. With the exception of the skin (given to the priests), the entire animal was to be burned or incinerated on the altar (1:6-9, 11-13, 15-17).(WKSH ? Action: Entire Animal Burned)
          1. Thus, there are several different terms or translations for this sacrifice (Hebrew: `ola)
            1. Burnt Offering (KJV, NRSV, NIV)
            2. Holocaust Offering (NJV)
            3. Whole Offering (A descriptive phrase used by many scholars to distinguish this offering from other types of sacrifices that were burnt on the altar.)
          2. One informative example of a whole burnt offering comes from Genesis 22, before Leviticus.
            1. Read Gen 22:1-2.
              1. Q. What did God command Abraham to do? A. Offer his son as a sacrifice.
              2. Q. Specifically, what type of sacrifice?A whole offering. Totally incinerated.
            2. A key element, then, of the whole burnt offering seems to be the idea of a gift completely dedicated to the Lord.
        2. The Whole Offering was presented to the Lord on many different occasions for a variety of specific purposes.Note to the Teacher: Scholars continue to debate the precise purpose of this and other sacrifices. There is overlap among the sacrifices and ambiguity. This ambiguity arises, primarily from the fact that Leviticus assumes that the reader already understands the purposes of the Whole Offering and the Peace Offering(below) and, thus, only describes the appropriate ritual.Further, some texts suggest that the specific purposes for some types of sacrifices may have changed overtime. The following is a synopsis of what Leviticus and other texts say about these sacrifices.Note to the Teacher (2): Like the Sin Offering and GuiltOffering from our last lesson, the worshipper brought the sacrifice and slaughtered it himself in the presence of a priest. Then the priest performed the various blood rituals. The key point is that the worshipper took an active rather than passive role.
          1. The Whole Offering for Atonement(Reread Lev 1:4). (WKSH ? Purpose:Atonement)
            1. In view of our study of the purification offering and guilt offering last week, the role of the whole offering in atonement is unclear.
          2. The Whole Offering for the fulfillment of a vow or freewill offering (Read Lev 22:17-19). (WKSH ? Purpose: Fulfill a Vow andFreewill Offering)
            1. Distinct from atonement, the completion of a vow or freewill offering would not be associated with sin.
            2. Rather, this offering would be of an entirely voluntary and joyful nature.
            3. An illustration of this use of a WholeOffering ? see Psalm 66:13-20 (or seeHannah's offering in I Sam 1:24f).
              1. Q. What is the attitude of the psalmist as he brings burnt offerings to theLord? A. Joy and thanksgiving.
              2. Q. Why? A. God delivered the psalmist when he cried out to him.
          3. Other texts indicate that the WholeOffering was linked to some appeal to the Lord(e.g., Saul offers a Whole Offering before a battle in I Sam 13:12 [see also II Sam 24:21-25]).(WKSH ? Purpose: Appeal to the Lord)
        3. The Whole Offering dominates the sacrifices that the priests offered on a regular basis on the Sabbath and holy days (Num 28-29).
      2. Summary: The presentation of a whole offering was an act of complete surrender and consecration from a sense of joy, thanksgiving, or perhaps sinfulness.(WKSH ? Basic Idea: Complete Surrender to God)
    2. The Peace Offering
      1. A word about translation or terminology:
        1. The traditional translation of this sacrifice (KJV -peace offering; Hebrew - shelamim) draws a connection between this sacrifice and the idea of peace (Hebrew: shalom).
        2. Other translations offer different understandings of the sacrifice: the "communion offering" (JB),"well-being offering" (NRSV), "shared offering"(NEB), and "the fellowship offering" (NIV). The cause for this variety of terms should become clear as we investigate the nature of this sacrifice.
      2. The ritual of the peace offering is described in Lev 3:1-17 and 7:11-21. Note to Teacher: If time permits, readLev 3:1-17 and ask the following questions. Most likely,you will need to summarize this material without reading the text aloud in class. This sacrifice has several noteworthy or distinguishing features:
        1. Q. How much of the animal was burned up? A.The animal was not completely burned on the altar. (WKSH ? Action: Some of the animal burned)
          1. Q. What did they do with the part that was not burned? A. Part of the meat was given to the officiating priest and another part of the meat was given to the person who brought the sacrifice to enjoy as a meal with family and friends (7:15-17, 32-34). (WKSH ? Action: The rest eaten as a special meal)
          2. In ancient Israel, as in other ancient cultures, eating meat was a rare event. ThePeace Offering, therefore, was associated with special times of joy and celebration.
          3. Further, according to Lev 17:1-9, all slaughter of domesticated animals for the purpose of food must be presented at the tabernacle as a peace offering!
        2. There were several subtypes of peace offering.These further reveal the basic nature of the sacrifice.Read Lev 7:11-12,16.
          1. Q. What are the three types of peace offerings mentioned here? A. (Briefly discuss each)
            1. Thank offering. A sacrifice given in thanks for any type of deliverance or gratitude(e.g., Ps 56:12-13). (WKSH ? Purpose:Thanksgiving)
            2. Votive offering. A sacrifice brought following the successful completion of avow (e.g., II Sam 15:7-8). (WKSH ?Purpose: Fulfill a vow)
            3. Freewill offering. A spontaneous act of worship prompted by the joy or happiness of the worshipper (e.g., Ps 54:7-8;Special note to the Teacher: The frequent mention of these and other sacrifices in the Psalms suggests that psalms were sung as a part of the sacrificial ritual event hough these are not mentioned inLeviticus.) (WKSH ? Purpose: Freewill offering)
          2. The common element in all of these sacrifices was joy and celebration! Read Deut27:6-7. (WKSH ? Basic Idea: Joy andCelebration)
          3. There are numerous specific instances of peace offerings made at times of celebration in ancient Israel: the dedication of Solomon's temple (II Chr 5:12-13), the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 12:35,41), the dedication of altars (Judg 21:4; II Sam 24:25; IIChr 33:16; II Chr 15:8-15), etc.
        3. The essence of the peace offering, therefore, is a celebratory meal enjoyed with family, friends, and in some sense - God.
          1. Reread Deut 27:7, "make sacrifices of well-being, and eat them there, rejoicing before the Lord your God" (cf. Deut 22:10-12)
          2. Look also at Deut 12:17-18 (Read).Notice the phrase "in the presence of the Lord"(See the description of such a feast in I Samuel1:3-21).
          3. God did not eat the sacrificial food (Ps50:12-13). But there is some sense of this meal being conducted in celebration with the Lord.
      3. Summary: The presentation of a peace offering, then,was a time of joy and celebration with family, friends and God.
  3. Both sacrifices we have studied today overturn common misconceptions about Israel's religion.
    1. We frequently envision Israel's sacrifices as somber rituals.
    2. The whole offering and the peace offering (especially) were not grievous demands, but associated with resounding happiness.
    3. These sacrifices were part of a person's vibrant relationship with God.

Applications: Discuss one or more of the following topics.

  1. Leviticus has often been called a "priestly handbook" and not understood as the property and responsibility of all Israel.Consequently, some have concluded that the priests were solely responsible for Israel's worship and its proper conduct.Q. Does that same idea ever influence or threaten the church?If so, how? A. (Discuss)
  2. Gordon Wenham writes, "Using a little imagination every reader of the OT soon realizes that these ancient sacrifices were very moving occasions. They make modern church services seem tame and dull by comparison. The ancient worshipper did not just listen to the minister and sing a few hymns. He was actively involved in the worship. He had to choose an unblemished animal from his own flock, bring it to the sanctuary, kill it and dismember it with his own hands, then watch it go up in smoke before his very eyes. He was convinced that something significant was achieved through these acts and knew that his relationship with God was profoundly affected by this sacrifice" (Leviticus 55). Respond to this statement.
    1. Q. Do modern church services often seem tame in comparison to what Wenham describes? If so, why? A.(Discuss)
    2. Q. What features or practices of modern church services tend to disconnect us from active participation? Is this appropriate or inappropriate? A. (Discuss)
    3. According to our study today, the special times of joy and celebration in an Israelite family were carried out in close association with God (the meat was part of a sacrifice and it was eaten joyfully "before God"). God wants to be a part of our celebrations (i.e., to really live with his people). Q. Does this generally happen in your own family? If so, can you share with the rest of the class some specific ways in which you (or others you know) include the presence of God in your times of joy? A.(Discuss) Q. Why is this important ? for us, for God? A. God is the giver of our good times and the ultimate source of our joy.A specific effort to include God is an act of gratitude and confession of ultimate dependence. This is part of what it means to live in the presence of God, in a daily relationship.
  3. Q. What aspects of our own worship would you correlate with the different types of sacrifices in ancient Israel? What insights into these practices does our study of Leviticus give you? A. (Allow time for discussion, the following points could be made)
    1. The Sin and Guilt offerings correspond to our celebration of the Lord's death in the Lord's Supper.
    2. The Whole offering corresponds to the presentation of our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1).
    3. The Peace offering corresponds to fellowship meals and, in some sense, to the communion in which we gather around the Lord's table.


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