The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus) - Lesson 8

By Glen Pemberton

Lev 16

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will be able to describe the major events of theDay of Atonement and define their significance for God's continuing fellowship with Israel.
  2. The student will identify the key attitudes of the people involved in the Day of Atonement.
  3. The student will discuss the texts in Hebrews that describeJesus' sacrifice in terms of the Day of Atonement.
  4. The student will be challenged to respond to Jesus' actions inappropriate ways.


  1. A Bible for each Student.
  2. A chalk board or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #8 ("The Day of Atonement")


The Day of Atonement seeks to resolve another aspect of the crisis created by God's intense desire to be present with his people, namely, the pollution of the most holy place (the throne room of God) in the Tabernacle by the sin and uncleanness of the people. Other procedures in Leviticus have dealt with cleansing other parts of the Tabernacle, but not this most critical and dangerous area. This day, above all others,demands a humble attitude from all participants. Aaron must remove his ornate vestments, put on the clothes of a servant,and enter God's throne room with due caution. The people must"deny" themselves, i.e., demonstrate humble and penitent hearts. All of this, again, stems from God's desire to have intimate fellowship with his people. Understanding the purpose and events of this day is critical for understanding the Hebrew writer's explanation of Jesus' sacrifice (Hebrew 9-10). Jesus entered the true throne room of God, offered his own blood(potent to deal with sin once for all), and was enthroned at the right hand of God. As a result, we now have full fellowship withGod. God's intense desire to live with his people has been made complete through Jesus.

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. The book of Leviticus continues to work out the problem created at the end of the book of Exodus.
      1. God wanted to live with his people and go with them from Sinai to the promised land (Exod 25:8).
      2. Q. Does anyone remember the problem this creates forIsrael? A. They are human! They are rebellious! If God attempts to live with them, he will kill them all before they get to the land (Exod 33:5).
      3. And yet, God is determined to live with these people! He authorizes the construction of his tent (tabernacle), his people build it (Exod 35-40), and God "moves in" (Exod 40:33-35).
    2. Q. So far, what solutions has Leviticus provided for the problem of God dwelling with his people? A. Three things:
      1. Atonement sacrifice ? a way in which both the sinner and the things contaminated by the sinner (God's tent)can be purified (Lev 1-7).
      2. Priests - consecrated for service on behalf of the people in and around the tent (Lev 8-10).
      3. Purity laws - guidelines for containing the uncleanness of the people and keeping it away from God's tent (Lev11-15).
    3. Leviticus addresses two other concerns regarding God's presence among his people; take them in reverse order:
      1. The people need specific instruction on living holy lives.We will begin to study this instruction next week fromLev 17-27.
      2. The objects of atonement, so far, have included the people, objects in the courtyard of the holy tent and the holy place in the tent. Q. What critical area has not yet been addressed? A. The Most Holy place!
        1. The Most Holy place (or Holy of Holies) was the inner most room of the tent. There was only one object in this room: the ark of the covenant.
        2. Q. What was the ark? A.
          1. A relatively small box with cherubs(angelic beings) on either end extending their wings over the box, fitted with rings for carrying(Exod 25:17-22; 37:1-9).
          2. More. Read I Sam 4:4. Q. What was the ark? A. It was the throne chariot of the Lord (cf.Num 10:35-36). (WKSH ? What was the Ark?The Throne Chariot of the Lord) The Lord sat enthroned (at least symbolically) on the outstretched wings of the cherubs (the mercy seat). Consequently, it was from this space that the Lord would speak (Exod 25:22).
          3. Turn and Read Lev 16:1-2.
            1. Q. Again, what is significant about the ark and the mercy seat? A. God appears in a cloud over the mercy seat.
            2. Q. Of what does the Lord warn Aaron? A.You cannot just enter God's throne room (the most holy place) any time you please! A person cannot view the presence of God and live (Exod33:20)!
          4. This creates a double bind for Aaron and Israel.
            1. On the one hand, the one place that most needs to be purified is the throne room (i.e., the most holy place, the place where the presence ofGod is the most intense) and throne (i.e., the ark) of God!
            2. On the other hand, the one place that no human can safely enter is the throne room of God!
      3. The cleansing of the most holy place is the explicit concern of Yom Kippur or "The Day of Atonement" found in Leviticus
  2. (WKSH - The explicit concern of the Day of Atonement was the cleansing for the throne room of God.) Note to the Teacher: In 2001, Yom Kippur falls onSeptember 27.
  3. Work through the text of Leviticus 16.
    1. Reread Lev 16:1-2
      1. Q. The instructions for the day of atonement are closely connected to what previous event? A. The death of Nadab and Abihu.
      2. Q. What is the significance of this connection? A. This isa clear warning of the danger of a human approaching the presence of God.
        1. Nadab and Abihu tried to come close and because of disobedience were struck dead.
        2. Consequently, much of the instruction in Leviticus16 will focus on how Aaron (the high priest) can successfully enter and purify (or atone) the most holy place without dying in the process.
    2. Let's begin by identifying the necessary preparations for this special day:
      1. Aaron must change his clothes. Read Lev 16:4.(WKSH ? Aaron must change his clothes)
        1. Q. What strikes you about the clothes Aaron must wear when he enters God's presence? A. These are not the ornate vestments that he normally wears( Exod 28; Lev 8) rather these are the clothes of a common servant. Only after Aaron has finished his work in the most holy place is he permitted to put the ornate clothes back on (Lev 16:23-24).
        2. Q. Do you see any significance in this changing of clothes? A. Yes. A person does not enter the presence of God dressed up like someone important,but in humility ? dressed as a servant.
        3. Special Note to the Teacher: In the not too distant past, some argued ? based on the fine clothing of the priests - that Christians should always wear their finest clothing to worship God. Oddly,these instructions for the Day of Atonement suggest exactly the opposite: When a person enters the presence of God he should be dressed in the clothing of a servant (i.e., with humility), not expensive clothes (cf. I Tim 2:9-10).
      2. The people must be involved; they are not passive bystanders. Read Lev 16:29-31. Q. What must the people do on this day? A. (Two answers from the text.)
        1. They must not do any work.
        2. They must "deny" (NRSV) themselves. (WKSH ?The people must deny themselves)
          1. The idea of "denying" oneself is presented with some clarity in Ps 35:13:"But as for me, when they were sick,I wore sackcloth;I denied myself with fasting.I prayed with head bowed on my bosom."
          2. Q. What does it mean for the people to deny themselves? A. If Israel really "denies"itself, she exhibits such actions as wearing sackcloth and fasting ? actions that stem from a humble and penitent heart.
        3. A variety of animals must be gathered for sacrifice: a bull, two goats, and two rams (Lev 16:3,5).
    3. What happened on the Day of Atonement itself?
      1. Aaron first sacrifices a sin offering (a bull) for himself and his family (16:6,11-14). (WKSH ? Aaron sacrifices a sin offering for himself) The principle:An unclean person cannot mediate for others. Aaron's impurity and sinfulness must first be atoned.
      2. Read Lev 16:11-14
        1. Q. What does Aaron do? A. In order:
          1. He takes coals and incense and brings it inside the curtain, into the most holy place and burns the incense as he enters. (WKSH -Aaron burns incense, enter the throne room… ) Q. Why? A. To provide a "smokescreen"that shields him from seeing God's glory on the mercy seat.
          2. Then he sprinkles some of the blood from his sin offering on and around the ark (throne) ofGod. (WKSH - … and sprinkles blood on and around the ark)
          3. As odd as it may seem to us, ancientIsrael viewed the sprinkled blood as a"detergent" that cleansed or purified the objects upon which it was sprinkled.
      3. Next, Aaron does the same thing with the sin offering (a goat) for the people. Read Lev 16:15.
      4. And then, Aaron sprinkles the blood on the altar in the courtyard. Read Lev 16:18-19. (WKSH ? Aaron sprinkles blood on the altar)Pause: Don't miss the explicit purpose of these actions.Read Lev 16:16-17.
        1. Q. What is the purpose of these actions? (WKSH? What is going on here? Space left for notes) A. To cleanse the sanctuary (and altar, v. 19) from the sins and impurities of Israel.
        2. Their sin and impurity infected or polluted God's dwelling place. In order for God to remain with them,his tent must be cleansed.
      5. The final major event of the Day of Atonement involved a goat.
        1. Go back and Read Lev 16:7-10.
          1. Earlier in the day, before entering the most holy place, Aaron and the people brought two goats to the entrance of the tent.
          2. Q. What did they do? A. They cast lots.One goat was selected as the people's sin offering for the Lord (see above, Lev. 16:15) and the other was for "Azazel" (16:8, NRSV).
        2. Skip ahead now and Read Lev 16:20-22.
          1. Q. What do they do with this second goat?A.
            1. Aaron lays both hands on the head of the goat and confesses the sins of the people.(WKSH ? Aaron confesses the sin of the people over the goat and sends it into the wilderness) Q. What is the significance of this action? A. This, most likely, transfers the sins from the people onto the goat.
            2. Aaron sends the goat away into the wilderness (by means of a designated person) and the goat is set free. Q. What is the significance of this action? A. Verse22 ? the goat carries away the sin of the people.
      6. Concluding activities (mention briefly, if at all)
        1. Aaron removes the linen clothes, washes, and puts his normal vestments back on (16:23-24a).
        2. Aaron offers the whole burnt offering for himself and the people (16:24b-25).
        3. The person who led the goat into the wilderness must wash himself and his clothes (16:26).
        4. The remainder of the bull and goat of the sin offerings is burned outside the camp (16:27); the person who does this must wash before reentering the camp (16:27).
    4. Summary: The Day of Atonement is, by far, the single most important ceremony in ancient Israel! Why?
      1. The sin and uncleanness of the people pollutes God's tent and everything in it.
      2. The Day of Atonement is the annual cleansing of the tent ? and especially the throne room (the most holy place). Read Lev 16:30 skip to 33-34. Notice all of the specifics that are atoned (cleansed) on this day: people(30,33), sanctuary or most holy place (33,16), tent(33), priests (33), and altar (19).


An understanding of the Day of Atonement is crucial for grasping what Jesus has done for us.

  1. God intently desires to live with his people, but his people are unclean (human) and sinful. The Day of Atonement is established for cleansing God's tent and making continued fellowship between God and his people possible.
  2. The legislation for the Day of Atonement suggests a fundamental weakness in the system: Q. For God to continue dwelling with his people what must happen every year? A. The Day of Atonement. Q. Why? A. (Allow time for discussion and stress the following two points)
    1. As soon as Aaron cleansed the throne room, the impurity of the people would begin to pollute it again.
    2. The blood of the bull and goat might cleanse the throne room from the pollution created by impurity and sin, but the blood was not potent enough to keep the pollution away.
  3. Turn to Hebrews 9.
    1. The Hebrew writer explains the work of Jesus in terms of the Day of Atonement. Read Hebrews 9:11-14. The Hebrew writer stresses two points:
      1. Jesus entered the true throne room of God, not an earthly copy or symbol. (WKSH - Jesus entered the true throne room of God)
      2. Jesus brought his own blood, not that of a bull or goat.(WKSH ? Jesus brought his own blood [potent to remove the power of sin])
    2. Skip down and Read Hebrews 9:23-28. Again, the writer stresses the superior nature of Jesus' work.
      1. Jesus entered heaven itself, the throne room of God(24).
      2. Jesus suffered once for all and offered his own blood(25-26).
    3. One more text: Read Hebrews 10:11-14 and 19-22. Q.What difference does all this make for us?
      1. Jesus has sanctified us (14) and taken away the power of sin (12). He now is enthroned at the right hand ofGod (12). (WKSH ? Jesus is now enthroned at the right hand of God)
      2. Now we have access to God and fellowship with God! We can live in the presence of God! God's desire to live with his people has been made complete through Jesus!(WKSH - God's desire to live with his people has been made complete)
    4. Q. What should our response be to this Day of Atonement? A. We cannot be passive bystanders! Like Israel, this day should humble us.


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