The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus) - Lesson 9

By Glen Pemberton

Lev 17-26

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will be able to define the limits of the holiness code and describe the purpose of this text.
  2. The student will discern the connection between God's presence among his people and the call to holiness.
  3. The student will distinguish between the intention (or nature) of the holiness code as it is stated in Leviticus and commonmis interpretations of this text.
  4. The student will recognize the continuation of the basic ideas of the holiness code in NT writings and discuss the relevance of these themes.


  1. A Bible for each Student.
  2. A chalk board or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #9 ("The Holiness Code")


Thus far, Leviticus has provided several solutions for the problem of a holy God living among humans: atonement sacrifice to purify the effects of sin and uncleanness, priests to mediate for the people, purity laws to prevent the pollution ofGod's tent, and the Day of Atonement to cleanse God's throne room once a year. The last section of Leviticus continues this concern. Israel must be holy because her God is holy. Unholy behavior (of all types ? ritual and ethical, there is no difference)pollutes God's dwelling place. Consequently, the final chapters of Leviticus (17-26) present a code of conduct for holy living ("The holiness code"). This lesson introduces the holiness code and prepares the student for focused study of specific topics from this code in the coming lessons. This lesson also considers the nature of the code. In other words, is this a "works of law"guide to earning a holy status? Or, since no human attain such holiness, does this code set up the people for failure from the beginning? In response to these questions, the student will be 1) reminded of God's previous provision of atonement sacrifice and 2) shown that ultimately, it was God that made Israel holy (sanctified them). The lesson will conclude by tracing each of these themes into the New Testament.

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. God's desire to have an intimate relationship with his people has hit obstacles from the very beginning of time.
      1. God created humanity for fellowship with him (Gen 1-2),but we rebelled.
      2. Adam and Eve (and all of us) did not trust God's gracious concern, but attempted to seize control of our own lives ? to be gods (Gen 3).
      3. Because of this decision, human life could not continue in an intimate relationship with God. God forced Adam and Eve out of the garden for their own good (Gen 3:22-24).
    2. The situation in Leviticus is quite similar to that in Gen 1-3? but in reverse.
      1. God has chosen a people for the purpose of reaching the entire world (Gen 12:1-3; Exod 19:5-6).
      2. God has redeemed this people from slavery and now desires to live with them in close fellowship (Exod 25:8).
      3. But, like Genesis 3, human sinfulness threatens to thwart God's desire. If God really lives among these people, he will end up killing all of them (Exod 33:5).
      4. Yet, God is determined to live with his people and bless the nations through them. He authorizes the construction of the tabernacle (his tent), his people build it (Exod 35-40), and God moves in with his people (Exod 40:33-35).
    3. Leviticus, as we have seen, is a direct response to the crisis created by God's liv ing among his people: How can a holyGod live among humans and not kill them all? Q. So far,what solutions or plans has Leviticus provided for this crisis?A.
      1. Atonement Sacrifice ? a means by which both a person and the things polluted by the person's sin and uncleanness can be purified (Lev 1-7).
      2. Priests - especially sanctified (made holy) to mediate between the people and God (Lev 8-10).
      3. Purity Laws - guidelines for containing the uncleanness of the people so that they do not pollute God's tent (Lev11-15).
      4. The Day of Atonement - an annual cleansing of God's throne room (the holy of holies) inside the tent and removal of the people's sin (Lev 16).Note to the Teacher: Please watch for the misconception that Israel was somehow earning or working for God's presence in these actions. These actions were God's gracious gifts to Israel so that he could continue to live with them, not works of law whereby they earned his presence.
    4. Today we turn to the last section of the book of Leviticus and the final set of instructions for living in the presence ofGod.
  2. [The holiness code]
    1. Let's begin by sketching the parameters of this section:
      1. Turn to Lev 17. After the instructions for the Day ofAtonement (Lev 16), the Lord begins a series of addresses to Moses in Lev 17. Read Lev 17:1-2 skip down and Read Lev 18:1-5 and one more, Read Lev19:1-2.
      2. This series of addresses comes to an end in Lev. 26.Read Lev 26:46. This summary statement concludes chapters 17-26 ? but we still have chapter 27 (?).
        1. Chapter 27 begins in a similar fashion to 17-26.Read Lev 27:1-2a.
        2. The chapter also concludes with a grand summary. Read Lev 27:34.
        3. Nonetheless, because the contents of this chapter are somewhat different from chapters 17-26, most scholars view it as an "appendix" to chapters 17-26.
    2. What is the overarching theme of chapters 17-26? That's easy:
      1. These chapters are punctuated with a common refrain: Read Lev 19:2; 20:7,26. Q. Just from these three verses, what appears to be the emphasis of Lev 17-26?
        1. I am the Lord - your God (WKSH - I am the Lord - Your God)
        2. I am holy (WKSH - I am holy)
        3. You, therefore, must be holy! (WKSH - You, therefore, must be holy)
      2. This theme is hard too miss as you begin to read these chapters.
        1. The Hebrew term translated (most often) as "holy" or "be holy" occurs 85 times in these chapters alone!
        2. In fact, the theme of holiness is so prevalent that most scholars simply refer to this section of Leviticus as "The Holiness Code."
      3. This text presents a code of conduct for living a holy life.
        1. Significantly, all aspects of life are included here:relationships, ethics, rituals (worship). (WKSH - A code of conduct for all aspects of life)
        2. In other words, all parts of life must be subjected to the code of holiness. Life is not divided into holy and secular! Life is treated as a whole - and all of life must be holy.
      4. Once again, this theme is directly related to the crisis created by a holy God living among his people.
        1. Read Lev 26:1-2. These specific instructions continue in verses 3-8.
        2. For now skip down to verse 9-10 and notice the promise the Lord makes if the people will obey.Read Lev 26:9-10. Pause before continuing the reading. Q. What will God do if they are faithful to him? A. Bless them richly!
        3. Watch what it all comes back to: Read Lev26:11-13. Q. What is God's great desire? A. To place his dwelling in the middle of his people, to live with them - to be their God and for them to be his people!
        4. Consequently, there is tremendous concern throughout these chapters with the pollution that is spread by unholy living and the impact of this pollution on God's presence with his people.
          1. Read Lev 18:24-30. Q. Why is God about to throw out the current residents of the land (Promised Land)? A. Because they lived sinful lifestyles and defiled (or polluted) God's land! Q. So what is the warning to Israel? A. If you commit abominations (fail to keep the Lord's instructions), you will pollute the land and it will vomit you out (28).
          2. The same basic ideas are expressed even more clearly in chapter 20. Read Lev 20:22-26.Again, Israel must obey the Lord so that thePromised Land will not be defiled and vomit them out of the land (22). Israel must act differently from the nations who have been living in the land. Israel must be holy (26).
          3. One more text. Read Lev 20:1-3.
            1. Q. First, who or what was Molech? A. ACanaanite god. One practice of the worship of Molech was child sacrifice.
            2. Q. What warning does the Lord give about worship of Molech? A. Anyone who worships Molech must be put to death.
            3. Q. Why? A. Because such an action"defiles my sanctuary and profanes my holy name" (3b). Sin is like dirt or grime that threatens to pollute God's dwelling place. Worship of Molech will certainly defile the sanctuary and threaten God's presence among his people and their well being.
      5. Don't miss how all of this ties together in these chapters.
        1. God's desire to live with his people demands all of the things we have already seen in Lev 1-16:atonement sacrifice, priests, the day of atonement,the purity laws.
        2. But God's desire to live with his people also demands that they live holy lives.
          1. Holiness is not merely a religious term that only applies to rituals and worship.
          2. Holiness includes our daily behavior, attitudes and relationships.
          3. God's people must be holy!
            1. All this is fine and good, but it creates yet another problem:How can any person live a holy life? Are the people required to be perfectly holy for God to live with them - and thus,they are set up for failure from the beginning? No! Note to the Teacher: You might want to allow some time for open discussion of this questions before stressing the following points.
              1. While the demands of holiness are made clear in the text, so is the recognition that humans are not and cannot live perfectly holy lives. (WKSH - Leviticus is clear: No human can live a perfectly holy life!)
                1. First, atonement sacrifice (Lev 1-7) is for pollution due to impurity (non-ethical) and sinfulness. Even before instruction for holy living is given in Leviticus, God has already provided a way of forgiveness and restoration. (Grace again precedes law.)
                2. Second, Read Lev 22:31-33. Look carefully at the last phrase in verse 32.
                  1. Q. What do your translations say? A.NRSV ? "I sanctify them;" NIV - "who makes you holy"
                  2. Q. What is this saying about holiness? A.Ultimately, God makes people holy, not the people themselves. (The same thing is said about the priests in Lev 21:23.) (WKSH ? Leviticus is clear: Ultimately, God makes people holy)
              2. Consequently, Leviticus does not present the holiness code (Lev 17-26) as a "works of law" guide to earn holiness. This is a later misunderstanding of the text. The holiness code is God's gracious provision of a guide for holy living. God forgives and makes people holy.
            2. In the next few classes, we will examine some of the specific topics in the holiness code. [Preview]
              1. Next week: Principles of holiness in sexual behavior
              2. In two weeks: Principles of holiness in social behavior(relationships)


      The trajectory set forth in Leviticus continues in the NT.

      1. God calls us to live holy lives! (WKSH ? God calls us to live holy lives)
        1. Read Romans 12:1-2. Q. What is our sacrifice to God? A.Holy bodies ? Holy lives that are transformed so that we understand God's instructions for our lives.
        2. Read I Peter 1:13-16.
          1. Q. Does anyone recognize Peter's words? Do they sound familiar? Where does Peter get this? A. He is quotingLeviticus 11:44 (similar to 19:2; 20:7 and 20:26).
          2. Look closely at the text: Q. What, specifically, doesPeter mean when he says we should be holy? A. We are not conformed to our former desires (14); our conduct is holy (15).
          3. Q. What problem does this call create for us? A. We are not holy, nor can we live perfectly holy lives! In this we are no different than Israel.)
          4. But this is not the final word
      2. [God makes us holy] (WKSH ? God makes us holy)
        1. Turn to Ephesians 5.
          1. When we read this text, we usually focus on the relationship between Christ and the church or a husband and his wife. This time, look at what Paul says about holiness.
          2. Read Eph 5:25-27
          3. Q. How does the church become holy? A. Not by what the church does, but by what Jesus has done for the church. It is Jesus who "makes her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word"(26)
          4. Q. Does this mean that it does not matter what the church does - it is Christ's work to make us holy? A. Of course not.
        2. Turn to Colossians 1
          1. Read Col 1:21-23
          2. Q. Again, what has Christ done for us? A. Reconciled us to God "so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him" (22).
          3. But look again at the response we are to have to Christ's work. Reread Col 1:23 (see also Romans 6).
        3. Becoming holy, then, is not an either/or proposition (eitherGod does it all [abuse of grace]/or I do it all [legalism]). Becoming holy is a both/and process ? both God work and my response in gratitude and obedience. (WKSH - Becoming holy is not an either/or proposition.Becoming holy is both God's work and my response.)

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