Week 11: The Holiness of God (Leviticus)

Introduction to Leviticus

This third book of our Bible continues the instructions given to Moses by God at Mount Sinai. Leviticus can be a book of the Bible that we can struggle to read through since it contains instructions for animal sacrifices, seemingly strange civil laws, and purification rituals, among other things. However, the big idea of Leviticus is God’s holiness and His concern for the holiness of His people, as summarized in the following passages.

Leviticus 11:44a

For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.

Leviticus 11:45

For I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.

Leviticus 18:2-4

“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:8

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

What does Leviticus teach us?

I agree that on the surface, the book of Leviticus could also be titled “Stranger Things.” Yet, these basic principles mentioned earlier and confirmed by the verses surveyed above remind us that this book is as relevant to us as they were to God’s people over 3,000 years ago. The book reveals the holiness of our God, the seriousness of our sins, and aspects of God’s forgiveness.

Leviticus teaches us that God is holy.

The God of the Bible is a holy God. God doesn’t sin. He is incapable of sinning. Being holy, God is separate from sin. We have already seen several examples already of how man’s sinfulness hinders our relationship with God because of His holiness. In Genesis three, we see Adam and Eve evicted from Eden because of their sinfulness. In Exodus 3, Moses is instructed to take of his sandals because the place where he was standing was holy ground. That particular piece of land where he was standing was holy because the God that occupied the burning bush was a holy God. At the base of Mount Sinai, the LORD orders a boundary set up around the base of the mountain that no person or animal should cross God was going to dwell on the mountain to give Moses the covenant stipulations. The people were also to consecrate and purify themselves before this momentous meeting took place between God and their leader.

The people were so afraid of God, His power, and His holiness that they asked Moses to relay His messages to them instead of the LORD speaking to them directly. Despite seeing God deliver them from Egypt, parting the Red Sea, and drowning Pharoah’s army, the further revelation of God at Mount Sinai made them more aware of their sinfulness. This greater revelation of God’s holiness and their sinfulness prepared them for seeing the necessity of a sacrifice to make them right with Him, restore them to Him, and cover their sins so that He might continue to dwell with them.

Leviticus continually points us to the truth of God’s absolute purity, reminding us of our being pollutive and need for purifying.

What do the Levitical Sacrifices teach us?

Leviticus tells us about many types of sacrifices, but most of them have the same or at least similar processes and procedures. Let’s take a look at the instructions given by God surrounding the Burnt Offering to help us see what the sacrifices teach us about sin and forgiveness.

Leviticus 1:3-9

“If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the herd, it must be a male with no defects. Bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle so you may be accepted by the Lord. Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him. Then slaughter the young bull in the Lord’s presence, and Aaron’s sons, the priests, will present the animal’s blood by splattering it against all sides of the altar that stands at the entrance to the Tabernacle. Then skin the animal and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest will build a wood fire on the altar. They will arrange the pieces of the offering, including the head and fat, on the wood burning on the altar. But the internal organs and the legs must first be washed with water. Then the priest will burn the entire sacrifice on the altar as a burnt offering. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

What do the sacrifices teach us about sin?

Simply put, sin is breaking God’s rules. As you read Exodus and Leviticus, the LORD never asked Moses, Aaron, Miriam, or anyone else for their thoughts on what laws He should give His redeemed people. No, each rule was given to them by God; they were God’s commands, so to break one of them was to sin against God since they came from God Himself. Now, of course, when we wrong one another, we have sinned against one another, but ultimately we have sinned against God because by wronging someone else, we have violated one of God’s directions. We have already encountered a great example of this principle in Genesis in how Joseph responds to Potiphar’s wife as she tries to get him to sleep with her.

Genesis 39:7-9

Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.

But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”

Joseph knew that if he slept with Potiphar’s wife that he would be sinning against Potiphar. However, Joseph knew that such an act would ultimately be against God, who had designed and ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman back in Eden. His act of adultery, if committed, would certainly affect Potiphar, but it would ultimately break a command of God.

All sin is, first and foremost, a rebellion against God, so we must approach Him for forgiveness. Yes, if I wrong my wife, she can forgive me, and her willingness to do so helps restore our relationship, but her forgiveness doesn’t make me right with God. You will not see any instructions for offering a sacrifice to Moses, Aaron, or anyone else but God in Leviticus 1:3-9 or anywhere else. God is the only one who can grant forgiveness when we rebel against Him. I have to go to God in genuine repentance for breaking His command by treating my wife harshly instead of with understanding and respect (1 Peter 3:7). Only when I approach God, sorrowful over my sin and aware of my need for His forgiveness will I receive His grace, mercy, and deliverance in that area of my life.

Notice that the one who offered the sacrifice for the burnt offering in Leviticus 1:3-9 was a participant in the process and not just the observer. The person was to select and take one of the animals of their herd and bring it to the Tabernacle. They were to lay their hand upon the animal chosen that would die for their sin and slaughter it themselves. After the priests splattered the animal’s blood on all sides of the altar, the worshiper was to skin the animal and cut it into pieces. We then see the priests set the offering ablaze on the altar. When the person carried out the sacrificial ritual with faith and sincerity, the offering was a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Verse 9 reinforces who the one making the sacrifice sinned against and needed to receive forgiveness from, but also shows us that we must go to Him aware of our sin and our need for His forgiveness.

What do the sacrifices teach us about forgiveness?

God is a forgiving God.

The sacrifices teach us that God is a forgiving God. God could be holy, loving, and just without being forgiving. Since we deserve death as payment for our sins (Romans 6:23) and since no one can earn a right standing before God (Romans 3:19-20). God would still be holy and loving as He rendered a righteous judgment on us as lawbreakers with an eternal sentence to hell. BUT GOD is also gracious, compassionate, and merciful who desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance (Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Peter 3:9). The LORD had made way for Him to dwell among His people despite their sinfulness by establishing the Tabernacle as His dwelling place and a sacrificial system to cover the debt of their sins. All of this foreshadowed what God would ultimately accomplish through Jesus on the cross!

God allows for a substitute to pay for our wrongdoings against Him.

Though every one of the Israelites sinned against God, He allowed an animal to die in their place instead of requiring that they die for their sin. When a person would place their hand on the animal’s head that was to be sacrificed, they were symbolically transferring their sins and guilt and needed payment for their sin upon that animal. The animal then died in their place, shedding its blood to cover the debt owed to God because of their sin. Every sacrifice made, even up to the Passover lambs being slaughtered while Jesus hung on the cross, pointed to God allowing Jesus to be our substitute, to die in our place, to shed His blood, covering in full our sin debt to a holy God—an innocent dying to set the guilty free, or as Peter described the righteous for the unrighteous.

1 Peter 3:18

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

Because Christ’s death made amends between a holy God and sinners, forgiveness is possible because Jesus’ sinless perfection met God’s perfect standards. While God’s forgiveness is available to all, God’s forgiveness is not at all automatic.

God’s forgiveness is not automatic.

The LORD told His covenant people that He would forgive their sins and how to receive this forgiveness. His forgiveness would be available to all who adhere to the sacrificial rituals according to God’s directions. However, God’s forgiveness wasn’t automatic. In other words, there was more to receiving atonement for one’s sin than just going through religious rituals. Sacrifices had to be made with a genuine faith and repentant attitude in addition to works keeping with repentance to receive God’s forgiveness for their sins and the ones they were representing. The Israelites struggled with empty religious activity during Isaiah’s ministry.

Isaiah 1:11-15

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.

We see that when the Israelites offered sacrifices and celebrated the feasts of the LORD absent of a heart devotion for Him and sincerity, they made Him sick to His stomach! These empty sacrifices and celebrations were anything but a pleasing aroma to Him and left His people void of His presence and forgiveness in their lives. So even though God’s forgiveness was available, it wasn’t automatically received when His people simply went through the motions of external rituals without internal repentance. Receiving God’s forgiveness isn’t like putting money in the vending machine and automatically receiving our desired item just because we went through the correct process. Instead, the Knower of people’s hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15) required them then and us today to follow His pathway to forgiveness with faith and sincerity.

Leviticus prepares us for the cross.

Hebrews 10:1-5

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.

Hebrews explains that the old system under the law of Moses pointed to the need for another sacrifice than that of animals to make people right with Him. The only acceptable sacrifice to appease the wrath of a holy God would be God the Son in the flesh. As man, Jesus could die as a representative of all humanity, and as God, He could fully meet God’s holy requirements. To receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus, we in faith follow the same process that the Israelites did under the sacrificial system.

A – We must Agree with God that we are sinners.

By taking an animal to the entrance of the Tabernacle to be sacrificed on one’s behalf, they were agreeing with God that they were breakers of His law. Today, we agree with God that we are sinners by admitting our need for Jesus to make us right with Him because our sin has interrupted our relationship with Him.

B – Believe that God alone can save us.

Once we admit our need to be rescued from our sins, we need to believe that God will forgive our sins through the process He has given. The Israelites had to have faith that by offering an animal to die in their place according to God’s guidelines, He would be faithful to do what He said He would do and forgive them. We, too, experience forgiveness of our sins and rescue from the punishment of our sins through faith. For us, it is not faith in the sacrificial of old but in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are to believe that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

C – Commit ourselves to God.

Standing before the Tabernacle and the altar, the Israelites were committing themselves to God, following His ways, and loving Him supremely. They expressed their desire to be in His presence and restored. The Bible tells us that our genuine belief in Christ will lead us to be committed to Him and His ways. A sincere belief will cause us to long to be in His presence, enjoy our restored relationship with Him while on this earth, and look forward to the day that our home is with Him for all eternity. This inward commitment will result in external works glorifying our heavenly Father (Isaiah 1:16-17; Matthew 5:16).

Ready to experience new life in Jesus? If so, check out the video at the end of this post!

For those of us who already enjoy a restored relationship with the Father through the Son, may we ask of and rely upon the Holy Spirit to guard us against becoming people who go through the motions of external religious activity that sickens the God who redeemed us and robs us from the ongoing redeeming work that He desires to do in our lives.

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