Right With a Holy God


I.  An Overview of Leviticus

A. Leviticus has a high level of theological importance. According to Paul House the text reveals how the Holy God defines sin, forgives sins, and helps people avoid sin [House, 126] He states, “Nothing less than deliberate holiness on the people’s part is worthy of the Holy God.” We might also add:

  1. Nothing less than perfect righteousness will constitute the warrant to eternal life.
  2. Even sins done in ignorance accrue guilt, for lack of knowledge in these matters is lack of moral perception or inattention to the elements of revealed standards.
  3. The release of all guilt, the forgiveness of all trespasses does not come apart from the death of a substitute. Though God forgives, God will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:6, 7). The sacrifice gives consistency to both of these traits in God.

B. Breakdown by Chapters

  1. Chapters 1-7 Instructions concerning different types of sacrifices
  2. Chapters 8-10 Ordinations and activities of the first priests [We are shocked with the deaths of Nadab and Abihu for offering unwarranted fire before God’s altar. Equally sobering is the forbidding of Aaron to mourn publicly – 10:1-3].
  3. Chapters 11 – 15 – Guidelines for cleanliness [even physical cleanliness and concern for health is a picture of God’s holiness (11:44)]
  4. Chapter 16 – Description of the Day of Atonement [16:33; also 23:26-32]
  5. Chapters 17-27 – Ritual laws which separate the Israelites from other peoples [19:2; 20:7, 26; 22:32, 33]


II.  Regulations concerning the Sacrifices

A. The general pattern of the sacrifices

  1. The sacrifice must be unblemished, unpolluted in any way, and also purified (1:3, 10; 2:1, 13; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 28, 32, etc.)
  • A fault or blemish in the animal is emblematic of the stain of the fall on the animal. The sacrifice must not itself embody, at least in any visible manifestation, any of the effects of sin.
  • The purification by salt is symbolic of the purifying of the human nature of Jesus through his conception by the Holy Spirit (Leviticus 2:13). That believers are the salt of the earth indicates that the purifying effect they have on an otherwise sordid and corrupt world.
  • Jesus was holy blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).
  1. The worshiper performs three acts: Bring the sacrifice, lay hands on it, slay it
  • Each of these actions establishes a deep sense of personal responsibility. He brings the sacrifice from the flock or from his own personal possessions. His own interests must not be detached from the sacrifice.
  • He lays hands on it in recognition that his personal sin, guilt, need for reconciliation is at stake.
  • He slays it, in order to confirm that he himself has given the blow that causes this substitute to die.
  • In the case of Christ, the giving was of God (John 3:16; Acts 2:23, 24; Galatians 1:1-4; Hebrews 9:26), the sins he bore were not his own but he exacted on himself their full consequences, the striking that brought forgiveness was of God (1 John 4:10).
  1. Officiant performs three acts: sprinkle the blood, dispose of the body appropriately, make use of his portion appropriately.
  • The priest took some of the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled it on the altar.
  • He disposed of the body by burning according to the various specifications, depending on what kind of sacrifice was being made.
  • In some cases, a portion of the sacrifice was to be eaten by the priest and his family.
  • Again, in the case of Christ, the sacrifice himself went to sprinkle his own blood on the mercy seat (Hebrews 9:12-14 ), and the body was not burned or disposed of on an ash-heap but was raised from the dead (Acts 2:24; Romans 1:4), and he himself is our portion forever.
  1. These are not established by calendar, but by occasion. Three feasts—Passover, Booths, and Day of atonement—were set on the calendar, but these sacrifices would be given on the occasions which prompted their need.

B. Instructions regarding specific sacrifices

  1. Chapter 1and 6:8-13 – regulations for burnt offering – expressed the complete sovereignty of God, and utter dependence on him for provision and for redemption. Sin and the need for forgiveness permeates our lives [1 John 1:7]
  2. Chapter 2 and 6:14-18 – Grain offerings – frequently accompanied burnt and peace offerings
  3. Chapter 3 – Peace Offerings – a rite of propitiation and reconciliation.
  4. Chapter 4- 5:13 – Sin Offering – individuals, priest, elders, or community
  5. Chapter 5:4 – 6:7 – Guilt Offerings – sins against God and neighbor
  6. Chapter 6:8 – 7:38 – The Priests’ part in the Offering


III.  Application

A. All of life has a moral dimension and is to be holy to the Lord. None of our actions are void of moral consequences. Our thought life, our living from moment to moment constantly flows from the soul (5:1-6). All must be brought under the reign of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, 6).

B. Violations of divine command even done in ignorance still incur guilt [5:17ff]

C. None are the people of God except those who are Holy. This has a two-fold significance: we are holy by having been set apart in the covenant of redemption for the manifestation of God’s grace and we are holy through the internal work of the Spirit in causing us to love and follow after God’s purity [Hebrews 12:10-17]

D. Death blankets every aspect of existence in a fallen world.

E. God himself determines what is satisfactory consecration, praise, thanksgiving, guilt effacing, peace producing.

F. The requirements, however, are not merely arbitrary, but are consistent with the eternal and immutable moral character of God. These sacrifices only pointed to the true sacrifice of Christ; in themselves they could never take away sin (Hebrews 9:9; 10:4).

G. It is right that that which is given to the Lord should provide sustenance for those set aside for spiritual ministry. (1 Corinthians 9:1-14).

H. When Jesus satisfied the law’s demands he gained once-for-all everything that results in forgiveness, reconciliation, thanksgiving, acceptable consecration, righteousness [Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:1-4;l] He has abrogated the ceremonial by his spiritual fulfilment of it [Hebrews 8:4-6; 9:12]; He has abolished the civil by creating a separate people through internal means of holiness [Hebrews 9:13, 14; 2 Corinthians 6:16 – 7:1]; He has submitted to the eternal requirements of the moral law by his propitiatory suffering for forgiveness [Galatians 3:13, 21; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 3:4, 5; 4:10] and sending his Spirit for sanctification.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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