The Bible: God’s Holy Presence


Most do not read the Bible as God’s story but as a rulebook.


Leviticus 16:1-34

1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.


The word “holy” can have different meanings to different people. For example, here is my journey in regard to this word. When I was young, though I went to church constantly, I had little idea of what holy meant. Perhaps if you had asked me, I would have said “scary”, because I had the wrong kind of fear of God. I went to a Christian university still unconverted, and from their mixture of ritualism and legalism, my view morphed into a feeling that holy meant a sense of awe and keeping the rules. The attitude was “solemnity”. The Lord saved me and taught me the doctrines of grace, and I gradually came to know more of God’s sovereign majesty and his other awesome characteristics. Although I learned that holiness was living for God, I was now under the influence of Reformed legalism. Some of the worship feelings encountered during that time are best described by my dear wife as “spooky”. But thanks be to God, he was also teaching me more and more about Christ-focused theology and the story of his glory in Jesus Christ. And in this ongoing study of God’s word I have learned that holy does not mean scary or solemnity or spooky but “set apart”.

Leviticus is easily one of the Biblical books most neglected by Christians today. A big reason for this is that most do not read the Bible as God’s story but as a rulebook. And like the old computer manuals that have been tossed away because the programs are obsolete, most toss aside Leviticus because they suppose it’s only part of the old rulebook. Another reason for this is the name of the book in our English versions. “Leviticus? What does that mean—‘for the Levites’? Ugh, I’m not a Levite, so it can’t mean much for me.” It is not surprising that when Christians today decide to read “straight through the Bible”, many usually quit with Leviticus. However, if we use the Hebrew title, “And He Called”, then perhaps we can listen to it as the continuation of God’s story and sit at our Father’s feet and listen. Leviticus/And He Called is the story of how the old covenant people could live with the Holy God among them. This story points us to Jesus Christ, as the New Testament book of Hebrews makes very clear.

Before we listen to a brief survey of this part of the story, here’s how the book “And He Called” is put together.

[1]The means of approaching God through sacrifice (Lev 1-7)

[2]The installation of the priesthood to administer the sacrifices (Lev 8-10)

[3]The instruction about unclean and holy (Lev 11-15)

[4]The Day of Atonement (Lev 16)

[5]The holy way of life for the community (Lev 17-26)

[6]The instruction about people, animals, and things dedicated to the Lord (Lev 27)

Key verses: 11:45; 19:2; 20:26

Point: God wants us to be like him, to be set apart for him


I.The pace of the story slows down – God tells us about many thousands of years in Genesis and of hundreds of years in the first two chapters of Exodus and of a number of months in the rest of Exodus, but in Leviticus the story slows down to a crawl. Some people like action movies; others like documentaries. Leviticus is more like a documentary. Everything in this book happens within a few weeks. Life is more than activity. Life also is made up of worship, friendship, celebration, and rest.

A.God invites his people to share life with him. God had brought Israel to himself (Ex 19:4). The purpose of the old covenant was to allow his people to live with him, while pointing to their need for Christ (Gal 3:19-26). To do this, the law covenant set up a “geography of holiness” or “set apartness” in the nation. It extended from the center where God was (the Most Holy Place) and out from there to the Holy Place, to the courtyard, to the area where the Levites lived, and finally out to where the twelve tribes lived. This whole area was to be clean; outside the nation was the unclean.

1.After the Golden Calf, the Lord reestablished his covenant with Israel, and they built the tabernacle as he had commanded Moses (Ex 34:10-40:33). The tent functions like a new Garden of Eden, where God had originally met with people. But Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out from God’s presence. The only way to call upon God was through sacrifice, but there was no place where God could be certainly met. By the tabernacle or tent of meeting God provided a place where representatives of his people could meet with him. The tabernacle also pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ through its objects.

2.Next, something amazing happened! As the glory of the Lord had covered Sinai and the Lord called to Moses to receive the plans for the tabernacle (Ex 24:16), so God’s glory fills the tabernacle and God calls to Moses (Ex 40:34-35; Lev 1:1) to speak to him about the five offerings required if God is to live among Israel. A number of words recur in Leviticus 1-7: sin, guilt, offering, blood, and an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Only through the substitution of a blood offering can guilty sinners live in fellowship with God.

3.Aaron and his sons are consecrated or set apart unto the Lord as priests to administer the offerings and to teach the people (Lev 8-9). Now everything is set up according to God’s command, and you want to hear the words “and they lived happily ever after.” But God’s story is not a fairy tale. It happens in a world where people reject him as God, refuse to love him, and rebel against God and his will. The story tells about the God’s plan to bring glory to his name in Jesus Christ, but this happens by salvation and judgment. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, so fire came out from the Lord’s presence (in the Most Holy Place) and killed them. God must be interacted with as holy or set apart. If people try to approach him in an unholy or unclean way, they are liable to immediate judgment. This concept makes the words of John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 deadly somber as well as incredibly gracious. In the death of the two priests we learn that God is very, very serious about his glory.

4.The following chapters (11-15) go into detail about what God declares to be ceremonially unclean, clean, and holy. God is set apart above all creatures and set apart to the display of his glory, and he uses these types and shadows of the old covenant to make this point. You can only approach God if he declares you clean.

Point: God wants us to be free from sin’s guilt and pollution. He wants us clean.

Transition: How then can any sinner draw near to God? The Lord next tells through a picture of types and shadows what must happen for sinners to draw near to God.

B.The Day of Atonement (Lev 16) – This is the centerpiece or “theological pivot” (Harrison) of the whole book. Everything before leads up to it, and everything after is built upon it. How can anyone be set apart (holy) to draw near to the set apart (holy) God?

1.The high priest had to prepare himself by sacrifice and by a ritual washing. He had to be clean, before he could offer sacrifice for others.

2.The high priest brings two goats for the people. One is chosen by lot to be a sin offering to show that sin is paid for, but the other is taken alive out to the wilderness to show that sin is removed.

3.The high priest takes incense into the Holy Place, along with some of the blood of the sacrificed animals. When the incense is offered on the altar before the veil, a cloud forms so that he can enter the Most Holy Place without seeing God’s glory above the Ark of the Covenant, or else he would die. On his trips into the Most Holy Place, he sprinkles the blood on the cover of the Ark. He thus made atonement for himself, his household, and the whole family of Israel (16:17).

4.The high priest also sprinkled blood to cleanse the Most Holy Place, the Holy Place and the altar before the Lord. Everything had to be cleansed (16:18-19), and all had to be cleansed by blood, which shows life poured out in death. The wages of sin is death.

5.The high priest confessed all the sins of the people over the live goat, which is then taken outside the camp by another priest, and so guilt was taken away.

6.The high priest finally had to bathe, put on his regular clothing, and then sacrifice the bull, ram, and goat on the altar. The man who led the goat into the wilderness had to do a similar cleansing (16:23-28).

7.All this had to take place on the tenth day of the seventh month (six months after Passover). It was to be a Sabbath of rest, and everyone had to deny themselves, probably meaning that they had to fast, but it also may have included putting ashes on themselves to show mourning over sin. In this way, the whole community had their sins covered, their guilt taken away, and was clean before the Holy God for one year.

Point: God wants us to draw near to him, and he had given the way that we can.

C.In the first half of Leviticus, God tells how the holiness of the nation’s camp is sustained by worship—sacrifice, priesthood, ritual cleanliness, and the Day of Atonement. In the second half he tells them how they must live together as his holy people.

1.Holiness or a set apart way of life is a community activity that everyone participates in. If anyone does not want to participate (that is, they want to sin instead), they are to be “cut off” from the people.

Comment: Holiness of life is not an activity that you do apart from other people. It is living with other people in a way that pleases the Lord. God tells this part of his story in the whole Bible. Our problem has been people writing their own versions of the story.

2.The essence of this set apart life is to love your neighbor as yourself, the Second Greatest Command (19:18).

Point: God wants us to live together in love.

3.The command or imperative to love is based upon the preceding indicative of sacrifice. Since they are cleansed from sin and guilt, they are to live a life of love. A holy way of life starts from forgiveness and cleansing.

4.As God set up Israel to be holy in regard to space, so he also set up their community time to be holy through special Sabbath days, weeks, and years (Lev 23 & 25).

5.The community is promised blessing if they obey God’s commands but will be cursed with punishment if they disobey (Lev 26:3-39). But note well that their only real hope was in the covenant of promise (Lev 26:40-45). What they really needed was a better covenant, with a better mediator, a better Sabbath rest, a better priest with a better sacrifice, and better promises. Everything that is better is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. God completes the story told in Leviticus in the story he tells in the book of Hebrews. [Read Heb 9:23-28.]

Apply: Is the Lord Jesus Christ your better priest and better sacrifice? Are you clean in the presence of the Holy God? [Read 1 John 1:7]

Ideas to transform our lives:

  • God wants us to be like him, to be set apart for him
  • God wants us to be free from sin’s guilt and pollution. He wants us clean
  • God wants us to draw near to him, and he had given the way that we can
  • God wants us to live together in love

~ Dave

Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teachers and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.