Chapter 16


The Day of Atonement

    • The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons (who had entered the Lord’s presence and burned an inappropriate fire) and told him to tell Aaron that he could not go behind the veil where the ark is anytime he wanted or he would die, because He Himself appears in the cloud above the mercy seat of the ark. In order to enter this most holy place, Aaron had to follow the following instructions:

        • Guzik writes, “Therefore, Aaron could not come into the Holy Place any time he pleased, but only at God’s invitation and at the appointed time and place…The same is true today: We can only come into God’s Holy Place at His invitation. Blessedly, the access has been opened wide because of Jesus’ work on the cross for us. Romans 5:1-2 specifically says that because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, we have standing access to God.”

      • Aaron must first bathe, then, wearing his holy garments (linen tunic with sash and turban) and his linen undergarments, he is to bring a young bull for a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering, and two male goats from the Israelite community for a sin offering and one ram from the community for a burnt offering.”

        • “Aaron must come with sacrificial blood to cleanse his own sin and the sin of the nation…Aaron must come clothed with garments of humility. Over his ornate garments for glory and for beauty (Exodus 28:2), he wore a holy linen tunic and the linen trousers. He was clothed in simple, humble white…Aaron must come washed. Traditionally, this washing was done by immersion…Aaron must come with two goats and one ram to complete the offering of atonement… This was extensive preparation for an important day. To the ancient Jews the Day of Atonement was called “the great day” or sometimes even just “the day.” It was and remains the only day of commanded fasting on the Jewish calendar. Modern Jews still regard Yom Kippur an important day of fasting, soul searching, and righting wrongs – yet they offer no sacrifice for sin.” (Guzik)

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “For most of the ritual of the Day of Atonement, the high priest wore plain linen clothing rather than his normal robes. This seems to symbolize the humility that should characterize all the people on this solemn occasion. When the high priest stood before God on behalf of his people, he had nothing to commend himself or the people. But when he stood before the people on God’s behalf, his official robes reflected the glory and splendor of God (16:23).”

      • S.H. Kellogg writes in his Book of Leviticus, “In it the sacrificial law of Moses attains its supreme expression; the holiness and the grace alike of Israel’s God their fullest revelation. For the like of the great day of atonement, we look in vain in any other people. If every sacrifice pointed to Christ, this most luminously of all. What the fifty-third of Isaiah is to his Messianic prophecies, that, we may truly say, is the sixteenth of Leviticus to the whole system of Mosaic types, –the most consummate flower of the Messianic symbolism. All the sin-offerings pointed to Christ, the great High Priest and Victim of the future; but this…with a distinctness found in no other.”

      • Deitzsch refers to the Day of Atonement as the “Good Friday of the Old Testament.”

      • “Aaron is to present the bull as a sin offering and to make atonement for himself and his household.”

        • “The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes a clear analogy between Aaron’s work for Israel and Christ’s work for the believer. Both brought atonement to their people. Before Aaron could offer a sin offering for the people, he had to offer a sacrifice for himself to make certain his own sins were forgiven (Hebrews 5:1-3). However, although Christ was tempted, He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, in His role as high priest for all Christians, He had no need to make a similar sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-28).” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

      • “Aaron is to take the two goats from the Israelite community and present them to the Lord in front of the Tabernacle. Aaron will cast lots for the two goats- one for the Lord and one for Azazel. The goat chosen for the Lord will be sacrificed as a sin offering. The goat chosen for Azazel is to be presented to the Lord alive and sent into the wilderness for Azazel to make purification.”

        • Dr. Charles Feinberg (writing for Dallas Theological Seminary) notes how these lots were cast in the days of the 2nd Temple, “When the Second Temple was in existence, the two goats chosen had to be alike in value, in size, and of the same color. The lot which was to decide the goat for the Lord and that for Azazel, consisted of two small tablets of box or ebony wood, later of gold, kept in a wooden chest. On one tablet were inscribed the words ‘For Yahweh’ and on the other, ‘For Azazel.’ After shaking the chest, the high priest put his hands into the urn and drew out both tablets, one in each hand. The tablet in his right hand was placed on the goat at his right, while that in his left hand was laid on the goat at his left.”

      • Time out!!! These verses are the subject of great debate. Many Bible versions translate “Azazel” as “scapegoat.” If your translation does this, you may not be aware of the controversy. Since the meaning is debated, many Bible versions insert the actual term “Azazel” instead of the Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon definition of the term, which is “scapegoat.” The first logical question that comes to one’s mind is “Who is this Azazel?” A common belief is that “Azazel” must be a person and an “opposite” of the Lord (due to the wording and structure of the sentence) and has led to speculation that “Azazel” refers to Satan, a demon, or an evil spirit. However, as it turns out, there are many argued interpretations for the identity of “Azazel”, not limited to a person, but even a place, a thing, or an abstract idea. In fact, the word is so obscure, occurring NOWHERE else in Hebrew and in only 3 verses in the entire Bible (all here in the 16th chapter of Leviticus- once in verse 8, twice in verse 10, and once more in verse 26), that the debate is not likely to be settled. For a complete discussion of this topic, you can check out my article: Who, What, or Where is the “Azazel” of Leviticus 16? Suffice it to say, the only interpretation that actually does (what I consider) theological violence to the context of these Scriptures is the identification of Azazel with Satan, a demon, or an evil spirit. I make that statement for the following reasons:

        • Verse 5 makes clear that BOTH of the goats serve as a single sacrifice and are equally set aside for the use of the Lord. The interpretation that one lot is “for Satan” ignores this aspect of verse 5 completely.

            • The goats are equally set aside for the Lord- albeit in two different capacities, each symbolic of the dual aspects of Christ’s atoning work on the cross- 1) the goat set aside for sacrifice symbolized Christ’s (then future) once and for all payment for sin; and 2) the goat set aside to bear the sins of the Israelites and sent away from them into the wilderness symbolized Christ’s (then future) entire removal of sin.

      • The following questions (taken from an article written by former Seventh Day Adventist Robert Sanders) arise when the above fact is ignored and indeed if the identity of “Azazel” is assigned to Satan, the answers to these questions are in stark contrast to the teaching in the rest of Scripture:

                  1. How can the high priest confess his sins and the sins of Israel over Satan? (verse 21)

                  2. Remember the scapegoat is for atonement for Israel to God (verse 34). Can God’s people make atonement to Satan?

                  3. By placing the sins of Israel on the scapegoat does this mean that Satan is now carrying their confessed sins and will be punished for them?

        • The HCSB makes a notation of this erroneous doctrine of Satan as the end-time scapegoat which is notoriously taught by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, “The Seventh Day Adventist Church views this passage (Leviticus 16:4-10) as pointing to Satan as the end-time scapegoat who takes away the sins of God’s people. […]This doctrine makes Christ and Satan co-redeemers. While Christ pays for the believer’s sins, Satan is the sin-bearer who is punished for them. The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus alone both makes atonement for sin and removes the sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).”

      • “Aaron must slaughter the bull for his sin offering, then take a firepan of coals from the altar that stands before the Lord, along with two handfuls of incense, and bring them inside the veil. Once behind the veil, Aaron must put the incense on the burning coals so that a cloud of incense will rise over the mercy seat of the ark. If he does not do this, he will die. Then, he must dip his finger in some of the bull’s blood and sprinkle it on the east side of the mercy seat and seven times in front of the mercy seat.”

      • Guzik writes, “The idea was that God was above the mercy seat (I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat, Leviticus 16:2), and as He looked down upon the ark of the covenant, He saw the sin of man. Man’s sin was represented by the items in the ark of the covenant: Manna Israel complained about, tablets of law Israel broke, and a budding almond rod given as a response to Israel’s rebellion. Then, the high priest sprinkled atoning blood seven times on the mercy seat – covering over the emblems of Israel’s sin. God saw the blood cover over the sin, and atonement was made…This captures the thought behind the Hebrew word for atonement: Kipper, which means, ‘to cover.’ Sin was not removed, but covered over by sacrificial blood. The New Testament idea of atonement is that our sin is not merely covered, but removed – taken away, so there is no barrier between God and man any longer.”

      • “When Aaron slaughters the goat chosen by lot for sacrifice, he must bring its blood inside the veil and sprinkle it in the same way as he sprinkled the bull’s blood. This process will purify the most holy place and he must do the same for the entire Tabernacle because of the sin and rebellion of the Israelites which surround and defile it. No one can be in the Tabernacle from the time he enters for the purification ceremony until he comes out after he has purified himself, his family, and all of the Israelites, making atonement for all with the Lord.”

        • Guzik writes, “The goat that was sacrificed was also like Jesus, in that the goat was spotless, was from the people of Israel (Leviticus 16:5), was chosen by God (Leviticus 16:8), and the goat’s blood was taken to the Holy Place to provide atonement…This blood was applied to the mercy seat, but also the tabernacle and altar itself. This blood cleansed the house of God itself, which was made ceremonially unclean by man’s constant touch.”

      • “ After the purification ritual is complete, Aaron is to present the live goat. He will lay both his hands on its head and confess all of Israel’s sins, rebellious acts, and wrongdoing over it. This will transfer the people’s sins onto the goat. Next, a man specifically chosen for this task, will lead it away into the wilderness. The goat will carry all the sins of the people into a desolate land.”

        • “This was a perfect demonstration of atonement under the Old Covenant, before the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Sin could be put away, but never really eliminated. The sin-bearing goat, bearing the sin of Israel, was alive somewhere but put away.” (Guzik)

        • According to the tract of Yoma in the Talmud (a written record of Jewish oral tradition) there were watchers stationed at regular distances, and when the goat reached the wilderness they would telegraph the high priest by each waving a cloth, at which point he would continue with the ceremony.

      • Guzik notes how Jewish tradition began to evolve with regard to this ceremony, “Sin was put away – but not completely. How could one know for certain that God had accepted the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement? What if someone accidentally encountered the scapegoat in the wilderness? What if the scapegoat wandered back among the people of Israel? Through their traditions, the Jews began to deal with these concerns. ‘On the head of the scape-goat a piece of scarlet cloth was tied, and the tradition of the Jews states that if God accepted the sacrifice the scarlet cloth turned white while the goat was led to the desert; but if God had not accepted this expiation, the redness continued, and the rest of the year was spent in mourning.’ (Clarke) Through this, they thought to have a certainty about the work of atonement.”

        • According to the Talmudic tract of Yoma, this evolution of tradition continued even further, “At last they reached the edge of the wilderness. Here they halted, viewing afar off, while the man led forth the goat, tore off half the “scarlet-tongue,” and stuck it on a projecting cliff; then, leading the animal backwards, he pushed it over the projecting ledge of rock.”

        • Sir Walter Besant explains in his Twenty-One Years’ Work in the Holy Land, “The reason of this barbarous custom was that on one occasion the scapegoat returned to Jerusalem after being set free, which was considered such an evil omen that its recurrence was prevented for the future by the death of the goat, as is described in the tract of Yoma of the Mishna.”

      • “After this, Aaron must go back into the Tabernacle, remove his linen garments, bathe, put on his regular priestly garments, and go out to sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people. Through this process he will purify himself and the people and he will have made atonement for himself and the people before the Lord. All of the fat of the sin offering must be burnt on the altar. The man who released the goat for Azazel must wash his clothes and his body, then he can come back into camp. The bull and goat that were offered for a sin offering and whose blood was brought into the most holy place, must be taken outside of the camp and completely burned up (hide, flesh, and dung). Whoever does this burning must wash his clothes and his body, then he may come back into the camp.”

      • “When atonement was finished, the priest emerged from the tabernacle in glory – with the humble garments taken off and in his normal clothes for glory and beauty.” (Guzik)

      • “This is to be a permanent law for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you are to practice self-denial, and do no work- it is a Sabbath. This applies to both the native Israelite and the foreigner who lives among you. The high priest will make atonement according to the ceremony I have described. This is a permanent law to make atonement for the Israelites’ sins once a year.”

      • “This meant the priest and only the priest. Only once a year could any man – and then, only one man – enter into the Holy Place and come near the presence of God.” (Guzik)

        • The tenth day of the seventh month occurs in September or October according to the Hebrew lunar calendar. (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

        • HCSB commentary notes, “In biblical literature the idiom ‘practice self-denial’ connotes fasting (Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 58:3,10). Subsequent Jewish literature elaborated on the practice. Mishnah Yoma 8:1 interprets self-denial as involving five abstentions: from food and drink, bathing, use of oil on the body, wearing leather shoes, and sexual intercourse.”

      • Guzik explains how Christ’s work on the cross fulfilled this permanent statute once and for all, “Every year, year after year, this atonement had to be made, showing it was never completed. In contrast, Jesus provided a finished work: For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another; He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:24-28)”