TO MAINTAIN GOD’S HOLY PRESENCE WITH HIS COVENANT PEOPLE, ATONEMENT FOR SIN AND CLEANSING MUST BE ACCOMPLISHED ANNUALLY BY THE HIGH PRIEST ON THIS VERY SPECIAL DAY ACCORDING TO A VERY STRICT RITUAL
F. Duane Lindsey: Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire from the presence of the Lord because they approached Him in an unauthorized manner (10:1-2). By contrast chapter 16 sets forth the proper occasion, manner of self-preparation, and prescribed ritual by which the high priest was to approach the Lord and not die.
Kenneth Mathews: This chapter’s message is critically important for three reasons.
– First, the chapter occurs in the center of the book of Leviticus. Like a bridge it connects the two halves of the book. Chapters 1–15 describe the rituals of sacrifice and the purity regulations. Chapters 17–27 describe the characteristics of holy living by the covenant community. The effect of the Day of Atonement made sacrifice, purity, and holy living a possibility for another year.
– Second, the Day of Atonement is the ritual that on the whole best illustrates the theological teaching of Israel’s worship of its covenant Lord. It teaches the essentials for appropriate worship, which are what God demands of worshippers, the steps that God instructs the Israelites to perform so their worship is acceptable, and the spiritual benefits that worship brings to the people.
– Third, the theological message portrayed through the rites performed on this most sacred day serve as a template for understanding the message of Christianity. The centerpiece of Christianity is the cross where Jesus’ death resulted in the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of his blood for all who repent and express faith in Christ as Savior. The rituals that happened on the Day of Atonement provided an explanation through “moving pictures” of what happened in God’s eyes when Jesus died at Mount Calvary.
Perry Yoder: Leviticus 16 is the capstone of the first part of Leviticus, chapters 1–15. The central question in these chapters is, How do we worship the God in whose presence we live? First, this meant bringing freewill offerings expressing joy and thanksgiving to God (chs. 1–3). Second, it meant performing purification rituals in order to receive forgiveness from sin, thus enabling and sustaining a relationship with God (chs. 4–7). Third, since only the pure may contact the holy, individuals coming to the tent needed to be cleansed from their impurities in order to approach God’s presence (chs. 11–15). Lack of purity within the community affects the entire community: You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them (15:31 NJPS).
R. K. Harrison: This chapter comprises the ceremonial and theological pivot upon which the entire book of Leviticus turns. Previous legislation has dealt with the different kinds of sacrifices and the conditions under which they were to be offered, the emphasis being upon the provision for individual needs. Now the focus is upon the making of atonement for all the uncleannesses and sins of inadvertence of the entire Israelite congregation, beginning with the priesthood. Six months after the passover had been celebrated, the people were instructed to ‘afflict themselves’, after which the high priest would make atonement for them. Like the passover, this ceremony had to be observed annually, and it marked the occasion when the entire religious community was mobilized before God in a joint act of confession and atonement. It was a time of great solemnity, unlike the annual feasts, and if fasting was involved in the preparatory self-discipline, as many interpreters think, it was the only ceremony that demanded such a communal exercise. By its nature it was a distinctive religious observance and was central to the worship-life of the nation. The importance of the high priest is made clear in the position which he holds in the rituals as the mediator between God and man. The ritual is given in its entirety, which is fitting in a manual of public worship.
Jacob Milgrom: All year long, Israel’s sins have been polluting the sanctuary. True, the pious have been bringing purification offerings, which prove effective because their impurity was caused inadvertently. However, what of the advertent, brazen sinner? Their sins have penetrated into the adytum, the inner sanctum, polluting the very seat of the Godhead, threatening the destruction of the community. Since the brazen sinners are barred from offering sacrifice, how then is the sanctuary purified? The answer is Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Purgation, when the high priest risks his life by entering the adytum—to which entry is forbidden to mortal humans—and purifies the adytum through a smoke screen. The high priest emerges, transfers the removed pollution plus all the sins of the people, which he confesses, onto the head of a live goat, and dispatches the goat to the wilderness.
Allen Ross: Thee central idea of this passage is God’s gracious provision to provide complete atonement. God made a way to cleanse and sanctify people for every sin and every defilement, so that they might retain their relationship with him. Full atonement means even more than this: it means that God provided access into his presence. In the person of the high priest the people entered the holy of holies. This particular aspect of the day is fraught with significance, not only for Israel’s relationship with God but also for the atoning work of Christ.
The revelation of the removal of sin and defilement is also clearly presented here in the scapegoat. All the sins of the people were confessed and transferred to the victim, which was then led outside the camp. All sin was completely removed by this substitute.
The final theological truth found in this passage is that the people were responsible to humble themselves. To receive atonement from God, the people had to show evidence of repentance and genuine spiritual concerns. . .
The only way of access into the presence of the LORD is by the application of the atoning blood on the mercy seat and the removal of the sins of the penitent by placing them on a scapegoat.
Mark Rooker: The offerings on this day included two rams as burnt offerings for the high priest and the congregation, a bull for the sin offering of the high priest, and two goats as sin offerings for the people.
Perry Yoder: Outline:
The Restoration Ceremony, 16:3-28
16:12-19 The Cleansing Rituals
16:20-22 The Elimination Ritual
16:23-28 Concluding Rituals
I. (:1-10) PREPARATIONS FOR THE RITUAL OBSERVANCE
A. (:1-2) Sacredness of the Holy Place Inside the Veil
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died. 2 And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.’”
MacArthur: Common priests went every day to burn incense on the golden altar in the part of the tabernacle sanctuary outside the veil, where the lampstand, table, and bread of the Presence were. None except the High Priest was allowed to enter inside the veil (cf. v. 12), into the Holy Place, actually called the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant rested. This arrangement was designed to inspire a reverence for God at a time when his presence was indicated by visible symbols.
B. (:3-5) Sacrifice of Sin and Burnt Offering Prepared
1. (:3) Holy Access via Sin and Burnt Offerings
“Aaron shall enter the holy place with this:
with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
Robert Vasholz: In preparation for the Day, Aaron has been told to bring a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering (Lev. 16:3). In concert with the sobriety of the rest of the chapter, Leviticus 16:3 begins with an emphatic demonstrative adjective meaning: In this manner Aaron is to enter.… Aaron is also to bring two male goats and a ram provided by the congregation for a sin offering and a burnt offering for the community.
2. (:4) Holy Attire
“He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash, and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on.”
R. K. Harrison: Before he could enter the holy place, the high priest had to sacrifice as a prerequisite a sin offering and a burnt offering to the Lord, the former to be presented in order to secure atonement for himself and his family. Elaborate preparations were needed before the high priest could be considered fit to appear before God at the mercy seat. He had to bathe his body completely, thereby cleansing himself symbolically of all impurity, but instead of wearing the highly decorated garments of his consecration ceremony he was to be attired in simple duty clothes, comprising a coat, breeches, a linen girdle and a turban. . . This ritual furnishes a dramatic contrast between the holiness and purity of God and the sin of man, emphasizing the need for atonement if the people are to be holy as God is holy.
3. (:5) Holy Atonement via Sin and Burnt Offering
“And he shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering.”
MacArthur: One animal would be slain to picture substitutionary death and the other sent to the wilderness to represent removal of sin.
C. (:6-10) Securing Atonement
1. (:6) Atonement for the High Priest
“Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household.”
2. (:7-10) Atonement for the Community
“And he shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.”
Kenneth Mathews: Embedded in the chapter is a summary paragraph in verses 6–10 that conveniently captures the main features of the ritual—a microcosm of the whole chapter’s account.
II. (:11-28) PROCEDURES FOR THE RITUAL OBSERVANCE
A. (:11-14) Offerings of the High Priest in the Holy Place
1. (:11) Slaughtering the Bull of the Sin Offering
“Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself.”
2. (:12-13) Offering of Incense Behind the Veil
“And he shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. 13 And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, lest he die.”
3. (:14) Sprinkling the Blood of the Bull Sin Offering on the Mercy Seat
“Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.”
B. (:15-19) Purification for the Tabernacle
1. (:15) Sprinkling the Blood of the Goat Sin Offering on the Mercy Seat
“Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which 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, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.”
2. (:16-17) Purification for Holy Place and Tent of Meeting
“And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities. 17 When he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel.”
Robert Vasholz: No one is to go into the Tent-Sanctuary until the High Priest is finished effecting atonement for himself, the community of Israel, the Tent-Sanctuary and the altar. The Lord is very near. The solemnity of the event demands that no one impede the ritual until the High Priest goes out into the sanctuary courtyard.
3. (:18-19) Purification for the Altar
“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 of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar on all sides. 19 And with his finger he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times, and cleanse it, and from the impurities of the sons of Israel consecrate it.”
C. (:20-22) Scapegoat Procedures
1. (:20-21) Laying Hands on the Live Goat for Transfer of Transgressions
“When he finishes atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. 21 Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness.”
2. (:22) Releasing the Goat into the Wilderness to Carry Away Iniquities
“And the goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.”
D. (:23-28) Concluding Rituals for Cleansing
1. (:23-25) Aaron Disrobes and Bathes before Completing the Offerings
“Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes, and come forth and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 Then he shall offer up in smoke the fat of the sin offering on the altar.”
2. (:26-28) Additional Cleansing Procedures
a. (:26) For the One Who Released the Goat
“And the one who released the goat as the scapegoat
shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water;
then afterward he shall come into the camp.”
b. (:27-28) For the One Who Burns the Hides of the Bull and Goat
“But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire.
28 Then the one who burns them shall wash his clothes
and bathe his body with water,
then afterward he shall come into the camp.”
R. K. Harrison: After the goat had been dispatched to the wilderness, Aaron had to take off his linen attire and wash his entire body in a specially reserved area of the tabernacle court. He was then required to wear his normal priestly vestments while he offered burnt sacrifices for himself and the people (24). The person who had conducted the goat into the wilderness was ceremonially unclean as a result of contact with the sins of the people, and he had to bathe and wash his clothes before being readmitted to the community (26). The same was true of the individual who carried out the carcasses of the bull and goat sacrificed for a sin offering. The rituals of the sacrifices are not described in detail here, since they followed the normal pattern. As always, all the fat was reserved as God’s special portion (25). Through the entire ceremony the emphasis is upon the holiness of God as contrasted with the sin of man, and the necessity for the worshipper, whether high priest or not, to follow scrupulously the directions for approaching God in worship. Only when all has been done in accordance with God’s will can forgiveness be expected to follow. The ritual of the day of atonement contained a definite sense of drama, as indeed all ancient Hebrew rituals did, but it also made clear the responsibilities of the worshipper in the whole process of cleansing from sin, especially at the climactic moment when the high priest entered the most holy place and stood in God’s presence.
III. (:29-34) PERMANENT MEMORIAL OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
A. (:29-31) Stated Purpose of Annual Day of Atonement
1. (:29) Humbling Your Souls via Day of Rest
“And this shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls, and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you;”
R. K. Harrison: This section confirms that this special day shall be an institution amongst the Israelites forever. The ceremony was to be observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, that is to say, six months after the passover had been celebrated. The permanence of the statute is indicated by the fact that to the present day this solemn ceremony, with appropriate modifications, is conducted on the tenth day of the seventh month, following the traditional calendar.
2. (:30) Holy Atonement and Cleansing from Sin
“for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD.”
3. (:31) Humbling Your Souls via Day of Rest
“It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.”
B. (:32-34) Summary of Annual Day of Atonement
1. (:32-33) Priest Makes Atonement
“So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, 33 and make atonement for the holy sanctuary; and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.”
2. (:34a) Permanent Statute
“Now you shall have this as a permanent statute,
to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins
once every year.”
3. (:34b) Perfect Obedience
“And just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so he did.”