‘This chapter is like a hinge for the whole book of Leviticus. It brings to a climax all the preceding chapters about priestly duties in relation to sacrifice and to the diagnosis and treatment of uncleanness. The Day of Atonement (yôm kippûrı̂m; the name is given to the day in 23:26–27) provided an annual opportunity to ‘wipe the slate clean’ by cleansing both the sanctuary and the people of all the defilements that had not been noticed and dealt with routinely. Fixed in the annual calendar exactly six months after the spring Passover, which celebrated the unique historical event of Israel’s redemption, it provided the ongoing means of cleansing God’s redeemed people so that he could continue to dwell among them.’ (NBC)

The Day of Atonement

16:1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons when they approached the presence of the LORD and died, 16:2 and the LORD said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother that he must not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil-canopy in front of the atonement plate that is on the ark so that he may not die, for I will appear in the cloud over the atonement plate.

“He must not enter at any time” – ‘Aaron had to spend hours preparing himself to meet God. But we can approach God anytime (Hebrews 4:16). What a privilege! We are offered easier access to God than the high priests of Old Testament times! Still, we must never forget that God is holy nor let this privilege cause us to approach God carelessly. The way to God has been opened to us by Christ. But easy access to God does not eliminate our need to prepare our hearts as we draw near in prayer.’ (HBA)

Day of Atonement Offerings

16:3 “In this way Aaron is to enter into the sanctuary—with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 16:4 He must put on a holy linen tunic, linen leggings are to cover his body, and he is to wrap himself with a linen sash and wrap his head with a linen turban. They are holy garments, so he must bathe his body in water and put them on. 16:5 He must also take two male goats from the congregation of the Israelites for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. 16:6 Then Aaron is to present the sin offering bull which is for himself and is to make atonement on behalf of himself and his household. 16:7 He must then take the two goats and stand them before the LORD at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, 16:8 and Aaron is to cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and one lot for Azazel. 16:9 Aaron must then present the goat which has been designated by lot for the LORD, and he is to make it a sin offering, 16:10 but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the LORD to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness.

Two male goats

‘Aaron offers two goats. The first is slaughtered at the altar. Aaron then lays his hands on the head of the other and confesses all the sins of Israel over it. The goat is then driven into the wilderness. Thus both goats effectively cease to exist. The first disintegrates and dissolves into nothingness at the altar, and the second disappears into the chaos (symbolized by wilderness) outside the community of faith. One drew too near and the other too far away from God.’ (DBI, art. ‘Leviticus, Book of’, my emphasis)

‘The high priest was to “take two male goats for a sin offering” in order to atone for the sins of the Israelite community as a whole (Lev 16:5). One goat was to be sacrificed and its blood sprinkled in the usual way, while on the living goat’s head the high priest was to lay both his hands, “and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head” (Lev 16:21). He was then to drive the goat away into the desert, and it would “carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place” (Lev 16:22). Some commentators make the mistake of driving a wedge between the two goats, the sacrificed goat and the scapegoat, overlooking the fact that the two together are described as “a sin offering” in the singular (Lev 16:5). Perhaps Thomas Crawford was right to suggest that each embodied a different aspect of the same sacrifice, “the one exhibiting the means, and the other the results, of the atonement.” In this case the public proclamation of the Day of Atonement was plain, namely that reconciliation was possible only through substitutionary sin-bearing. The author of the letter to the Hebrews has no inhibitions about seeing Jesus both as “a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb 2:17) and as the two victims, the sacrificed goat whose blood was taken into the inner sanctuary (Heb 9:7, 12) and the scapegoat that carried away the people’s sins (Heb 9:28).’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ)

One lot for Azazel – also mentioned in v10 and 26, but not elsewhere.  Sometimes translated ‘scapegoat’.  Motyer (EDT, 2nd ed., art. ‘Atonement, Day of’) says that it may mean ‘(1) a goat driven off (combining ʿēz [goat] and ʾāzal [to go away]), (2) a precipice (symbolic of a remote, menacing place), or (3) the name of a supposed desert demon, signifying not an offering to such a demon but the banishing of sin to the place of total separation from the Lord.’

Michael Heiser inclines to the view that ‘Azazel’ refers to a demonic figure associated with the wilderness.  ‘The Mishnah (ca. AD 200; Yoma 6:6) records that the goat for Azazel was led to a cliff and pushed over, ensuring it would die and not return. This association of the wilderness with evil is also evident in the New Testament, as this was where Jesus met the devil (Matt 4:1). Also, in Leviticus 17:1–7 we learn that some Israelites had been accustomed to sacrificing offerings to “goat demons.” The Day of Atonement replaced this illegitimate practice.’ (I Dare You No To Bore Me With The Bible)

The Sin Offering Sacrificial Procedures

16:11 “Aaron is to present the sin offering bull which is for himself, and he is to make atonement on behalf of himself and his household. He is to slaughter the sin offering bull which is for himself, 16:12 and take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD and a full double handful of finely ground fragrant incense, and bring them inside the veil-canopy. 16:13 He must then put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the cloud of incense will cover the atonement plate which is above the ark of the testimony, so that he will not die. 16:14 Then he is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the eastern face of the atonement plate, and in front of the atonement plate he is to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger.
16:15 “He must then slaughter the sin offering goat which is for the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil-canopy, and he is to do with its blood just as he did to the blood of the bull: He is to sprinkle it on the atonement plate and in front of the atonement plate. 16:16 So he is to make atonement for the holy place from the impurities of the Israelites and from their transgressions with regard to all their sins, and thus he is to do for the Meeting Tent which resides with them in the midst of their impurities. 16:17 Nobody is to be in the Meeting Tent when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he goes out, and he has made atonement on his behalf, on behalf of his household, and on behalf of the whole assembly of Israel
16:18 “Then he is to go out to the altar which is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it all around on the horns of the altar. 16:19 Then he is to sprinkle on it some of the blood with his finger seven times, and cleanse and consecrate it from the impurities of the Israelites.

The Live Goat Ritual Procedures

16:20 “When he has finished purifying the holy place, the Meeting Tent, and the altar, he is to present the live goat. 16:21 Aaron is to lay his two hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins, and thus he is to put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man standing ready. 16:22 The goat is to bear on itself all their iniquities into an inaccessible land, so he is to send the goat away in the wilderness.

The Concluding Rituals

16:23 “Aaron must then enter the Meeting Tent and take off the linen garments which he had put on when he entered the sanctuary, and leave them there. 16:24 Then he must bathe his body in water in a holy place, put on his clothes, and go out and make his burnt offering and the people’s burnt offering. So he is to make atonement on behalf of himself and the people.
16:25 “Then he is to offer up the fat of the sin offering in smoke on the altar, 16:26 and the one who sent the goat away to Azazel must wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and afterward he may reenter the camp. 16:27 The bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought to make atonement in the holy place, must be brought outside the camp and their hide, their flesh, and their dung must be burned up, 16:28 and the one who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may reenter the camp.

Review of the Day of Atonement

16:29 “This is to be a perpetual statute for you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves and do no work of any kind, both the native citizen and the foreigner who resides in your midst, 16:30 for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the LORD. 16:31 It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must humble yourselves. It is a perpetual statute.
16:32 “The priest who is anointed and ordained to act as high priest in place of his father is to make atonement. He is to put on the linen garments, the holy garments, 16:33 and he is to purify the Most Holy Place, he is to purify the Meeting Tent and the altar, and he is to make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 16:34 This is to be a perpetual statute for you to make atonement for the Israelites for all their sins once a year.” So he did just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Looking forward to Jesus

‘Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was far superior to the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement. Achieving full atonement for all who believe in him, his death eliminated the need for animal sacrifice and for the observance of an annual Day of Atonement. Whereas the ancient high priest entered the holy of holies, performed the rites while standing and then departed, not to return until the next Day of Atonement, Jesus ascended into heaven, sat down at the Father’s right hand and is ever present in the heavenly holy of holies making intercession for all who believe in him. As a result, through the priestly work of Jesus a believer gains full reconciliation with God and also has direct access to God for all petitions. Thus an understanding of the Day of Atonement sheds great light on what Jesus achieved in his sacrificial death.’ (J.E. Hartley, DOT:P, art. ‘Atonement, Day of’)

‘The impact of this rite on the New Testament’s interpretation of Jesus’ death cannot be overstated; the character of the vicarious nature of the atonement was construed as a foreshadowing of the cross event. Jesus is depicted as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 52:13–53:12) who suffers vicariously as an innocent victim on behalf of the guilty (1 Pet. 2:21–24; 3:18). He is the “mercy seat” (= “propitiation,” Rom. 3:25, KJV) by whose own blood the sin of Jew and Gentile alike are covered. Hebrews makes it clear that no animal’s blood could satisfactorily remove the sin of Israel; this feature of the past was only a temporary measure until the effectual offering of Christ’s sacrifice had come to pass (Heb. 10:3–7).’ (K. Mathews, in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, ch. 23)

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