Leviticus 16


Occupying a central place in the Book of Leviticus is the most holy day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is all about the Israelites, who were in a covenant relationship with God, being reconciled to God.

Later, we will also see that what was to take place here on this very special day, was pointing to something and Someone greater, that is Christ.

‘The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. ‘This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so, he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. ‘Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat. ‘Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover. ‘He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel. ‘Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.’ Leviticus 16:1-19

The Day Of Atonement

We can’t help but notice the seriousness of this chapter, as it points to the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:1-7. This tells us that Aaron had to pay close attention to the instructions given to God or else he too would die.

As we go through this chapter, we soon discover that Aaron, as the high priest, couldn’t just approach God whenever he felt like it, He must approach God on God’s terms and conditions.

Notice that this service was performed by the High Priest alone. The tabernacle was to be emptied of all other inhabitants upon this day. The High Priest would be completely alone as he performed those parts of the ritual which took place within the tabernacle. This is a picture of Jesus who was forsaken by all when He became the covering for our sins, Psalm 22:1.

Notice also, that this service involved passing within the veil. The priests were required to minister within the tabernacle each morning and each evening, but the one thing they were never permitted to do in any of their ministries was to pass beyond the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.

The one exception to this rule took place on the Day of Atonement. On this day, and only on this day, the High Priest was permitted to pass beyond the veil into the very presence of God.

On this special day, the High Priest would be clothed in simple linen. The breastplate and the tunic and the gold and the blue and the scarlet would all be put aside. This is a picture of the Messiah who would lay aside His glory, Philippians 2:7.

Before he could act as a mediator between God and the people, the High Priest first had to offer up a bull as an atonement for his own sins and for those of his family. He was to offer incense that would form a cloud to cover the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant.

After entering the Most Holy Place, he was to sprinkle the mercy seat with blood and the area before the mercy seat. He was to do this in atonement for himself and his family and he was to make atonement for the people by sprinkling the blood of the sin offering.

Two goats were brought before the presence of the Lord, but there was nothing to distinguish them apart. Lots were cast and these lots would determine which goat would live and which would die. The goat on whom the lot fell was killed and used as a sin offering, the other goat is referred to as the ‘scapegoat.’

The phrase translated ‘for the scapegoat’ is the Hebrew word, ‘aza’zel’, this is a compound word made up of the joining of two Hebrew words. The problem is that we are not entirely sure which words are indicated.

a. ‘Az’ is the Aramaic word for a ‘goat,’ but this is normally used to refer only to a female goat. ‘Az’ can also be used in Hebrew as an adjective describing that which is ‘strong’ or even the quality of ‘ferocity.’

b. ‘Azel’ is the verb, ‘to go.’

Thus, this can refer either to the ‘goat of sending away’ or ‘the sending away of ferocity.’

Either one is possible and both would seem to fit the context.

Everything done here was done to make atonement for Israel as a whole because of their inability to live perfect lives for God, Romans 3:9 / Romans 3:10 / Romans 3:23.

‘When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness. ‘Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar. ‘The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. ‘This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community. ‘This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.’ And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.’ Leviticus 16:20-34

Notice that Aaron was to take this goat and place both his hands upon it as he confessed all of the sins of Israel, for most sacrifices he only placed one hand upon the animal. The sins of the nation would be identified with the goat, this figure was later applied to Jesus as He bore our sins on the cross, Psalm 32:1 / Isaiah 53:4 / Isaiah 53:12 / John 1:29.

In other words, if sins are to be forgiven, they must be taken away by someone else. The goat would be led away into the wilderness, signifying that the sins of the people had been carried away. Symbolically this meant that the sins of Israel would be put outside the camp.

The language used here is later repeated to speak of how the Lord would lay upon Messiah the sins of us all, Isaiah 53:6. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews sets forth a series of contrasts and comparisons between the ritual sacrifices of the Day of Atonement and the work of Christ upon the cross.

The rituals of the Day of Atonement were to be repeated each year and for over a thousand years, this drama was acted out, first within the tabernacle, and later within the temple. The ritual found its fulfilment on a spring day in the first century A.D. The Romans had set aside three crosses, three thieves were destined to hang upon those crosses.

They had been apprehended, judged, and found to be guilty. They were placed under the sentence of death, but one of those thieves missed his appointment, he never went to the cross, his name was Barabbas.

Another man went to the cross in his place, Jesus died upon the cross of Barabbas and Barabbas was set free, Matthew 27:16-26. We have been set free, too, and it was not because we were any more deserving, it was a gift of grace, Ephesians 2:8-9.

Go To Leviticus 17