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Leviticus Bible Study – Lesson #7

Lesson 7:  Leviticus 16              

THE DAY OF ATONEMENT

This chapter holds the greatest spiritual lesson for us. The subjects treated so far in Leviticus have been offerings, priests, and sin. None of these have dealt finally and completely with sin. We now come to that which more completely than any other deals with the subject of sin. It at least points more specifically and adequately to the work of Christ in redemption. It is a shadow of His redemptive work.

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). A shadow is a picture. Although a picture is a poor substitute for the real thing or the real person, it points to the reality

The greatest day on the Jewish calendar was the Day of Atonement (Heb., Yôm Kippur), when the high priest went into the Most Holy Place with sacrificial blood to make atonement for himself and for the people.

The word for “atonement” is the Hebrew kaphar, which means “to cover.” God did not take away sins in the Old Testament; He covered them until Christ came and removed them. There are a number of Scriptures which teach this. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at [overlooked]; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [that is, a mercy seat] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forebearance of God” (Rom. 3:24-25). “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). “The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience” (Heb. 9:8-9).

The Day of Atonement was observed in the seventh month and on the tenth day. These numbers are significant in most of Scripture. The seventh is the sabbatic month and denotes rest and ceasing from works. Surely it is not amiss that this month was chosen to set forth the rest of redemption that is in Christ. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Heb. 4:10).

Ten is another prominent number in Scripture, and seems to convey the idea of that which expresses God’s complete will and way. There were the Ten Commandments—God could have given another, but He did not. God requested the tithe, the tenth, and the remnant of Israel is defined as a tenth (Isa. 6:13).

Although the Day of Atonement is usually listed along with the feasts of Jehovah, it was actually a time of fasting and solemnity (Lev. 23:27-32).

It will be helpful to remember that in this chapter the Most Holy Place (the “Holy of Holies”) is called the Holy Place, and the Holy Place is called the tabernacle of meeting.

The sacrilege of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, forms the backdrop for these instructions. A fate similar to theirs would befall the high priest if he entered the Most Holy Place on any day other than the Day of Atonement. And on that day he must carry the blood of a young bull for a sin offering and of a ram as a burnt offering.

First the high priest bathed and dressed in white linen garments (v. 4). The high priest laid aside his garments of glory and beauty. He became attired in the same linen garb as the other priests. He washed himself and put on the linen garments only. He must be unadorned but pure. This is a beautiful foreshadowing of Christ, our High Priest, who laid aside His glory and took upon Himself human flesh to die on the cross.

By way of preliminaries, he brought a bullock and a ram to the tabernacle. He would offer these for himself and for his family, the bull for a sin offering and the ram for a burnt offering (v. 3). He brought two goats and one ram which he would offer for the people, the goats for a sin offering and the ram for a burnt offering (v. 5). He presented the two goats before the door of the tabernacle and cast lots—one for the Lord and the other lot as a scapegoat (v. 7-8).

Then he killed the bull as the sin offering for himself and for his house (v. 11). Next he took a censer of burning coals with his hands full of sweet incense and carried them into the Most Holy Place. There he poured the incense over the live coals, causing a cloud of incense to cover the mercy seat (v. 12-13). He returned to the altar of burnt offering for some blood of the bull, took it into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkled it on top of the mercy seat and in front of it seven times (v. 14). He killed the goat chosen for a sin offering (v. 8), and sprinkled its blood, as he did the blood of the bull, before and on the mercy seat (v. 9-15). This made atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel (v. 16). By the sprinkling of blood he also made atonement for the tabernacle and for the altar of burnt offering (vv. 18-19). Atonement started with the Most Holy Place, then worked outward to the Holy Place and finally to the brazen altar (vv. 15–19). After he laid both his hands on the head of the scapegoat (v. 8) and confessed the sins of the people (v. 10, 20-21), a chosen man led the goat into the wilderness (Lev. 21-22). The two goats symbolized two different aspects of atonement: “that which meets the character and holiness of God, and that which meets the need of the sinner as to the removal of his sins.”  Aaron’s laying his hands on the head of the live goat pictures the placing of the sins of Israel (and of ourselves) on Christ, to be taken away forever (v. 21).  The term for this goat, “the Azazel”, means “to remove, or to take away”. Then Aaron put that goat into the hands of a man who had no personal interest in it, and Israelites were stationed at intervals to see that the job was done. The live goat finally disappeared into the wilderness, never to be seen or found again. The news that the goat was gone was relayed from station to station so that it was known a few minutes later in the temple.

Just as the news was passed from station to station, so the good news that Christ has taken away our sins has been passed from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to Paul the Apostle, then to the early church fathers, and finally to me and to you. Christ has put away our sins in a perfect and complete manner. The scapegoat illustrates several Scriptures in this connection: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa. 38:17). “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isa. 44:22). “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve” (Jer. 50:20). “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).

The high priest bathed in a holy place, perhaps at the laver, then put on his garments of glory and beauty (v. 23-24a). The high priest next offered two rams as burnt offerings, one for himself and the other for the people (v. 24b). He burned the fat of the two sin offerings on the altar while their skins, their flesh, and their offal were being burned outside the camp (v. 25-27). Even the skin of the burnt offering, which usually went to the priest (7:8), was to be burned.  In the ritual of atonement, the people confessed their sins and refrained from work (v. 29).

Despite the solemn ceremonies of this day, its failure to adequately deal with sins was written across it in the words “once a year.” “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). In vivid contrast is the work of Christ, by which human sins are totally removed instead of being merely covered for a year!

Christ was made sin for us on the cross. This is the counterpart to the brazen altar in the tabernacle. Then, as our Great High Priest, He entered into heaven and offered His own blood for our sins. Now the throne of God is a mercy seat for us. All of this is clearly taught us in Hebrews 9, and Hebrews 10. Whereas Aaron went with fear and trembling, we are bidden to come with boldness according to Hebrews 4:16. Where he did not dare linger and could come only one day in the year, we are bidden to come constantly. Christ, our High Priest, carried His own blood and the sweet incense of His own intercession into heaven, and He is there today at God’s right hand.

What does the great Day of Atonement mean to the Christian? It is a holy day for us too. When the high priest is there with his bloody hands on the head of the goat, I think of my Lord on the cross. John pointed Him out, “… Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Dean Law has well said, “Faith transfers our sins; Christ removes them; God forgets them.”