Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (The Day of Atonement)

Leviticus 16

Nine days after the feast of Trumpets, on the 10th day of the 7th month, Israel was to observe the Day of Atonement, or literally, the day of covering.  This was because on this day the top of the ark of the covenant, which represented the throne of God, was to be covered with the blood of sacrifice in order to satisfy the just demands of the Holy God, Yahweh, so that He could forgive the sins of His people.  Even though they were bringing sin offerings throughout the year, this ceremony represented the need for one over-arching sacrifice to truly cover their guilt.

The day consisted of fasting, sabbath rest and a holy convocation or coming together before the sanctuary.  God wanted the people to focus on their sin and the awful requirements for atonement.  The process was even different for Aaron or whoever the high priest was that year.  He did not wear his usual priestly garments during the ceremony (except for the turban), but rather a unique set of white linen garments put on only after an entire bath in the Holy Place (the section of the tent in front of the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was located).

As the people watched, the high priest brought a bull and a ram for a burnt and sin offering.  This was for his own atonement.  He would also bring two goats as sin offerings for the people and cast lots to see which would be offered to Yahweh as a sin offering and which would be sent out in the wilderness as a scapegoat.  Then he alone entered the sanctuary, removed his normal garments and bathed, then put on the linen garments.  He then came out and slew his sin offerings and brought blood from these offerings as well as hot coals from the altar outside and some incense in with him to the Most Holy Place.  He put the incense in the coals to create smoke that would conceal to some extent the cover on the ark of the covenant so that he wouldn’t die.  This seems to be a representation of the fact that a clear, unobstructed view of God’s holiness would be dangerous to us.  Then he sprinkled blood from his sin offering on the cover or lid of the ark and some before or in front of it.

The people could see none of this, but at this point the high priest would come out of the sanctuary and offer in sacrifice the goat chosen as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  He would re-enter the sanctuary with blood from this goat and sprinkle it on the cover or lid of the ark and in front of the ark in the Most Holy Place.  This was also meant to cleanse the sanctuary.

Then the high priest would come out to the Holy Place, still unseen by the people, and put some of the blood from this sacrifice on the altar of incense to cleanse it (though some believe he came all the way out of the sanctuary and cleansed the altar outside). 

Then he would come outside and get the goat chosen to be abandoned in the wilderness, lay his hands on it and confess Israel’s sins over it.  The man chosen to take this goat would then escort it to the wilderness as a symbol of the people’s sins being taken far away.  God’s forgiveness was thus represented by the death of one goat and the removal of another, signaling how completely Israel had been forgiven.

The high priest would then re-enter the sanctuary, remove his linen garments and bath and redress in his normal garments, come out and offer the burnt offering for himself and the one for all the people and make sure it was entirely burnt up (no one would eat any portion of this sacrifice).

What kind of sense do you think you would have watching this about how seriously God deals with sin?  How comfortable would you feel that this had to be done every year?  This makes all the more wonderful the complete answer God had coming in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary with his own blood, not needing a sacrifice for his own sin because he was sinless, and cleansed forever the sin of those who trust in him (Hebrews 9).

Our day of atonement has been observed once and for all!

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About thimblefulloftheology

Staff pastor of an evangelical church in Collierville TN just outside of Memphis. Married with four grown children, all married. Thrilled with life in Jesus Christ. View all posts by thimblefulloftheology

2 responses to “Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (The Day of Atonement)

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