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THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
(The blood that atones for sin)
In Leviticus 16 the LORD gives Moses specific details of a holy ritual that involved a sacrificial blood atonement that was to be carried out by the High Priest, (who, at that time, was Moses’ older brother, Aaron) only one day a year. This day, now known as “Yom Kippur”, would be the only day that the High Priest would be allowed to enter into the inner room of the tabernacle that was known as the “Most Holy Place”.
On this tenth day of Tishri, a solemn day of fasting and prayer, the High Priest would enter into the “Most Holy Place” to make atonement for the sins of, first, himself and his family, and then, the entire nation of Israel. In fact, the Hebrew word “kippur” in the bible, has a special association with sin, guilt, and forgiveness, and, it also actually involves the offering up of a blood sacrifice to the LORD. This sacrifice, in a way that only GOD knows, deals with the guilt of a repentant heart to the extent that GOD will take great joy and pleasure in forgiving the reconciled person.
These instructions were given to Moses shortly after Aaron’s two sons died because they had disobeyed GOD by burning a different kind of fire than HE had commanded them to burn. Here the LORD tells Moses to specifically warn Aaron not to enter the Most Holy Place at his own choosing, but rather, at the time of the LORD’s choosing, and if he entered any time other than the time that HE commanded him to, the penalty for doing so would be death (Vs.1-2).
The Day of Atonement must be viewed in relation to the death of CHRIST, where, in the New Testament, we are taught that JESUS died as a propitiation (substitution) for all of our sins, past, present, and future. The wages of sin has always been “death”, and GOD the FATHER, the “just JUDGE, will always require it to be so. JESUS is the eternal “sacrificial LAMB” that provided the permanent basis for forgiveness of all mankind, just as the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament provided the basis for each person who provided the sacrificial animals, to be forgiven, but only for the sins that they had committed up until that point.
In GOD’s instructions for Aaron regarding his personal preparations for the Day of Atonement (Vs.3-4), HE tells Moses that his brother must first bring a young bull for a sin offering for himself and his family, and a ram for a whole burnt offering. Then he must wash his entire body and put on his “linen tunic” and his under garments that are worn next to his body. He must then tie a “linen sash” around his waist and put his “linen turban” on his head. These would be his sacred garments for this occasion.
Taking up at verse 5, we see detailed instructions for the provisions of “two male goats” for a sin offering, as well as a ram like Aaron’s for a burnt offering before the LORD. At this point Aaron would present his young bull as a sin offering for himself and his family. Then he would bring the two male goats and present them to the LORD at the entrance of the Tabernacle. He would then cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be sacrificed to the LORD, and which one will be “the scapegoat”. The goat chosen to be a sacrifice to the LORD will be presented by Aaron as a sin offering, and the goat chosen as a scapegoat will be presented to the LORD alive. The scapegoat will then be sent into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the sins of the people with him, as an atonement for Israel.
After Aaron kills the bull for his personal sin offering, he was to fill an incense burner with burning coals from the altar that stands before the LORD. Then, after filling both hands with fragrant incense, he will carry the burner and the incense behind the inner curtain, and into the Most Holy Place.
There in the LORD’s presence, he will put the incense on the burning coals so that a cloud of incense will rise over the Ark’s cover in the place of atonement that rests on the “Ark of the Covenant”. At this point in HIS instructions, the LORD inserts this warning for Aaron, “If he (Aaron) follows these instructions, he will not die”.
Afterwards Aaron was to dip his finger into the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover, and then, seven times against the front of the Ark. At this point Aaron must slaughter the goat as a sin offering for the people, and bring its blood into the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain. There he will sprinkle the blood on the atonement cover and against the front of the Ark, just as he did with the bull’s blood. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place, and, he will do the same for the entire Tabernacle, because of the sins of Israel. No one will be allowed inside the Tabernacle at all, while Aaron is making atonement in the Most Holy Place. Everyone is excluded from entering any part of the Tabernacle until he is completely finished making atonement for himself, his family, and all the people of Israel.
In verses 18-19 the LORD instructs that Aaron will go out of the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the altar that stands before the LORD, by smearing some of the blood from the bull and the goat on each of the altar’s horns. He must then dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it seven times over the altar to cleanse it from Israel’s defilement and restore it to its former holiness.
After Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tabernacle, and the altar, he will then bring forward the living goat and lay both of his hands on the goat’s head, and begin to confess all of the sins and rebellions of Israel over it. By doing this he is, symbolically laying all the sins of the people of Israel on the head of the goat. He will then send the goat out into the wilderness lead by a man who was pre-chosen for the task. After the man sets the goat free in the wilderness, it will carry away the sins of the people, upon itself, and into a desolate land (Vs.20-22). Then the man must wash his clothes and bathe in water before he returns to the camp (v.26).
After releasing the scapegoat to the man who led it into the wilderness, Aaron will return to the Tabernacle and divest himself of his linen garments, and leave them in the Tabernacle. He will again wash his entire body with water in a sacred place, put on his regular garments, and then go out and sacrifice his own whole burnt offering, and the whole burnt offering of the people. In this way, he will make atonement for himself and for all the people of Israel. He must also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar (Vs.23-25).
The bull, and the goat, whose blood was used as a sin offering in the Most Holy Place by Aaron, will be taken outside the camp, and their entire remains will be burned. The man who does the burning must wash his clothes and bathe in water before returning to the camp (Vs.27-28).
In all future generations the atonement ceremonies were to be performed by the anointed High Priest. The Day of Atonement was commanded by the LORD to be a permanent annual observance. And just as Moses and Aaron followed all of GOD’s instructions by the letter, so should all future generations of the Jewish Faith.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews, however, points out that JESUS’ vicarious sacrifice for our sins when HE died on the cross, did not have to be an annual event such as the Day of Atonement would be. It is a once-and-for-all-time sacrifice that GOD the FATHER accepts for all the sins of man, for all time. And so, with the vicarious sacrifice of CHRIST JESUS, came the nullification of the effects of the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement, which was a ritual only for the Jews, has been replaced by JESUS’ Day of Crucifixion, because HIS blood covers not only the sins of the Jews, but rather, it covers the sins of all people, for all time.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website