Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 16

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


The day of atonement, or, as it is in the Hebrew, the day of atonements, is called by the rabbis “the day,” and by Luke (probably) “the Fast.” See Acts 27:9. Compare with this chapter Leviticus 23:26-32.

Verse 1

The reference to the death of Nadab and Abihu is a notice of the occasion on which the instructions were given, well calculated to add point and emphasis to the solemn admonition to the high priest in the second verse. The death of his sons Leviticus 10:2, for drawing near to Yahweh in an unauthorized manner, was to serve as a warning to Aaron himself never to transgress in this respect.

Verse 2

The holy place within the vail - See Exodus 26:33-34; Hebrews 9:3.

The cloud - Compare Exodus 16:10 note.

The mercy seat - See Exodus 25:17 note.

Verse 3

Holy place - This name here denotes the sanctuary, the whole sacred enclosure, the court of the tabernacle. The offerings were for Aaron and his sons, supplied by himself.

Verse 4

The high priest when he changed his dress on this day was required to bathe himself. In his “golden garments” he had, on this day, and for the previous week, to offer the regular daily sacrifices, and to perform the other sacerdotal duties of the sanctuary, which were usually performed by a common priest. The dress of white linen, which he now put on, appears to have been like the ordinary dress of the common priests, except in the substitution of a linen mitre for the bonnet (or cap), and of a plain linen girdle for the variegated one (Exodus 28:40-43 notes). In preparing to enter the holy of holies, he attired himself in spotless white as a token of the holiness without which none, in a spiritual sense, can enter the divine presence. He thus became a more distinct foreshadow of the greater high priest Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 6:19-20. This significance belonged to the high priest only in his official capacity as mediator: in his own person he had infirmity, and was required “to offer up sacrifice, “first” for his own sins, and then for the people’s.” Hebrews 7:27. See the notes at Leviticus 9:7-14. On the same ground it was that, although as a mediator he had to enter the most holy place, as sinful man he needed the cloud of incense as a veil to come between him and the holiness of Yahweh. See Leviticus 16:13.

Verse 5

Take of the congregation - i. e. they were to be supplied at the public cost.

Two kids of the goats - This should be, two shaggy he-goats (Leviticus 4:23 note), of the same color, size, and value.

Verse 6

Shall offer - Rather, shall present, as in Leviticus 16:7, Leviticus 16:10, etc. The word expresses the formal act of placing the victims in front of the entrance of the tabernacle.

For himself, and for his house - i. e. for himself as the high priest and all the common priests. Compare Leviticus 9:7-14 note.

Verse 8

The two goats formed a single sin-offering, Leviticus 16:5. To bring out the meaning of the sacrifice it was necessary that the act of a living being should be performed after death. See Leviticus 16:22 note. As this could not possibly be visibly set forth with a single victim, two were employed, as in the case of the birds in the rite for the healed leper Leviticus 14:4-6.

For the scapegoat - Rather, for Azazel. The word occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament but in this chapter, and is probably derived from a root in use in Arabic, but not in Hebrew, signifying to “remove”, or “to separate”.

Azazel is the pre-Mosaic name of an evil personal being placed in opposition to Yahweh. Each goat, having been presented to Yahweh before the lots were cast, stood in a sacrificial relation to Him. The casting of lots was an appeal to the decision of Yahweh (compare Joshua 7:16-17; Joshua 14:2; Proverbs 16:33; Acts 1:26, etc.); it was therefore His act to choose one of the goats for His service in the way of ordinary sacrifice, the other for His service in carrying off the sins to Azazel (see the note at Leviticus 16:22). By this exppressive outward sign the sins were sent back to the author of sin himself, “the entirely separate one,” who was banished from the realm of grace.

The goat itself did not lose the sacred character with which it had been endued in being presented before Yahweh. It was, as much as the slain goat, a figure of Him who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, on whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all Isaiah 53:4, Isaiah 53:6, that we might become a sanctified Church to be presented unto Himself, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing Ephesians 5:26-27.

Verse 10

On which the lot fell to be the scapegoat - Rather, on which the lot ‘for Azazel’ fell.

An atonement with him - The goat “for Azazel” was to be considered as taking his part along with the other goat in the great symbol of atonement.

For a scapegoat into the wilderness - Rather, “to Azazel, into the wilderness.”

Verses 11-25

It is important, in reference to the meaning of the day of atonement, to observe the order of the rites as they are described in these verses.

Leviticus 16:12

A censer - See Exodus 25:38 note.

The altar before the Lord - i. e. the altar of burnt-offering on which the fire was always burning.

Leviticus 16:14

The high priest must have come out from the most holy place to fetch the blood, leaving the censer smoking within, and then have entered again within the veil. He sprinkled the blood seven times upon the mercy-seat, on its east side (not “eastward”), and then seven times upon the floor in front of it. If the mercy-seat may be regarded as an altar, the holiest one of the three, on this one occasion in the year atonement was thus made for it, as for the other altars, with sacrificial blood.

Leviticus 16:15

Having completed the atonement in the holy of holies on behalf of the priests, the high priest had now to do the same thing on behalf of the people.

Leviticus 16:16

The “holy place” - Here the place within the veil, the holy of holies.

Tabernacle of the congregation - tent of meeting. atonement was now to be made for the tabernacle as a whole. The sense is very briefly expressed, but there seems to be no room to doubt that the high priest was to sprinkle the blood of each of the victims before the altar of incense, as he had done before the mercy-seat within the veil; and also to touch with blood the horns of the altar of incense Exodus 30:10.

That remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness - Compare Leviticus 16:19. The most sacred earthly things which came into contact with the nature of man needed from time to time to be cleansed and sanctified by the blood of the sin-offerings which had been taken into the presence of Yahweh. See Exodus 28:38 note.

Leviticus 16:18

The order of the ceremony required that atonement should first be made for the most holy place with the mercy-seat, then for the holy place with the golden altar, and then for the altar in the court. See Leviticus 16:20, Leviticus 16:33. The horns of the brazen altar were touched with the blood, as they were in the ordinary sin-offerings. Leviticus 4:25, Leviticus 4:30, Leviticus 4:34.

Of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat - Some of the blood of the two victims was mingled together in a basin.

Leviticus 16:21

Confess over him - The form of confession used on this occasion in later times was: “O Lord, Thy people, the house of Israel, have transgressed, they have rebelled, they have sinned before Thee. I beseech Thee now absolve their transgressions, their rebellion, and their sin that they have sinned against Thee, as it is written in the law of Moses Thy servant, that on this day he shall make atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins, and ye shall be clean.”

A fit man - literally, a timely man, or a man at hand. Tradition says that the man was appointed for this work the year before.

Leviticus 16:22

Unto a land not inhabited - Unto a place cut off, or (as in the margin) a place “of separation.”

It is evident that the one signification of the ceremony of this goat was the complete removal of the sins which were confessed over him. No symbol could so plainly set forth the completeness of Yahweh’s acceptance of the penitent, as a sin-offering in which a life was given up for the altar, and yet a living being survived to carry away all sin and uncleanness.

Verses 26-28

Both he who led away the goat, and he who burned the parts of the sin-offerings had to purify themselves. They who went out of the camp during a religious solemnity incurred uncleanness; hence, the need of purification.

Leviticus 16:27

Shall burn in the fire - i. e., consume in the fire, not burn sacrificially. See Leviticus 1:9.

Verse 29

Seventh month, on the tenth day - The month Ethanim or Tisri, as being the seventh in the Sacred year, has been called the sabbatical month. On the first day was celebrated the Feast of Trumpets Leviticus 23:24, the tenth day was the Day of Atonement, and on the fourteenth day the Feast of tabernacles commenced (Leviticus 23:24 note; Exodus 23:16).

Afflict your souls - The old term for fasting; but its meaning evidently embraces, not only abstinence from food, but that penitence and humiliation which give scope and purpose to the outward act of fasting. The Day of Atonement was the only public fast commanded by the Law of Moses. See further directions in Leviticus 23:27-32. On fasts observed in later times, see Zechariah 8:19, and margin reference.

A stranger that sojourneth among you - Rather, the foreigner who dwelleth among you. See Exodus 20:10 note. The meaning is, one of foreign blood, who dwelt with the Israelites, had abjured false gods, and had become familiarly known to his neighbors, e. g. the Kenites (Judges 4:11, etc.); the Gibeonites Joshua 9:0; and a considerable portion of the “mixed multitude” (compare Exodus 12:38, Exodus 12:48). As the foreigner had the blessing and protection of the Law he was bound to obey its statutes.

Verses 33-34

A summary of what was done on the day of atonement.

The day was intended as an occasion for expressing more completely than could be done in the ordinary sacrifices the spiritual truth of atonement, with a fuller acknowledgment of the sinfulness and weakness of man and of the corruptible nature of all earthly things, even of those most solemnly consecrated and devoted to the service of God. It belonged to its observances especially to set forth, by the entrance of the high priest into the holy of holies, that atonement could only he effected before the throne of Yahweh Himself (compare Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:7-10; Hebrews 4:16, etc.); and, by the goat sent into the wilderness, that the sins atoned for were not only forgiven, but carried wholly away. See Leviticus 16:22 note. The rites were a solemn gathering up of all other rites of atonement, so as to make them point more expressively to the revelation to come of God’s gracious purpose to man in sending His Son to be delivered for our offences, and to rise again for our justification; to be our great high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec, and to enter for us within the veil Romans 4:25; Hebrews 6:20. The Day of Atonement expanded the meaning of every sin-offering, in the same way as the services for Good Friday and Ash Wednesday expand the meaning of our litany days throughout the year, and Easter Day, that of our Sundays.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/leviticus-16.html. 1870.
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