Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 16

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—As the observance of the minute regulations given in the preceding chapters about the daily sacrifices and purifications would necessarily be tainted with many imperfections and shortcomings, both on the part of the mediating priests and the offering laity, a general day of atonement is here instituted, when priest and people are alike to obtain atonement once a year for the sins which were mixed up even with their sacred worship. The day of atonement enacted in the chapter before us is therefore an appropriate conclusion of the laws of purification in the preceding chapters. It is an annual supplement and completion of all the ordinances which were daily practised, and the design of which was to obtain atonement and reconciliation.

After the death of the two sons of Aaron.—That is, after Nadab and Abihu, his two eldest sons, had died, in consequence of having presumptuously entered the sanctuary in a profane manner, and at an irregular time. (See Leviticus 10:1-2.)

Verse 2

(2) That he come not at all times.—Moses is therefore to warn his brother Aaron, the high priest, that if he wishes to escape a similar fate, he is not to presume to enter the Holy of Holies except on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. As Aaron here stands for all those who in future are to succeed him in the pontificate, so Moses, who teaches him his duty, stands for his successors who are hereafter to impart instruction to the high priests on these most solemn occasions. Hence during the second Temple the tuition and preparation of the high priest for his functions devolved upon the Sanhedrin, who prescribed most minute rules for his guidance. Seven days before the Day of Atonement he was separated from his wife, and lodged in a chamber in the Temple, lest he should contract defilement, which might unfit him for the performance of his pontifical duties. The elders or the representatives of the Sanhedrin read and expounded to him the ordinances contained in this chapter; which he had to practise in their [presence, so as to make sure that he could rightly perform all the ceremonies. This continued during the whole night previous to the Day of Atonement, when he was kept awake, so as to prevent any pollution arising from a dream or accident by night.

He read, in the silent hours of darkness, the Books of Job, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles; and if he was no scholar, and could not read, the elders read them to him. As it was deemed important that he should not fall asleep, the priests who surrounded him alternately snapped their fingers, and made him walk on the cold pavement of the court. When the chief of the thirteen priests who were appointed to perform the ordinary duties in connection with the service in the sanctuary had ascertained that the morning had dawned, that the ashes had been removed from the brazen altar, and that the time of the early sacrifice had arrived, the high priest was conducted to the baptistery, where he immersed his whole body in water.

Into the holy place.—This is here more minutely defined by “within the vail,” thus showing that the Holy of Holies is meant. In the succeeding portions of this chapter, however, the expression “holy” is used for “Holy of Holies” without this adjunct. (See Leviticus 16:3; Leviticus 16:16-17; Leviticus 16:20; Leviticus 16:27.)

Before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark.—Or, according to the accents of the received text, nor come to the mercy seat, which, &c. The present text exhibits the view of the Pharisees—that the high priest, though at some distance from the ark, is yet hid through the frankincense on the burning coals in the Holy of Holies itself (see Leviticus 16:12-13); whilst the Sadducees maintained that he must put it on the coals already in the court, because they deemed it improper to work in the presence of the Lord, and because the pontiff would otherwise see the ark. The Authorised Version, therefore, here, as elsewhere, follows the view of the Sadducees, and departs from the received accents, which are an essential part of the traditional text.

For I will appear in the cloud.—That is, because the Lord appeared over the mercy seat and between the cherubim in the bright luminous cloud which constituted the symbol of His Divine presence (see Exodus 25:22), therefore even the high priest must not approach it except on the occasion here prescribed. The Sadducees, however, render it, only in the cloud of incense will I be seen on the cover, that is, in the cloud arising from the burning incense which the high priest is to produce by fumigation before he enters the Holy of Holies, and which is to conceal the manifested Deity.

Verse 3

(3) Thus shall Aaron come.—Better, With this shall, &c, that is, with the following sacrifices, ritual, vestments, &c, shall he approach the most holy place, after having offered previously the daily morning sacrifice, and performed the ordinary daily service. During the performance of the morning service the high priest, at the time of Christ, wore the golden vestments. These he changed for the white garments before he commenced the special ritual prescribed for this day.

With a young bullock for a sin offering.—Which had to be of the second year (see Exodus 29:1), and which the high priest had to buy with his own money. It was to be his own property because the victim was to expiate his own sins, since he, like the meanest sinner, required Divine mercy and forgiveness, though, owing to his high office, he had to bring a more costly sacrifice.

Verse 4

(4) He shall put on the holy linen coat.—Better, a holy linen tunic. The four articles of clothing here mentioned, all of which were of white linen, constituted the sacerdotal “white vestments,” in contra-distinction to “the golden garments.” Of the white garments he possessed two sets, one of Egyptian linen, and the other of Indian and less costly linen. The community allowed the high priest thirty minæ to purchase these garments, and he could add as much as he liked from his own money if he wished them to be more costly, provided the material was linen made of six double twisted threads and of flax. It was the more costly vestments of Egyptian linen which the high priest wore on this occasion. The latter he put on in the after part of the day when he entered the Holy of Holies to bring out the censer. These garments were the same as those of the ordinary priests, except the turban, which was a little taller.

And he shall wash.—He had to bathe his body every time when he changed his vestments.

Verse 5

(5) And he shall take of the congregation.—On this occasion the high priest himself had to officiate, by virtue of his being the chief mediator between God and His people.

Two kids of the goats.—Better, two shaggy he-goats. (See Leviticus 4:23.) These two goats, which were the sin offering for the people, and the ram, which was their burnt offering, were purchased with the money of the public some time before the Day of Atonement. During the second Temple the two goats had to be alike in value, equal in size, and of the same colour. If one of them happened to die after the decision of the lot, a new pair had to be purchased, and the surviving one of the original pair was kept and properly fed till it became ritually defective, whereupon it was sold, and the money paid into the sacred treasury.

Verse 6

(6) And Aaron shall offer.—Better, And Aaron shall present, or bring near, as the word literally denotes (comp, Leviticus 16:9; Leviticus 16:11, &c.), since the actual offering or killing took place afterwards, when the lots for the goats had been cast, as described in Leviticus 16:11.

For himself, and for his house.—By this is meant that the atonement was for his own sins, for those of his family and for all the priests, the sons of Aaron. The ritual at this pontifical sacrifice during the second Temple was most solemn and impressive.

By the side of the victim, which was placed between the porch and the altar towards the east, stood the high priest, arrayed in his white robes, with his face towards the west. In this attitude of a penitent sinner, the pontiff laid both his hands upon the sacrifice and confessed his sins in an audible voice in the sight of God and the assembled congregation as follows: “O Lord, I have sinned, I have committed iniquity, I have transgressed before thee, I and my house. O Lord, I beseech thee cover over my sins, iniquities, and transgressions which I have committed before thee, I and my house, even as it is written in the Law of Moses thy servant—For on that day He will cover over for you and cleanse you from all your sins,” &c. To this the congregation replied: “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.” Whereupon the high priest repeated this confession a second time, including in it the children of Aaron, God’s holy people. (See Leviticus 16:11.)

Verse 7

(7) And he shall take the two goats.—Having presented his own sin-offering, the high priest, accompanied by the two chief priests, now came to the north of the altar. Here the one of his companions who was next in rank to the pontiff placed himself at his right side, whilst the other, who held the office of chief of the principal household (see 1 Chronicles 24:6), stood at his left. It was here that the two goats were presented with their faces to the west, where the Holy of Holies was, and where the Divine majesty was especially revealed.

Verse 8

(8) And Aaron shall cast lots.—The lots consisted of two small tablets which at an earlier time were of box or ebony wood, but which during the later part of the second Temple were made of gold, and were kept in a wooden chest. On the one was engraved the words “For Jehovah,” and on the other “For Azazel,” the expression in the original, which is translated scapegoat in the Authorised Version. The high priest, after shaking the chest, put both his hands into the urn and simultaneously took out the two tablets, one in each hand. Hereupon he put the tablet which he had in his right hand upon the goat that was standing on his right side, whilst the tablet in his left hand he put on the goat on his left side. If the tablet with the in scription “For Jehovah was in his right hand the chief priest who stood at the right of the pontiff exclaimed “Hold up thy right hand on high!” and if it happened to be in the left hand, the chief of the principal household, who stood on his left, called out to him “Hold up thy left hand.” Hereupon the high priest laid the two lots on the two goats, the one in the right hand on the goat at his right, and the one in the left hand on the animal at his left, exclaiming at the same time, “To the Lord a sin offering!”

And the other lot for the scapegoat.—Better, and the other lot for Azazel. The word, which only occurs in this chapter, probably denotes the utterly banished demon, the prince of the evil spirits, who with his legions occupies the desert regions and desolated places. (Comp. Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; Matthew 12:43; Luke 11:24; Revelation 18:2.) As the removal or pardon of sin is often represented in the Bible by its being banished into the uttermost parts of the earth and seas (Micah 7:19; Psalms 103:12), nothing could be more striking or convey to the people the idea of absolute forgiveness better than this symbolical act of sending the goat laden with the sins of the congregation to the wilderness, the abode of the prince of darkness, back to the author of all sin. The rendering, scapegoat, is contrary to the manifest antithesis of the verse. If the one member “For Jehovah” denotes a person, the second member “For Azazel,” which forms the contrast, must, primâ facie, also denote a person. Besides, the translation scapegoat cannot be admitted in the next verse but one, where, if adopted, it would literally be “to send the goat to the scapegoat in the wilderness” .(see Leviticus 16:10), or in Leviticus 16:26, where it is, “and he who taketh away the goat to the scapegoat.”

Verse 9

(9) The goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell.—Immediately after the lots decided the destiny of the two goats they were distinguished from each other by peculiar marks. The one which was “for Jehovah had a red woollen thread tied around its neck, whilst the one for Azazel” had the scarlet thread tied on the head or on the horns.

And offer him for a sin offering.—Better, and shall present, or appoint it for a sin offering (see Leviticus 16:6), as the actual offering of it up took place afterwards. (See Leviticus 16:15.)

Verse 10

(10) On which the lot fell to be the scapegoat.—Better, on which the lot “for Azazel” fell. This one with its distinctive scarlet badge was placed at the spot from whence he was sent away, and thus stood alive, not presented, before the Lord.

To make an atonement with him.—Better, to make atonement for it, that is, it was placed before the Lord in order that it might receive expiation and sanctification, and thus be fitted for the sacred purposes it was destined to fulfil. (See Leviticus 16:16; Leviticus 16:18.)

And to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.—Better, to send it to Azazel into the wilderness.

Verse 11

(11) And Aaron shall bring the bullock.—Having formally dedicated the bullock for his own sin offering (see Leviticus 16:6), and after the two goats which constituted the people’s sin offering had been presented and their lots decided (Leviticus 16:7-10), Aaron comes back to his own sin offering a second time. He again laid both his hands on the victim and repeated the confession for himself, for his house, and for the whole priesthood, as given in Leviticus 16:6.

And shall make an atonement for himself.—His own sins had first to be expiated before he could offer the atoning sacrifices for the people. (Comp. Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 9:7.)

And shall kill the bullock.—Being a sacrifice offered up for himself the high priest, like any layman, had to slaughter the victim, and could not delegate this work to anyone else. (See Leviticus 1:5.) He received the blood in the sprinkling bowl, which he handed over to a priest to stir the blood lest it should coagulate while he performed the fumigation.

Verse 12

(12) A censer full of burning coals.—After the bullock was slain, and before its blood was sprinkled, the high priest took the censer, which on this occasion was a golden one, and filled it with brightly glowing coals. These he took off from that part of the ever-burning fire on the altar of burnt offering or brazen altar which was next to the west, towards the Holy of Holies, where the Lord had His dwelling. This is the sense which the canonical law attached to the phrase here “before the Lord.”

And his hands full of sweet incense.—Having provided himself with two handfuls of the finest incense, and holding the censer with the fire in his right hand, and the cup with the incense in his left, he now entered for the first time through the second vail into the Holy of Holies, advanced to the ark of the covenant, and deposited the censer between its two staves. During the second Temple he stepped forward to the stone which was the substitute of the Ark, and placed the censer upon it.

Verse 13

(13) And he shall put the incense.—The high priest now threw the incense upon the coals in the censer, in the Holy of Holies, and stayed there till the whole place was filled with a cloud of smoke, taking special care that the mercy seat and the cherubim should be enveloped in the cloud. Whereupon he left the Holy of Holies, walking backward, with his face to the holy place and his back to the Temple. Upon his emerging from within the second vail, and arriving in the Holy place, he pronounced the following prayer :—“May it please Thee, O Lord my God, that if this year was intended to be one of drought, it be one of rain. May he who rules over the house of Judah not die. May Thy people not be in want, so that one should beg bread from another or from strangers; and let not the prayers of travellers come before Thee” [because they pray that no rain may fall].

Verse 14

(14) And he shall take of the blood.—Having left the Holy place and returned to the court, where the priest stood with the bowl of the blood of the bullock, stirring it, to prevent it coagulating (see Leviticus 16:11), the high priest took it, and went back to the Holy of Holies, to the same place where he stood on his first entry.

Sprinkle it with his finger.—During the second Temple the high priest sprinkled the blood once upwards and seven times downwards, in such a manner that the eight sprinklings formed a continuous line on the ground. As he sprinkled he was obliged to count one, two, three, &c, lest he should make a mistake.

Verse 15

(15) Then shall he kill the goat.—As the act of expiation for himself and for the priesthood was thus completed by the sprinkling of the blood, the high priest again left the Holy of Holies in the same manner as before, put the vessel on a golden stand in the Temple, expressly prepared for this purpose, and returned to the court, to the altar of burnt offering. On the north side of the altar he slew the goat which the lot had destined for God, and which was the sin offering for the people. As in the case of the bullock, which was his own sin offering, he caught the blood in the bowl, and went within the Holy of Holies a third time. He placed himself in the same position as before, sprinkled and counted the sprinklings in the same manner, and, on his returning to the Holy place, put the vessel on another stand.

Verse 16

(16) Make an atonement for the holy place.—The transgressions of the Israelites during the year not only defiled them, but also drew defilement upon the very sanctuary with its utensils, which was pitched in the midst of them. For this purpose the high priest during the second Temple thoroughly mixed the blood of the bullock with that of the goat, and went out into the Holy place which he inspected first.

And so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation.—Better, and so shall he do for the tent of meeting. He next cleansed by the same process the tent of meeting, or the court of the sanctuary, where the Israelites were usually admitted; that is, the high priest sprinkled the court and the altar of burnt offering which was in it eight times with the mingled blood of the bullock and goat.

Verse 17

(17) And there shall be no man.—Whilst the high priest was performing this process of cleansing, no one, whether priest or Israelite, was permitted to be present, thus precluding the possibility of anyone being within the precincts who had unwittingly contracted defilement. The fact that the high priest was thus alone in the sanctuary, with no one to see how he conducted the ritual, gave rise to the practice of his being sworn, on the eve of the Day of Atonement, by the chief priests and the elders of the Sanhedrin that he would make no change whatever in the traditional ceremonies of the day, as follows :—“We adjure thee, by Him who hath caused His name to dwell in this house, that thou shalt not alter anything of all that we do say unto thee.” This had especial reference to the points at issue between the Pharisees and Sadducees, as some of the high priests held the Sadducaic views. (See Leviticus 16:2.)

Verse 18

(18) And he shall go out unto the altar.—The authorities during the second Temple took this to denote the golden altar, or the altar of incense which stood in the Holy place over against the Holy of Holies, as this was the altar for which expiation was made once a year on this day (see Exodus 30:10); hence it was cleansed next. Beginning at the north-eastern corner, the high priest then went to the north-western, then the south-western, and last round to the south-eastern corner.

Verse 19

(19) And he shall sprinkle.—He then sprinkled with his right finger, seven times, the middle or top of the altar, the coals and ashes having been previously removed so effectually, that the gold appeared. The remainder of the blood he poured out at the western and south-eastern side of the altar, where a drain communicated with the Kidron, whither it was conducted by a pipe.

Verse 20

(20) And when he hath made an end.—Having finished the expiation for himself, his fellow priests, and the sanctuary with its utensils, the goat destined by lot for Azazel, which was standing in the court before the Lord, was now brought to the high priest, that he might complete the sin-offering for the Israelites.

Verse 21

(21) And Aaron shall lay both his hands.—With the imposition of “both his hands,” a phrase which only occurs in this ceremony, the high priest indicated in the most solemn manner possible that the animal was intended both for the priesthood and for the laity.

And confess over him all the iniquities.—This confession, which was at first extempore, was formulated during” the second Temple as follows: “O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have sinned, and done iniquity, and transgressed before thee. O Lord, I beseech thee, cover over the sins, the iniquities and the transgressions that thy people, the house of Israel, have sinned, have done iniquitously, and have transgressed before thee, as it is written in the Law of thy servant Moses” (Leviticus 16:30). The priests and the people who stood in the court when they heard the high priest utter the Ineffable name, Jehovah—which in the time of Christ was only pronounced on this day, and that by the pontiff—prostrated themselves, and with their faces to the ground responded, “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.”

Putting them upon the head of the goat.—By this imposition of hands, and the confession, the high priest transferred the sins of the nation to the goat. He then turned to the people, and declared, “Ye shall be clean.”

Send him away by the hand of a fit man.—The guilt-laden animal was then entrusted to a man previously appointed, to be conducted to the lonely region, the abode of Azazel, thus carrying back to him the sins which he enticed the people to commit during the year. The phrase which is here rendered by “a fit man,” and which occurs nowhere else in the Bible, denotes more properly a timely man, a man at hand, one appointed for the occasion. The marginal rendering, “a man of opportunity,” is still more objectionable.

Verse 22

(22) Unto a land not inhabited.—Literally, unto a land cut off, that is, a place the ground of which is separated from all around it, hence a summit, a peak standing out by itself, a precipice.

In the wilderness.—Where no human beings dwell, but which is the abode of evil spirits. It will be seen that the directions here are simply to conduct the goat into the wilderness, where it is apparently to be let loose to pursue its own course. During the second Temple, however, the authorities decreed that the animal must be destroyed. Accordingly one of the priests who was appointed to execute this mission led the goat to a rock called Zuck, in the wilderness, situate about twelve miles, or ninety furlongs, from Jerusalem. Between the holy city and this steep rock, ten booths were erected at intervals of one mile, and persons were located in every booth to accompany the messenger to the next tent, which was distant a Sabbath day’s journey. From the last booth to the rock, which was double this distance, the messenger had no companion, but he was carefully watched by the occupants of the last booth to see that he performed the ritual according to the prescribed order. On his arrival at the mountain he divided the crimson thread, which was the badge of the goat, into two; one half he fastened to the rock, and the other he tied between the two horns of the victim, and then pushed the animal down the projecting ledge of the rock, when it was dashed to pieces before it reached the bottom. Hereupon the persons stationed at the last booth to watch the proceedings waved linen cloths or white flags, thus signalling from station to station to the priests in the court of the Temple the arrival of the goat at its proper destination.

Verse 23

(23) Shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation.—Better, shall come into the tent of meeting. This was the fourth time that the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The object of his going into the most Holy was to fetch the censer and the incense cup which he had left between the two staves (see Leviticus 16:12). To do this he had again to bathe, which always accompanied the change of garments, and to put on his white robes. As it was no part of the actual service, but was simply a necessary act subsequent to the service, it is not fully described in the text. This was the last act on the Day of Atonement which the high priest performed in his white robes.

And shall leave them there.—The robes were now deposited in a chamber in the sanctuary especially set apart for this purpose, and the high priest was never allowed to minister in them again.

Verse 24

(24) And he shall wash his flesh.—That is, immerse his whole body. The baptistery, where the high priest performed these ablutions, was on the roof of a building in the sacred precincts. According to the authorities and practice during the second Temple the act described in this verse preceded the one ordered in the foregoing verse. The burnt offering, both for himself and for the people, the high priest offered in the golden garments. These he changed for the white robes when he afterwards went into the Holy of Holies to fetch the censer and the incense cup. The sacrifice consisted first of his own ram, then the ram of the people, and lastly the bullock of the people, and their seven lambs. (Comp. Numbers 29:8).

Verse 25

(25) And the fat of the sin offering.—That is, the fat of the inwards of both the bullock (see Leviticus 16:6) and the goat (see Leviticus 16:15), which constituted the sin offering, as well as the fat of the other goat, which was the priest’s sin offering, was to be burnt upon the brazen altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. (See Leviticus 4:8-10.)

Verse 26

(26) And he that let go the goat for the scapegoat.—Better, And he that leadeth away the goat to Âzazel (see Leviticus 16:10). As the messenger who conducted the sin-laden animal to the author of sin contracted defilement by the impurity which the victim carried away, he had both to wash his clothes and immerse his whole body in water before he was admitted into the camp. During the second Temple he remained in the last booth, which was a mile from Jerusalem, till sundown, when he was re-admitted into the camp.

Verse 27

(27) And the bullock.—That is, the bodies of the sin offerings for the priests and the people (see Leviticus 16:5-6; Leviticus 16:9; Leviticus 16:11), whose blood the high priest carried into the Holy of Holies. (See Leviticus 16:14-15, with Leviticus 4:11-12.)

Shall one carry forth.—Better shall be carried forth. During the second Temple four men carried the carcases upon two poles to the place set aside outside Jerusalem for burning. (See Leviticus 4:11.) Hence the ancient Palestinian Targum translates it, “they shall be carried out on poles by the hands of the younger priests.” As has already been remarked, the priest performed this part of the service immediately after the goat was dispatched by the messenger to the wilderness. Whilst the victims were being burned outside the camp the high priest read in the women’s court the appointed lessons for the Day of Atonement (viz., Leviticus 23:26; Numbers 29:7-11) in the presence of the congregation, who were all standing, and at the conclusion of the reading pronounced the eight benedictions (1) on the Divine Law, (2) on the public service, (3) on confession, (4) forgiveness of sins, (5) on Jerusalem, (6) on the Temple, (7) on Israel, and (8) on the priesthood.

Verse 28

(28) And he that burneth.—That is, those who carried the carcases and burned them, like the messenger who conducted the sin-laden goat, contracted defilement from the atoning victims. They had, therefore, to undergo the same ablutions.

Verse 29

(29) And this shall be a statute for ever.—Literally, a statute of eternity, that is, an everlasting ordinance. That which is contained in Leviticus 16:29-30 is binding upon the Israelites as long as they exist, and is to be observed by them annually.

In the seventh month, on the tenth day.—This month, which is called Tishri, corresponds to September, and is the month of great festivals. On the first is the Feast of Trumpets (see Leviticus 23:24), on the tenth the Day of Atonement, and on the fourteenth begins the Feast of Tabernacles which lasts eight days.

Ye shall afflict your souls.—From Isaiah 58:3; Isaiah 58:5; Isaiah 58:10 it is evident that by the phrase “to afflict the soul” is meant fasting. This is expressed by the fuller form, “to afflict the soul with fasting.” in Psalms 35:13, where the Authorised Version inconsistently translates it, “humbled my soul.” This is the only public fast ordained in the Mosaic Law; and the authorities during the second Temple defined more minutely in what this fasting consists. According to the canon law it consists not only in abstaining from eating and drinking, but from washing, anointing, wearing of shoes or sandals, and the marriage-bed, as they were the outward signs of joy. (Comp. Ecclesiastes 9:10.) If any one presumptuously ate as much as a date with a kernel, or drank as much as fills one cheek, he violated the Law, and incurred the penalty of excision. If he did it unintentionally he had to bring a sin offering. The fast lasted from evening to evening, and is rigorously kept by Jews to this day. Exception was and still is made in the case of pregnant women, invalids, and children. This is the fast which the Apostle refers to in Acts 27:9. The marginal note on this passage, viz., “the fast was on the tenth day of the seventh month” (Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 23:29), is not to be found in the first edition of the Authorised Version. It was introduced by Bishop Lloyd in the Bible published in London, 1701, fol., who took it from the Geneva Version (Geneva, 1560), and it was adopted in the Oxford 4to edition, 1703. When Christ admonishes his followers, “When thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face” (Matthew 6:17), He refers to the canonical law about fasting here given.

And do no work at all.—Better, ye shall do no manner of work, as the same phrase is rendered in the Authorised Version in Leviticus 23:31. It is to be regretted that this legal phrase, which occurs five times in the Pentateuch, four of which are to be found in this very book (Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 23:3; Leviticus 23:28; Leviticus 23:31; Numbers 29:7), should have been translated differently in the Authorised Version. This variation is all the more glaring in Numbers 29:7, which is the parallel passage to this. The day was to be a rest from all manual and other secular work exactly as on the Sabbath, with this exception, that whilst work on the Sabbath was punished with stoning, labour on the Day of Atonement was punished with excision.

A stranger that sojourneth among you.—That is, one of non-Jewish descent who had renounced idolatry, and-voluntarily joined the Jewish community. (See Exodus 12:19; Exodus 20:10.)

Verse 30

(30) For on that day shall the priest make an atonement.—Literally, For on that day he shall make atonement for you, which may either be the Lord, who is mentioned in the next clause, or, more probably, the high priest, who is mentioned five verses before. (See Leviticus 16:25, and especially Leviticus 16:32.)

That ye may be clean . . . —Better, you shall be clean, &c. Because it is here said “you shall be clean from all your sins before the Lord,” the administrators of the law in the time of Christ declared that only the sins which a man commits before, i.e., against the Lord, are atoned for on the Day of Atonement, but the sins which man commits against his fellow man are not forgiven on this day unless we have first satisfied our injured neighbour, and have obtained pardon from him. Again, he who sinneth in the hope that he will obtain absolution on the Day of Atonement, for him there is no forgiveness on this day.

Verse 31

(31) It shall be a Sabbath of rest unto you.—Literally, a resting day of solemn resting, a Sabbath of Sabbaths, i.e., a day of complete and perfect rest. This phrase, which occurs six times in the Bible, is only applied to weekly Sabbaths (Exodus 16:23; Exodus 31:15; Exodus 35:2; Leviticus 23:3), the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:32), and to the Sabbatical year, or the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:4), but not to the other festivals.

Verse 32

(32) And the priest, whom he shall anoint.—Better, And the priest who shall be anointed. Not only is Aaron to make atonement on this occasion, but, in future, the priest who shall be consecrated by the proper authorities as his successor to the pontificate shall perform this act of expiation on the Day of Atonement.

And whom he shall consecrate.—Better, and who shall be consecrated. According to the canonical interpretation which obtained during the second Temple, this clause makes the hereditary right to the high priesthood conditional. Unlike property, which descends to the heirs unconditionally, the son of the high priest can only succeed his father if he is morally and physically blameless. The decision upon these points was vested in the community, represented by their elders—the Sanhedrin—who pronounced whether the heir apparent was qualified or disqualified to step into the office of pontiff, and who appointed the delegates to anoint and invest the new high priest with the insignia of his functions.

And shall put on the linen clothes.—Better, and shall put on the linen garments, as it is rendered in the Authorised Version in Leviticus 16:23. This phrase only occurs twice, and in this very section. To render it by two different expressions within so short a space is almost equivalent to depriving it of its identity. Now the priest who has thus been deemed worthy to succeed to this high office is to put on the holy white garments on the Day of Atonement.

Verse 33

(33) And he shall make an atonement.—Like Aaron, the successor to the pontificate is to perform the service of expiation as detailed in this chapter, a summary of which is here given.

Verse 34

(34) And this shall be an everlasting statute.—Better, And this shall be a statute for ever, as the Authorised Version has it in Leviticus 16:29. Here, again, we have an instance of how the same phrase which occurs three times within four verses (see Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 16:34) is rendered in the Authorised Version by two different phrases, thus giving the idea to the English reader that there is a difference in the original. The thrice-repeated phrase emphasises the abiding nature of this law, and indicates the solemnity of the day.

And he did as the Lord commanded Moses—That is, Aaron performed the service for the first time, according to the ordinances which the Lord communicated to Moses. A similar remark occurs at the first observance of the Passover. (See Exodus 12:50.) The solemn admonition, therefore, addressed to the priesthood at the beginning of this chapter (see Leviticus 16:1-2), not to presume on their office, but to submit to the Divine regulations, was duly observed by the first high priest. It may, however, also be designed to indicate that Aaron did not assume the dignity of the pontificate to exalt himself, but in obedience to the command God gave to Moses.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/leviticus-16.html. 1905.
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