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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Leviticus 16

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;

After the death of the two sons of Aaron. It is thought by some that this chapter has been transposed in the sacred record out of its right place, which was immediately after the narrative of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3.10.5). That appalling catastrophe must have filled Aaron with painful apprehensions lest the guilt of those two sons might be entailed on his house, or that other members of his family might share the same fate by some irregularities or defects in the discharge of their sacred functions. And therefore this law was established, by the due observance of whose requirements the Aaronic order would be securely was established, by the due observance of whose requirements the Aaronic order would be securely maintained and accepted in the priesthood.

Verse 2

And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.

Come not at all times ... Common priests went every day to burn incense on the golden altar into the part of the sanctuary without the veil. But none except the high priest was allowed to enter within the veil (Leviticus 4:6), and that only once a year, with the greatest care and solemnity. "The holy place," for the most holy place (Hebrews 9:2-58.9.3): the sacred writers frequently use the positive for the other degrees of comparison. This arrangement was evidently designed to inspire a reverence for the most holy place, and the precaution was necessary, at a time when the presence of God was indicated by sensible symbols, the impression of which might have been diminished or lost by daily and familiar observation.

I will appear in the cloud - i:e., in darkness, according to Bahr, who supposes that the reference is to the dense cloud of fragrant smoke mentioned Leviticus 16:13. But this view of thick impenetrable darkness is contradicted by Exodus 40:34 and Numbers 9:15. Vitringa ('Obs. Sac.,' tom. 1:, pp. 161-171) maintained the same opinion, believing that, while the ark of the covenant was called God's habitation, He was present only in an invisible manner, being known to His people that He was present there by the oracles issued from that sacred crypt. But it is expressly said here, "I will appear [ be`aanaan (H6051)] in the cloud," the known cloud by which Yahweh accompanied the Israelites through the desert, and in a condensed form took possession of the tabernacle.

It has, indeed, been a subject of discussion, whether this cloud constantly rested upon the ark, and there is no distinct intimation given upon the subject, although the visible symbol was believed to be there by the later Jews, who gave it the name of shechinah-a bright and glorious halo. But there can be no doubt that at the annual entrance into the adytum, the most holy place, by the high priest, the spiritual presence of God did embody itself in the cloud, as it had formerly done, above the capporeth (see Hengstenberg, 'Christol.,' 2:, pp. 384-386) - i:e., the smoke of the incense which the high priest burnt on his yearly entrance into the most holy place: and this was the cloud which at that time enveloped the mercy seat.

Verses 3-4

Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.

Thus shall Aaron come. Since the duties of the great day of atonement led to the nearest and most solemn approach to God, the directions as to the proper course to be followed were minute and special. And here follows the programme: a full detail of the manner in which he should make a reverent and acceptable entrance.

With a young bullock ... and a ram. These victims he brought alive, but they were not offered in sacrifice until he had gone through the ceremonies described between this and Leviticus 16:11. After having purified himself by the ablution of his entire person, he was to put on an appropriate dress. But he was not to attire himself on that occasion in the splendid robes that were proper to his sacred office, but in a plain dress of linen, like the common Levites; for, as he was then to make atonement for his own sins, as well as for those of the people, he was to appear in the humble character of a suppliant. That plain dress was more in harmony with a season of humiliation, as well as lighter and more convenient for the duties which on that occasion he had singly to perform, than the gorgeous robes of the pontificate. It showed that when all appeared as sinners, the highest and lowest were then on a level, and that there is no distinction of persons with God.

Verses 5-10

And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

Shall take of the congregation ... two kids of the goats ... and one ram. The sacrifices were to be offered by the high priest respectively for himself and the other priests, as well as for the people. The bullock (Leviticus 16:3) and the goats were for sin offerings, and the rams for burnt offerings.

The goats, though used in different ways, constituted only one offering. They were both presented before the Lord, and the disposal of them determined by lot-a solemn appeal to God (Proverbs 16:33) which Jewish writers have thus described: The priest, placing one of the goats on his right hand and the other on his left, took his station by the altar, and cast into an urn two pieces of gold exactly similar, inscribed, the one with the words, "for the Lord," and the other, for "Azazel" (the scape-goat). After having well shaken them together, he put both his hands into the box and took up a lot in each: that in his right hand he put on the head of the goat which stood on his right, and that in his left he dropped on the other. In this manner the fate of each was decided.

Verses 11-14

And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:

Aaron shall bring the bullock ..., [ wªhiqriyb (H7126)] - shall offer or present (cf. Leviticus 16:6; Leviticus 16:9; Leviticus 16:20). This act must have been a solemn and impressive part of the ceremonial. In this formal presentation of the destined victims there was a silent but significant declaration of the common consciousness of demerit on the part of all-priests as well as people requiring an atonement, and engaging in the religious solemnity with a character of humble, deliberate seriousness, which indicated a deep sense of the vast importance of the occasion. The first part of the service was designed to solemnize his own mind, as well as the minds of the people, by offering the sacrifices for their sins. The sin offerings being slain had the sins of the offerer judicially transferred to them by the imputation of his hands on their heads (Leviticus 4:1-3.4.35); and thus the young bullock, which was to make atonement for himself and the other priests (called his house, Psalms 135:19), was provided at the expense (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 10:, sec. 3), and killed by the hands, of the high priest. While the blood of the victim was being received into a vessel, taking a censer of live coals in his right hand, and a platter of sweet incense (see the note at Exodus 30:1-2.30.38) in his left, he, amid the solemn attention and the anxious prayers of the assembled multitude crossed the porch and the Holy Place, opened the outer veil which led into the Holy of Holies, then the inner veil, and, standing before the ark deposited the censer of coals on the floor, emptied the plate of incense into his hand, poured it on the burning coals, and the apartment was filled with fragrant smoke, calculated to shelter a high priest 'that had infirmity' in the awful presence, 'that he die not;' and further intended, according to Jewish writers, to prevent any presumptuous gazer prying too curiously into the form of the mercyseat, which was the Lord's throne.

The high priest having done this, perfumed the sanctuary-a rite to which a great significance was attached (Revelation 5:8) - returned to the door, took the blood of the slain bullock, and carrying it into the Holy of Holies, sprinkled it with his finger once upon the mercyseat 'eastward' - i:e., on the side next to himself, and seven times "before the mercyseat" - i:e., on the front of the ark. Josephus says he did it 'on the covering of the ark and on the pavement.'

The representation of the act as seven-fold, the number of the covenant, points out the nature and importance of the sprinkling. The ark of the covenant was the concentration of expiatory virtue in the tabernacle, and on that account the highest typical atonement was made by the effusion upon it of the blood of the most holy offering. Hence, the meaning of capporeth, 'the lid of expiations;' and it is on the shedding of blood in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man, that the believer's title is founded to enter into the Holiest in spirit (Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:23-58.9.24).

Leaving the coals and the incense burning, he went out a second time, to sacrifice at the altar of burnt offering the goat which had been assigned as a sin offering for the people (Hebrews 7:27), and carrying its blood into the Holy of Holies, made similar sprinklings as he had done before with the blood of the bullock. While the high priest was thus engaged in the most Holy place, none of the ordinary priests were allowed to remain within the precincts of the tabernacle.

The Sanctuary or Holy place and the golden altar (Exodus 30:1-2.30.38) were in like manner sprinkled seven times with the blood of the bullock and the goat, and going out into the open air, he poured the remainder of the blood round about the altar of burnt offering. The object of this solemn ceremonial was to impress the minds of the Israelites with the conviction that the whole tabernacle was stained by the sins of a guilty people, that by their sins they had forfeited the privileges of the divine presence and worship, and that an atonement had to be made as the condition of God's remaining with them.

The sins and shortcomings of the past year having polluted the sacred edifice, the expiation required to be annually renewed. The exclusion of the priests indicated their unworthiness and the impurities of their service. The mingled blood of the two victims being sprinkled on the horns of the altar indicated that the priests and the people equally needed an atonement for their sins. But the sanctuary being thus ceremonially purified, and the people of Israel reconciled by the blood of the consecrated victim, the Lord continued to dwell in the midst of them and honour them with His gracious presence.

Verses 15-19

Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 20-22

And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:

He shall bring the live goat. Having already been presented before the Lord (Leviticus 16:10), it was now brought forward to the high priest, who, placing his hands upon its head, and having confessed over it "all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, transferred them by this act to the goat as their substitute.

The Septuagint version is even more literal and explicit than ours: Kai epitheesei Aaroon tas cheiras autou epi teen kefaleen tou chimarou tou zoontos, kai exagoreusei ep auton pasas tas anomias toon huioon Israeel kai pasas tas adikias autoon kai pasas tas hamartias autoon kai epitheesei autas epi teen kefaleen tou chimarou tou zoontos, kai exapostelei en cheiri anthroopou etoimou eis teen ereemou kai lepsetai ho chimaros ef' heautoo tas hamartias autoon eis geen abaton. Many of the expressions used in this translation are identical with those met with in the writings of the apostles, who employed the translation of the Septuagint (cf. Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 1:18-60.1.19; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 2:17; Revelation 5:9)].

It is observable that this is the only passage of the Bible in which the import of the solemn act-the imposition of hands on the head of the victim-is clearly and fully explained. It was a symbolical transference of the sins of the people to the beast. But 'sin signifies here, as it does in many passages of the books of Moses (cf. Leviticus 4:2), the doing of something which ought not to have been done. So that the sacrifices on the any of atonement were intended only to expiate outward sins, which, being unknown, had not been expiated by the ordinary sacrifices' (Erskine, 'On the Nature of the Sinai Covenant'). It was then delivered into the hands of a fit person [ `itiy (H6261); Septuagint, hetoimon (G2092), ready prepared], who was appointed to lead him away into a distant, solitary, and desert place, where in early times he was let go, to escape for his life.

The Jews have a tradition that the conductor of the live goat into the wilderness led it not by a common halter, but, a piece of scarlet cloth tied round its horns-that in after-times, instead of letting it loose in the wilderness, he took it to the summit of a lofty crag, at a short distance from Jerusalem, and hurled it down the precipice. This cloth having been torn into shreds, one part was allowed to remain on the animal's horns, while the other was spread on the rock; and if at the time of precipitation, its red colour was changed into white, that was the recognized token of acceptance-a remarkable circumstance, which is supposed to be the origin of Isaiah's metaphor (Isaiah 1:18), "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." The Rabbinical writers, who record this information, add, that for forty years before the destruction of their second temple - i:e., from the time of our Lord's death, this piece of scarlet cloth never changed its hue (Dr. Patrick; also Prideaux, vol.

ii., p. 3, 8vo).

Commentators have differed widely in their opinions about the character and purpose of this part of the ceremonial the discrepancies arising principally out of the various interpretations put upon the word Azazel [derived by Bochart and Gesenius from 'aazal, he removed, or separated; by others, `eez (H5795), a goat, and 'ªzal, to go away] (see Winer, Realwort, sub voce). The subject is involved in much obscurity. But the following may be given as the leading views entertained of it: Many writers, laying stress on the circumstance of its being placed (Leviticus 16:8) in opposition to Yahweh, consider that the term denotes a personal existence, and that as the preposition lamed, which denotes possession, is prefixed to both, the sense which it bears in reference to Azazel must be the same as that in which it is applied to the Lord-namely, that both goats are sacrificial victims. [Gesenius, who supports this view, considers Azazel to mean a demon, whom he designates averruncus, Alexikakos, an evil demon, dwelling in the desert, and requiring to be propitiated with victims. This is a purely pagan idea, inconsistent with the general spirit as well as with express statutes (Leviticus 17:7) of the Mosaic law, and therefore is almost universally rejected.]

Hengstenberg has shown that there is no sacrifice to Azazel, inasmuch as both goats were at the first presented to Yahweh at the door of the tabernacle, and constituted one sin offering. He is of opinion that Azazel refers to Satan, to whom, under the name of Typhon, the evil spirit of the desert, the Egyptians celebrated an annual solemnity, which, like many pagan observances, was a perverted form of an ancient patriarchal custom; and that the Israelite ceremonial was adopted from Egypt-in a greatly altered form, however-in order to break the association in the people's minds with that Egyptian rite, to which they had been accustomed. This design was, according to him, effected by the provision of two goats; for while, by the blood of the first, an atonement was made for sin, the second, symbolically loaded with the forgiven sins of the Israelites; was sent away in derisive triumph over the baffled accuser of mankind; and thus the evil being was seen to be altogether inferior in power to the good one. The truth of this view is, in Hengstenberg's opinion, established by Zechariah 3:1-38.3.10, which bears close resemblance to this passage, and forms an inspired commentary upon it.

Strong objections, however, have been urged against this elaborate theory, as totally unsupported by the Pentateuch, which nowhere assigns names to angels, nor even hints at the existence of evil angels; while it can be proved that the demon called Azazel did not become known to the Jews until the time of the Babylonian captivity, when they learned it from the Chaldean or Persian legends, whence the name Azalzel, or Azael, was introduced into the Apocryphal book of Enoch and other Jewish works (Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' Taylor's Edition, pp. 159-172).

The most eminent Biblical scholars hold that no personality is indicated by the word Azazel, and that, as it has the article prefixed, it was manifestly designed to be interpreted in another way. The Jewish Rabbis render it 'the desert'-`one lot (Leviticus 16:8) for the Lord, and the other for the desert.' 'This,' however, as Taylor has justly remarked, 'does not mend the matter; because we are driven to derive the signification of Azazel from an Arabic plural of very remote antiquity.

A further objection to this rendering is, that it would lead to the conclusion that this sacrifice was only to be offered during the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert; but the general current of Rabbinical tradition shows that it continued during the whole Jewish polity.' [Ewald considers la`ªzaa'zeel (H5799) equivalent to 'the apostate, the separated, the unclean sin.' Tholuck, supported by Bahr, 'for complete removal.' Bochart, 'for a lofty, precipitous rock.' The Septuagint translates the word by apopompaios. (Leviticus 16:8), ho kleeros tou apopompaiou eis teen apopompeen, which may be understood either actively, the averter, or passively, the (demon to be) averted; or the (goat to be) dismissed. Accordingly the Vulgate renders it caper emissarius (Schleusner, hircus emissarius; and Ainsworth regards emissarius as a noun, signifying a piqueteer-one who is sent out before battle to defy and provoke the enemy-one of the vanguard); and our version, "scape-goat," quasi, escape goat.] A presumptive proof that this is the true import of the word is afforded by the analogous fact of the two birds in the process of the leper's purification (Leviticus 14:5-3.14.7).

As to the spiritual import of the ceremony, it symbolically represented to the Israelites the punishment of sin in the slain, and the forgiveness of sin in the released, goat. The Christian fathers considered it with one consent as typically representing Christ in His expiatory death, as well as in His resurrection to life-the nature of the case requiring a twofold type, or one which should present two aspects of the same great mystery. It has been objected, indeed, to this explanation of the type, that the Scripture phrase, "bare our sins," "carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17), though typified in the substitutional death of the one goat, did not receive any significance from the goat that was sent into the wilderness; because it cannot be said that Christ carried our sins away to heaven. And hence, it has been attempted to explain this typical ceremony by references to other incidents in the life of our Lord-as to His sojourn in the wilderness at His temptation, which took place immediately after His baptism, which was a symbolic death, or by a reference to Him and Barabbas as personating the unbelieving Jews, who have ever since been doomed to bear into the wilderness of the world the penalty of their great sin.

It seems preferable to consider the ceremonial of the two goats as constituting one typical sin offering, which exhibited in two salient points of view the atoning work of Christ exclusively as its antitype. He died for our sins: by His blood the atonement was complete. This was shadowed forth in the act of the Jewish high priest, after the slaughter of the goat, taking the blood into the inner sanctuary, and there sprinkling it before the Lord. While that functionary was engaged in this important work, it is recorded with minute particularity that not only no one was permitted to enter within the sacred precincts, but that no other propitiatory sacrifice could be offered; and in like manner Christ our great High Priest has entered within the veil-has sprinkled the blood of His great sacrifice before the Lord, and no other propitiatory sacrifice can be offered while He is within the veil, whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things.

Secondly, He rose again for our justification, and by His resurrection gave a public and satisfactory proof that the great end of His expiatory death was accomplished. This fact also was foreshadowed in the typical ceremonial on the day of annual atonement. Since the people could not witness the acts of the high priest in the Most Holy Place, it was ordered for their satisfaction and assurance that the scape-goat, to the head of which their sins were collectively transferred, should be led into the wilderness before them all, never more to be seen-that so the removal of their sins might be made visible as it were to their bodily eyes, and they might be convinced that when God forgives, He also forgets.

Verses 23-28

And Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there:

Aaron shall come into the tabernacle. On the dismissal of the scape-goat the high priest prepared for the important parts of the service which still remained; and for the performance of these he laid aside his plain linen clothes, and having bathed himself in water, he assumed his pontifical dress. Thus gorgeously attired, he went to present the burnt offerings which were prescribed for himself and the people, consisting of the two kids which had been brought with the sin offerings, but reserved until now. The fat was ordered to be burnt upon the altar, the rest of the carcasses to be cut down and given to some priestly attendants to burn without the camp, in conformity with the general law for the sin offerings (Leviticus 4:8-3.4.12; Leviticus 8:14-3.8.17). The persons employed in burning them, as well as the conductor of the scape-goat, were obliged to wash their clothes and bathe their flesh in water before they were allowed to return into the camp.

Verses 29-34

And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:

This shall be a statute for ever unto you. The words "for ever" are to be understood in a general and indefinite sense, as denoting the duration of the Mosaic economy. This day of annual expiation for the aggregate sins, irreverences, and impurities of all classes in Israel during the previous year, was to be observed as a solemn fast, the only public fast ordained in the Mosaic law; in which 'they were to afflict their souls.' On that day no peace offering was made; for, since it was a day of affliction, the people did not eat with God or rejoice with Him-it was reckoned a Sabbath, kept as a season of "holy convocation," or assembling for religious purposes; and the persons who performed any labour were subject to the penalty of death. It took place on the tenth day - i:e., from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth of the seventh month, Tisri, five days before the Feast of Tabernacles, corresponding to our third of October; and this chapter, together with Leviticus 23:1-3.23.44; Numbers 29:7-4.29.11, as containing special allusion to the observances of the day, were publicly read. The rehearsal of these passages, appointing the solemn ceremonial, was very appropriate, and the details of the successive parts of it-above all, the spectacle of the public departure of the scape-goat under the care of its leader must have produced salutary impressions both of sin and of duty that would not be soon effaced.

Verse 32. The priest whom he shall anoint ... in his father's stead. The high priests alone were qualified to perform the service on the great day of atonement; and they were required, under penalty of death, to adhere strictly to the terms on which even their entrance was permitted.

Shall put on the linen clothes. [The word for linen here is baad (H906), betokening, in the opinion of some writers, that they were made of a material inferior in value to sheesh (H8337). But in the Mishna, the 'holy garments were by the high priest on the day of atonement were formed of linen from Pelusium - i:e., the fine linen of Egypt.' But the former view is probably the correct one, as appears from the distinctive use of the two terms in Exodus 39:28.]

Verse 33. He shall make an atonement ... The phrase, "Who needeth not daily" [ kath' (G2596) heemeran (G2250)] (Hebrews 7:27), must mean every great day of atonement, which was once a year.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/leviticus-16.html. 1871-8.