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

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Chapter 16 The Great Day of Atonement.

We now come to a description of that great Day to which all that has gone before looked forward, Israel’s great Day of Atonement. Once every year this Day was to take place in order to cancel out all of the past sins and uncleannesses of Israel that had occurred since the previous Day of Atonement that were not already seen as fully atoned for. All that remained unatoned for, whether secret or public, would be dealt with on this Day. Israel would, as it were, begin the coming year with a clean sheet.

This in itself spells out the failure of past offerings and sacrifices to deal fully with sin, and the fact that the Day of Atonement had to be kept every year demonstrated that its effect too was temporary. But it was on that Day, and only on that Day, that the High Priest was allowed to pass through the veil into the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies in order to present the blood of offerings in the actual earthly sanctum of Yahweh, His throne room.

The description of the Day fits aptly after the chapters on uncleanness. Five chapters on uncleannesses prepare us for the significance of this day. Patterned on Genesis they had spoken of what was clean and unclean, with regard to cattle, clean birds and fish, unclean animals, unclean birds and sea creatures, and creeping things with which men came in contact (Genesis 1-3); they had pointed to women in childbirth suffering through Eve’s sin and producing children in uncleanness (Genesis 3:16); to man’s sinfulness and uncleanness as portrayed in those with suspicious skin diseases which meant that they were cast out of the camp as Adam was cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3:17); to man’s clothing which covered his nakedness (Genesis 3:21) and which could become defiled; to the resultant triumphal return to God of the unclean (Genesis 4:4; Genesis 4:26) made possible by God’s mercy; to the establishing of houses in a city (Genesis 4:17) which too could become unclean; and to the fact that through death, resulting from the fact that man was now a sinner, springs up life (Genesis 5:0). There would have been many instances of uncleanness in the camp which had not been dealt with correctly and fully, and may even have been hidden or overlooked, but all these would now be covered by the Day of Atonement.

And after Genesis 5:0 was to come the great new beginning when the world was swept clean of sin in the flood and man began again (Genesis 6-9). This was also the yearly function of the Day of Atonement for Israel. Man in his uncleannesses could find purification and atonement before God. The uncleannesses resulting from Genesis 1-5 and from constant failure to apply the laws of uncleannesses could be swept away. And this along with all the sins of Israel that previous sacrifices had not been able to atone for. It was the day of purification when the very presence of God was itself approached.

The Day followed exactly six months after the setting aside of the lambs for the Feast of the Passover, and was followed five days later by the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths, but unlike the day of the setting aside of the Passover lambs and of the three great feasts it was a day of solemnity and mourning for sin. It was the supreme day of getting right with God. The acceptance of the offerings by God on that day was seen as a symbol of hope for the future.

Verse 1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before Yahweh, and died,’

These words of Moses are timed as taking place after the death of the two sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10:1-2. They had drawn near before Yahweh and died because they offered what was false and behaved foolishly. Now it was necessary that the High Priest offered what was true, otherwise he too would die. But the laws of uncleanness had previously been expounded on in order to fill out the need for this day by stressing the daily uncleannesses of Israel. It explained how a holy God could continue to ‘dwell’ in a camp of such uncleannesses. For in spite of the extreme efforts made to preserve the holiness of the Sanctuary, it could not avoid being to some extent tainted by surrounding and sometimes hidden and/or unconscious uncleanness.

Verse 2

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron your brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy-seat which is on the ark, that he die not. For I will appear in the cloud on the mercy-seat.” ’

God’s first warning is that Aaron recognise that the High Priest does not have the right to enter the Holy of Holies, ‘the holy place within the veil’, except by strict permission, that permission being given only on the Day of Atonement. He does not have unrestricted access. For while God appears in the cloud on the mercy-seat, man may approach Him, apart from on the Day of Atonement, only from the other side of the veil. He cannot enter the throne room. To approach the mercy-seat direct could only be a once in the year experience. ‘The Holy Spirit signifying this, that the way into the Holy of Holies was not yet opened up, while the first tabernacle was still standing’ (Hebrews 9:8). The veil said, thus far shall you come and no further.

The cloud was presumably the cloud that had accompanied Israel from Egypt, the cloud of His presence which by night became a fire (Exodus 13:21-22 and often).

We are reminded here of how when God revealed His glory on the face of Moses the people were afraid to come near him, and he had to veil his face. None but Moses could cope with the glory of God, until One came whose face also shone like the sun revealing His Father’s glory (Matthew 17:2; John 1:14; John 1:18). Thus the need for the veil and the cloud.

The ‘propitiatory’ or mercy-seat was the covering on the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, where atonement could be made and man become reconciled to God. It was the ‘kapporeth’, literally the place of propitiation, the place where reconciliation and atonement was finally performed. This was a solid gold slab on which were the two cherubim at either end looking inward. It was the same size as the chest which it covered. It comes from the root ‘kpr’ (to cover) and the conjugation used signifies the place where sins are ‘fully covered’ so that they are no longer seen by God and held against the sinner (Jeremiah 18:23). It is the place of propitiation and expiation, the place where the punishment for sin was met by the shedding of blood, the place of atonement, of reconciliation, where He and His people were made at one. There is also a suggestion behind it that it is the earthly throne of Yahweh between the cherubim.

The writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament very much has this Day in mind in Hebrews 9-10, seeing its real fulfilment in the offering up of Jesus Christ on our behalf by Himself as our great High Priest. That once-for-all offering of Himself would replace for ever this Day of Atonement, and all the other offerings, sacrifices and rituals of this earthly tabernacle.

Verse 3

“With this shall Aaron come into the holy place, with a young bull ox for a purification for sin offering, and a ram for a whole burnt offering.”

On this day, after the morning whole burnt offering (a lamb of the first year) had been offered with its accompanying grain offering, Aaron’s approach to Yahweh had to commence with offerings for himself and the priests. These would consist of a young bull ox for a purification for sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. He must make sacrifices first for himself (Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 9:7). He too was a sinner in need of atonement.

How much different was this from our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who was without sin, Whose perfections and Whose perfect life and Whose total obedience fitted Him for His office with no need of sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-27).

Verse 4

“He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches on his flesh, and shall be girded with the linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired. They are the holy garments. And he shall bathe his flesh in water, and put them on.”

But before presenting these the High Priest had to divest himself of his normal Priestly garments and, after thoroughly washing himself, put on the special garments only used on the Day of Atonement. These were pure white, and consisted of the holy linen coat, the linen breeches covering his ‘flesh’ (his unseemly parts), the linen girdle, and the linen headdress. These were the holy garments. And before donning them he had to wash himself thoroughly with water, this is spite of the fact that he had already offered the morning sacrifice and had probably not left the tabernacle since. All traces of earthiness had to be removed. He was about to enter the Holy of Holies.

The reason for having to wear these special garments was probably: 1). Because they had to be pristine in order for him to enter the Holy of Holies. His ‘every-day’ High Priestly clothes, in all their splendour, were not sufficient. They were tainted. 2) Because he could not enter God’s presence on that day in garments ‘for glory and for beauty’ because he was coming as a penitent sinner and a suppliant. 3). Because this was a day on which he and Israel would be made ‘white’. 4). To emphasise the holiness of life required of the High Priest.

Verse 5

“And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two he-goats for a purification for sin offering, and one ram for a whole burnt offering.”

For the congregation of the children of Israel, the whole people, he was to take two he-goats and a ram. The two he-goats were ‘for a purification for sin offering’. As we shall see shortly the two were seen as one. The ram was for a whole burnt offering.

They were types and shadows of the great He-Goat and Ram, the Lamb of God, Who would offer up Himself once-for-all that He might offer Himself without spot to God, purging our consciences from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14) and perfecting for ever those whom He sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

Verse 6

“And Aaron shall present the bull ox of the purification for sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself, and for his house.”

First of all Aaron has to make atonement for himself and for his house by offering the bull ox for a purification for sin offering. At this stage, however, he merely ‘presents’ it, although it is pointed out that its final purpose is that it might make atonement.

Verse 7

“And he shall take the two goats, and set them before Yahweh at the door of the tent of meeting.”

Then he takes the two goats and sets them before Yahweh at the door of the tent of meeting. They too are being ‘presented’.

Verse 8

“And Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats; one lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for ‘azazel.”

Then he casts lots for them, selecting between the two, for one is to be for Yahweh, and one is to be for ‘azazel. The word ‘az’azel is a puzzle to us. Some see it as meaning ‘the goat of a complete going away’ (from the piel of ’azal - to go away and ‘ez - a goat), thus indicating the complete going away of sin. Others that it means ‘in order to completely remove’ (compare Arabic ‘azala), thus indicating the complete removal of sin. Still others consider that it refers to a desolate region, a stark and deserted place, or a precipice as in later Talmudic tradition (compare Leviticus 16:22), and others see it as representing the name of a demon of the desert named ‘Azazel (a name, however, that is found nowhere else until the much later tradition derived from its use here).

This he-goat is somewhat like the living bird in the ritual of cleansing from suspicious skin disease (Leviticus 14:7; also Leviticus 14:53) which went into ‘the countryside’, where there was no suggestion of a demon. Thus the indication would seem to be that the he-goat also is sent away to some far place where it can disappear for ever, not that it is sent to a demon. However, those disposed to accept such an interpretation need to recognise that the idea would be that their sins were sent back to the one responsible for them (one connected with the serpent), not that an offering is being made to him. This is made clear by the significance of the ritual and by the fact that it is not slaughtered. But in view of its close link with the other he-goat with which it is identified as part of a purification for sin offering (Leviticus 16:5) this interpretation just does not fit the bill. The two he-goats were seen as one combined purification for sin offering, and all of a purification for sin offering goes to Yahweh in one way or another.

Thus one of the remaining three explanations for the word is more likely. The idea behind the other three is really the same. The goat and the sins will be gone for ever from the camp to return no more (see verse 16), as with the living bird. The whole purpose is that Israel might know that their sins and uncleannesses up to that point have gone for ever. Many centuries later the tradition would grow that it was taken to a precipice and thrown off, but that would conflict with the parallel of the freed bird.

Verse 9

“And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for Yahweh, and offer him for a purification for sin offering.”

This is a summary description of what is to happen to the two he-goats, preparing for the detail which would follow. It is a favourite device in the Pentateuch for preparing the listener for what is coming and implanting the idea in the mind. Then as the reading of the narrative goes on the hearer is prepared for the important points coming. The goat selected for Yahweh is now offered for a purification for sin offering, but note that the other he-goat is seen as part of that offering (Leviticus 16:5). The two must be seen as part of the one offering, and the way they are dealt with connected together in one picture. (If the High Priest had been able to take one he-goat and divide it in two while keeping half alive, that is what he would have been called on to do).

Verse 10

“But the goat, on which the lot fell for ‘azazel, shall be set alive before Yahweh, to make atonement for him, to send him away for ‘azazel into the wilderness.”

The second he-goat, a part of the purification for sin offering, is to be sent live into the wilderness where it would be left with God for Him to do with as He will. It is given into His hands. For it is part of the purification for sin offering and makes atonement. It is probable therefore that we are to see the two he-goats as ‘one’, and to see the second as having been ‘sacrificed’ in its clone, the first he-goat, for it is the blood that makes atonement, and then being dismissed with all the sins of Israel as a visual evidence of the sins of the whole of the sins and uncleannesses of Israel having gone. It was intended to be as close a picture as was obtainable of the effects of purification for sin on this one great day of the year.

Verse 11

“And Aaron shall present the bull ox of the purification for sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bull ox of the purification for sin offering which is for himself,”

The detail of the ‘presenting’ of the bull ox is repeated from verse 6, in order to remind us what the offering is for, and then amplified into the actual offering up of it by slaughter. There is a certain repetition in the following verses in order to make quite clear precisely what happens and what its significance is. Such repetition was common in ancient writings.

Verse 12

“And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from off the altar before Yahweh, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil,”

The next step before the blood can be presented within the veil is to prepare the way for his entry. He has already sacrificed the bull ox for his own sins. Now, prior to taking its blood behind the veil into the Holy of Holies, he must first take a censer full of coals from the altar into the Holy of Holies, with the sweet incense beaten small in his other hand, of the type laid down by Yahweh and specially prepared.

Verse 13

“And he shall put the incense on the fire before Yahweh, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is on the testimony, that he die not,”

And there he must burn the incense on the coals of fire so that the cloud from the incense covers the mercy seat that is over the tables of the Law, hiding it from his gaze. The implication is that otherwise he would die. The censer is then left in the Holy of Holies so as to continue producing the cloud.

Verse 14

“And he shall take of the blood of the bull ox, and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy-seat on the east, and before the mercy-seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.”

Then he must retire to collect the blood of the bull ox and make a second entry into the Holy of Holies in order to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat on the east, and before the mercy seat seven times. Note that he sprinkles on the nearest side only, not on all four sides. He is only a temporary visitor here with restricted rights, and even now must not come too close. The ‘seven times’ indicates completeness. He then retires again.

The Holy of Holies would be in complete darkness lit only by the coals from the censer and a very faint light coming through from the golden lampstand through the gap in the veil through which the High Priest comes. And there in the dark shadow would be the famed and revered Ark of the covenant of Yahweh. (After the Exile all that would be there was a large stone put there to serve as a substitute until the Ark could be returned. Or at least the latter was what many believed). But the Priest would not be gazing. He would be carrying through his ministry as discreetly as possible, probably with his head bowed.

Verse 15

“Then shall he kill the goat of the purification for sin offering, which is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with his blood as he did with the blood of the bull ox, and sprinkle it on the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat,”

His third entry into the Holy of Holies on that Day is after the killing of the he-goat for a purification for sin offering on behalf of the people. He also brings that blood within the veil and deals with it in the same way as with the blood of the bull ox.

Verse 16

“And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins, and so shall he do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.”

And the purpose of all this is to make atonement for the holy place because it has been polluted by the uncleannesses of the children of Israel (as depicted in the previous five chapters) and also because of their transgressions and their sins revealed by consideration of the Law, both evil doings and evil thoughts. Thus on this day is the pollution removed from the holy tent of meeting which is dwelling with them in their uncleannesses.

This special Day above all days is in order to allow the dwellingplace of God to be able to still continue to dwell among them, by dealing with all their uncleannesses and their sins which have affected it. The holiness of God is such that even with all the precautions for the prevention of the defilement of that holy place, they have not been enough. But on this Day He will remedy that by these ceremonies, despatching the uncleannesses and the sins into the far off wilderness. It is because this will be done on the Day of Atonement that He can deal so lightly with their uncleannesses during the year.

But these were all but shadows until He should come Who would in Himself fulfil all this and more, making a way open for ever into the full presence of God for all who are in Him. He would enter but once and remain there for ever, for His sacrifice was eternally complete, and nothing else remained to be done. It was a completed and eternal work.

Verse 17

“And there shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.”

And while all this was going on there was to be no one else in the tent of meeting. Throughout the whole process the High Priest was to act alone. Purified, atoned for, clothed in holy white garments, he alone was in a state to enter the tabernacle at this crucial time. Humanly speaking the task was his from start to finish. No other could take part. None could enter the sanctuary until atonement had been made for the Priest himself, for the other priests, for all his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

This is a reminder to us that Christ’s great work of atonement was also wrought by Him and by Him alone. No other was worthy to take part, nor could. The work was His and His alone. No priest, nor any other, could have any part in it. The work was total and complete.

Verse 18

“And he shall go out to the altar that is before Yahweh, and make atonement for it, and shall take of the blood of the bull ox, and of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar round about.”

After the presentations of blood in the Holy of Holies, ‘the altar that is before Yahweh’ was to be atoned for. The blood of both bull ox and goat was to be put on its four horns. There is divided opinion on whether this unique description refers to the golden altar of incense or the altar of burnt offerings. The phrase would have been clear at the time (see Leviticus 4:6-7; Leviticus 4:17; Exodus 30:8). In view of the fact that the purpose here is of the purification of the whole sanctuary, and the work was being done by the High Priest alone with no other present, some argue that it was the golden altar of incense. Others argue equally that it was the altar of burnt offering which in its own way was ‘before Yahweh’ (compare Leviticus 1:3), for it stood in the court before the entrance to the tabernacle. But Israel then would have known what the description referred to. Some would see Leviticus 16:20 as pointing to the altar of burnt offering.

Verse 19

“And he shall sprinkle of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the children of Israel.”

Then the blood of both sacrifices will be sprinkled on the altar with the High Priest’s finger ‘seven times’ in order to indicate complete cleansing. The purpose is in order to ‘make it holy’, re-separating it off to God from all uncleanness, by removing all traces of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel (compare Leviticus 4:6-7; Leviticus 8:11).

Verse 20

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat,”

Having made atonement for the Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar he will then present the live goat, presumably before Yahweh. The separate mention of the altar here in this way seems to some to confirm that the altar previously mentioned was the altar of burnt offering.

Verses 21-22

“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins, and he shall put them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a man that is in readiness into the wilderness, and the goat shall bear on him all their iniquities to a solitary land, and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”

Having presented the live he-goat before Yahweh, Aaron is now to lay both hands on its head and confess over it ‘all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins’. The description is all encompassing. Included within it were their inner sins and their outward behaviour, sins in both thought and deed, and failure to do what God required, including rebellions of the heart (pesa’). But not sins done with a high hand. These last, if to be forgiven, required special mercy from God individually given as in the case of David with Bathsheba. But usually they received the death penalty.

The laying on of one hand would have demonstrated representation, the laying on of two either demonstrated transference, or that he was indicating that it represented both priest and people (or both may have been intended).

The sins and transgressions of Israel are seen as ‘put on’ the head of the live he-goat. It is to be seen as carrying all their sins with it. Then the live goat is sent away into the wilderness by the hand of a man already selected and waiting in readiness, ‘bearing on it all their iniquities to a solitary land’, and there he is to let it go. Clearly the intention was that this would be far enough away from the camp to ensure that it never returned. It is to be a place where no men dwell. The wilderness was to them a place where God rules without interference (Genesis 16:7; Exodus 5:1 and often). There was Sinai, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1 with Exodus 12:0; Exodus 19:2-3; Exodus 19:20 and often). The goat was being left for God to do with as He willed.

The idea is clear. All the sins of Israel have been borne away and are carried by another. With both the living bird (Leviticus 14:7) and the he-goat there seems to be the emphasis that they remained alive. They could not be offered to Yahweh, and any way of killing them would have been seen in that way. They were thus banished from Israel for ever, and left with God. (This incidentally make clear that offerings and sacrifices were not themselves usually seen as being infused with men’s sins. They were rather offered in death on behalf of men’s sins, a different concept).

There is in this a vivid reminder here that earthly ritual could not finally deal with sin. There was no way that sin could be destroyed. It would be left to wander in a desolate place. Its destruction would await the coming of One Who would put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26), and Who would destroy him that had the power of death, the Devil (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

We have in this vivid picture of the live he-goat the reminder that our Lord Jesus Christ too was ‘made sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took on Himself our sin, that we might be imbued with His righteousness. He was not only an offering and sacrifice for our sins, bearing their deserved punishment, but actually took them on Himself and bore them away with Him. He bore them to that must desolate of places, His grave. But such was His holiness and the sufficiency of His once-for-all sacrifice that those sins were neutralised, nay were destroyed, so that He did not need to remain in a solitary place, but was raised from the dead and glorified as the firstfruits of His own work.

Verse 23

“And Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there,”

The work of atonement having been completed for another year, Aaron divests himself of the holy garments, which remain in the Holy Place. These are too holy to leave that place.

Verse 24

“And he shall bathe his flesh in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his whole burnt offering and the whole burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people.”

Then he must wash his flesh thoroughly in water in a holy place. The special holiness which he has carried with him must be removed before he can again have dealings with men. This would probably be done in a specially set off place in the court of the sanctuary made accessible directly from the Holy Place so that his nakedness could not be seen. Then he puts on his priestly garments. One more he is the representative of the people before Yahweh. After which he offers up the whole burnt offerings, both for himself and for the people. This seals their oneness with God. They are renewed as His covenant people, rededicated and in submission. Atonement is made both for himself and the people.

Verse 25

“And the fat of the purification for sin offering shall he burn on the altar.”

Then he offers the fat of the purification for sin offering by burning it on the altar. The fat is always Yahweh’s, an indication that the best was for Him.

Verse 26

“And he who lets go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp.”

Meanwhile the man who let the live goat go in the wilderness must wash his clothes, wash his flesh thoroughly in water, and may then return to the camp. Whether this is to wash off the taint of sin borne by the goat, or the desert dirt and earthiness, or to wash of holiness emanating from this most holy of offerings (compare Leviticus 16:28) we are not told. But in fact we may see it that all of his part in the ceremony is to be washed off, with all its ramifications. The he-goat has taken all with it. Nothing must return to the camp.

Verse 27

“And the bull ox of the purification for sin offering, and the goat of the purification for sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be carried forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung.”

Finally the remains of both purification for sin offerings, skins, flesh and dung, must be taken outside the camp and burned. We can assume that this is ‘in a clean place’ as in 4:12, 21 which deal with ox bulls offered as purification for sin offerings on behalf of the Priest and the whole people. They are not suffused with sin. They are extremely holy. Through them God has done His merciful work and they are offered back to Him

Verse 28

“And he who burns them shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp.”

Then the one who burns them has to wash his clothes, wash himself thoroughly, after which he can return to the camp. Here we must almost certainly see the need to wash off the contact with holiness which must not be carried into the camp (compare Leviticus 16:24).

Verse 29

“And it shall be a statute for ever to you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger who sojourns among you, for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before Yahweh.”

It is now stressed that this is a statute to be carried out into the distant future. On the tenth day of the seventh month (the month of Tishri/Ethanim in the Autumn when the early rains were due) the day of Atonement must be observed, and it was so, with a short break after the destruction of the first temple, until the final destruction of the temple in 70 AD for well over a thousand years.

On this day they were to ‘afflict themselves’. This probably represented some form of indicating penitence, although we are not told what it was. It may have been the loosening of the hair, the ritual tearing of clothes, and the covering of the upper lip (Leviticus 13:45). (Compare Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:10; Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 24:22; Genesis 37:34; Numbers 14:6; 2 Samuel 1:11; 2Ki 11:14 ; 2 Kings 19:1; 2 Kings 22:11; 2 Kings 22:19; Ezra 9:5; Micah 3:7). It would later be related to fasting, but there is no hint of that here. In Isaiah 58:3-5 it is related to fasting but rather as something done while fasting, possibly ‘bowing down his head as a rush, and spreading sackcloth and ashes under him’.

They were also to do no manner of work, and this not only applied to Israel but to anyone who was living among them. It was to be a strict sabbath, for on that day atonement was made for them and they were made clean from all their sins as far as Yahweh was concerned. It was a day when all attention must be on God and all must have the opportunity to take part without restrictions of work.

Verse 31

“It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves. It is a statute for ever.”

This is repeated for emphasis. It is a sabbath of solemn rest in which they should afflict themselves in order to demonstrate penitence for sin and uncleanness. And this was a permanent statute ‘for ever’, that is, into the distant future. In Israel there was the weekly sabbath which was the last day of a regular seven day period, what we call ‘a week’, and special sabbaths for special occasions. This was a sabbath for a special occasion and could occur any day of the week.

Verse 32

“And the priest, who shall be anointed and who shall be consecrated to be priest in his father’s stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen garments, even the holy garments,”

The responsibility for the maintenance of this ritual lay with each descendant of the High Priest who took on his office. The one who was anointed and consecrated in his father’s place would be the one who had to make atonement and would be permitted to put on the especially holy garments, the linen garments. But sometimes it would require a deputy, because of possible illness or infirmity, or because in some way the High Priest became unclean in such a way that there was not time for him to be made clean. For the laws of uncleanness applied to him as much as to all. By the time of Jesus elaborate precautions were taken to prevent this happening.

Verse 33

“And he shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary; and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar; and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.”

The solemn responsibility of ‘The Priest’ is made clear. On this Day he is to make atonement for the sanctuary, for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and for the priests and all the people as described above.

Verse 34

“And this shall be an everlasting statute to you, to make atonement for the children of Israel because of all their sins once in the year.” And he did as Yahweh commanded Moses.

And it is repeated that this statute should be applied into the distant future so as to make atonement for the children of Israel because of their sins once a year. In the final analysis it was ‘the children of Israel’ whom God wanted to bless and save. And the writer finishes the record with a confirmation of Aaron’s obedience to what God had said. presumably this is speaking of his first observance of the Day of Atonement, and the point is that he carried it out to the letter.

As we cease our study into the Day of Atonement we, as Christians, have much to glory in. This Day was one that had to be repeated every year, it was carried through by a sinful High Priest who had first to offer purification for sin offerings for himself, on the basis of what was involved its effect could only be partial (no he-goat could bear all the sins of Israel, nor were they totally annihilated), it only allowed the High Priest into Yahweh’s presence once a year, and the remainder not at all.

But we as Christians know that Christ has made for us a total and complete sacrifice offered once-for-all (Hebrews 10:12), has no need to offer a purification for sin offering for Himself (Hebrews 7:26-27), made a sacrifice that was truly sufficient for all sin for all time (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14), has borne all our sin for us and has removed it for ever, and has made a way for each individual Christ to enter into the Holiest of all, into the very presence of God, by His blood and through His death and resurrection (Hebrews 10:19-21) so that they may be presented perfect before Him without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/leviticus-16.html. 2013.
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