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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 16

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-15

Leviticus 16:1-15 . Atonement Rite for High Priest and his Family.— The holy place within the veil, i.e. the inner of the two compartments of the shrine, is not to be entered at will, but only on New Year’ s Day ( Leviticus 16:29). Otherwise the intruder would be killed by the Shekinah which dwelt there in solitary majesty. (For the veil, see Exodus 26:31 *; for the mercy-seat, see Exodus 25:17 ff.*) The priest, wearing less ornate robes than at his consecration ( Leviticus 8:7 ff.), presents the bullock as his own sin offering, and the two goats; on these he casts lots (“ to make atonement for him” ( Leviticus 16:10) is probably a gloss; atonement is not mentioned in connexion with this goat; and to whom does “ him” refer?). He enters the inner shrine twice; first with the censer to produce the protecting cloud ( cf. Judges 6:22; Isaiah 6:5, Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9), and then with the bullock’ s blood, which he has to sprinkle seven times on the mercy seat ( cf. Leviticus 8:11).

Verses 1-34

Leviticus 16. The Day of Atonement (see p. 104).— The introduction ( Leviticus 16:1) shows, by its reference to Leviticus 10:1-7, that Leviticus 16 originally followed Leviticus 10:7; i.e. after the law for the High Priest’ s consecration came the law of his entrance into the holy place. It is possible that the kernel of Leviticus 16 is this law of the High Priest’ s entrance ( Leviticus 16:1-4; Leviticus 16:6; Leviticus 16:12-13; Leviticus 16:23-25), and that the separate rite of atonement for the sins of the people with the curious rite of the second goat was added later, or that two originally independent rites coalesced. This is the more probable because the rite is nowhere else mentioned in the OT. Ezek. prescribes two days of atonement (in 1st and 7th months; cf. Ezekiel 45:18; Ezekiel 45:20, where omit “ day of” ). In Nehemiah 8:9 ff, the law is read publicly, on the 1st day of the 7th month; on the 2nd, the feast of booths is decided on, and carried out (probably as Leviticus 23:34 ff.) in the week from the 15th to the 23rd. The following day, 24th, is kept as a fast. There is here no place for the “ Day” of Leviticus 16. It is mentioned, indeed, in Leviticus 23:27 ff; Leviticus 25:9 ff., but with no hint of the special ritual of Leviticus 16. Hence, probably, Leviticus 16 embodies the latest ceremony of the whole of P, though the actual rites which it prescribes, side by side with burnt and sin offerings, breathe a very different spirit, and one which carries us back to a distant antiquity. In earlier times, when heathenism was still a danger, these rites were discountenanced by the priestly legislators; now, the menace of heathenism broken, they are taken over, as survivals and still popular, on account of their suggestive symbolism. Logically, there is no place for this peculiar rite in the system of P, which elsewhere regards sacrifice as sufficient by itself. (On “ Azazel,” see p. 104.)

In Leviticus 23:24, the 1st day of the 7th month is a solemn rest; in Leviticus 25:9, the 10th day of the 7th month of the 50th year begins the year of Jubile. The old Heb. year began in the autumn ( Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22), when the harvests were complete (p. 118). But in the Exile the Hebrews learnt the Babylonian reckoning, which began in spring; hence the ecclesiastical New Year’ s festivals would be considered as taking place in the 7th month. Leviticus 25:9 shows that the 10th day of the month was actually regarded as New Year’ s Day. It is characteristic of later Judaism to hold what was once a joyous festival in this fashion; a clean start was to be made by a solemn rite for rehallowing the whole people.

Verses 16-19

Leviticus 16:16-19 . The Atonement for the People.— The priest has now to offer the goat assigned by lot for the atonement of the people; less valuable than the bullock, as the holiness of the priest is more important than that of the people. With the people is joined the holy place, and the shrine, which will suffer by infractions of ritual duty ( cf. the defilement of the land by disobedience, Ezekiel 36:18). The atonement is made within the shrine, as before (the prohibition in Leviticus 16:17 is curious; but a priest, who might enter the outer shrine, might have wished to see the passage of the High Priest within). The altar is also atoned for, “ un-sinned” ( cf. Leviticus 8:15), by sprinkling it with the blood seven times. The altar of burnt offering is, of course, the altar referred to here.

Verses 20-22

Leviticus 16:20-22 . The Scape-Goat.— Over the second goat confession is now made (for the first time in the rite) with the laying on of the High Priest’ s hands ( cf. the laying on of hands by the offerer at every sacrifice). The Mishna tractate “ Yoma” gives the text of this prayer. The goat is then led off into the “ wilderness” or untilled land, such as constituted a large part of SE. Judah, especially after the Exile. To some minds this “ carrying away” of sin would be symbolic, to others doubtless a real transaction.

Verses 23-28

Leviticus 16:23-28 . Conclusion of the Ceremony.— The High Priest must leave his robes in a holy place, so as not to communicate their character to the people, who, of course, would not be allowed to enter there ( cf. Ezekiel 44:19 *, Isaiah 66:5 *). He must then bathe, as having been in contact with sin ( cf. Leviticus 16:26; Leviticus 16:28). Finally, he must offer the burnt offering, the reconciliation having now been made by the sin offering. The sin offering itself is not burnt at the altar— neither the bullock nor the goat— but carried away and burnt outside the camp or city. The fat, however, is burnt by the priest ( cf. Leviticus 4:8-10) (RS 2 , p. 351).

Verses 29-34

Leviticus 16:29-34 . Final Directions.— For the date, see above. The people are to afflict their souls, i.e. to fast; this, and the whole-day service, are the chief features of the modern Day of Atonement. It is also a Sabbath, i.e. no work is to be done, to secure leisure for the solemn import of the day. The solemnity of this occasion, when all the sins of the year not definitely atoned for before are got rid of, is natural to P. To the mass of the people it might otherwise have occasioned feelings of a very different kind.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/leviticus-16.html. 1919.
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