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The Day of Atonement
In the Seventh month—Once a year—For all at once—This day as regarded the High-Priest—as regards the Atonement itself—The two goats—This day as regarded the People—A day of Penitence and soul-sorrow.
Some have thought, that the proper place for this chapter is immediately after the tenth, instead of after the fifteenth. It has been supposed, that the delivery of it was thus delayed, by accident—in consequence of the sin and fall of Nadab and Abihu. To me, its proper place seems to be exactly where God has put it, It is a sort of synopsis and condensed recapitulation of all that has preceded it. It sums up in one grand and solemn national service all that had previously been given in minute detail. And just so far as it would be incongruous and illogical to recapitulate before going through with the principal discourse, it would have been improper to introduce this chapter at an earlier stage in the delivery of these laws. Thus far, three principal subjects have been considered: Offerings, Priests, and Sin, for which they were intended to be the remedy. We now come to survey them all under one single view.
There is often much gained by frequent repetition. It is by going over his lessons again and again, that the school-boy masters his tasks, and becomes so much wiser than he was before. It is by the oft hearing of a thought, that it becomes rooted in our hearts, and welds itself to our souls as a part of our mental life. The success of the pulpit, and the benefit of our weekly attentions upon the sanctuary, depend much more upon the continuous reiteration of the same great truths of the Gospel, than upon any power of invention in the preacher. It is not so much the presentation of new thoughts and brilliant originalities that converts men and builds them up in holiness, as the clear and constant exhibition of the plain doctrines of grace. When Dr. Chalmers was asked to what he attributed his success in the ministry, he answered, "Under God, to one thing; repetition, repetition, repetition." And so God, in his law, reiterates and repeats in details and in summaries, line upon line, and precept upon precept, to ground his people well in all the great facts of his will and purposes.
The chapter before us prescribes the most solemn and interesting round of ceremonies contained in the Hebrew ritual. It presents God’s law for the great Day of Atonement—the most impressive day in the Jewish calender—a day to which all classes looked with peculiar anxiety—a day when they were to lay aside every secular employment and afflict their souls—the day when the high-priest was to go into the Holy of holies, and to make an atonement for all the sins, irreverences, and pollutions of Israel, from himself down to the lowest of the people, for the entire year—a day of solemnities connecting directly with Calvary and the whole redemption work of Christ Jesus. In this light, then, let us consider it, and endeavor to have our minds filled, and our hearts warmed by the glorious truths which it was meant to foreshadow.
By referring to Leviticus 16:29, you will find that this day of atonement was appointed for "the seventh month." Seven, as you remember, is a symbol of completeness. This location of these solemnities in the seventh month, would therefore seem to refer to the fact noted by the apostle, that it was only "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son to redeem them that were under the law." There is wisdom and order in all God’s arrangements. Had Christ come earlier than he did, though the intrinsic virtue of his mediatorial work would have been the same, yet, the absence of due preparation to appreciate, receive and spread it, would have rendered it much less influential upon mankind. His coming was accordingly delayed until that Augustan age, when his cross would necessarily stand in the centre of history and in sight of all the nations of the earth. He lived when the world was sufficiently at peace to give him a hearing—when the human mind was maturely developed, and competent to investigate his claims—when the ways were sufficiently open for the immediate universal promulgation of his Gospel—and when the experience of four thousand years was before men to prove to them how much they needed such a teacher and priest as he. His appearance, therefore, to take away our sins, was in "the fulness of time"—in the Tisri or September of the world—when everything was mature and ripe. He put the day of atonement in "the seventh month."
You will also notice that this great expiation service occurred but once in a complete revolution of time—"once a year." A year is a full and complete period. There is no time which does not fall within the year. And the occurrence of the day of atonement but once in the entire year plainly pointed to another great fact noted by the apostle, that "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." There is no repetition in his sacrificial work. In the whole year of time there is but one atonement day. The common sacrifices were repeated every morning and evening, to show that men are constantly in need of atoning services; but the great transaction in which that atonement was really effected was performed but once in a complete period. When our High-priest made his great expiation in the seventh month, it referred back to all the past months of the world’s age, and forward to all months to come. There is a mighty sublimity in this thought. It throws a grandeur around the cross of Calvary which renders it awful to contemplate, even apart from any other considerations. It was there the ages met. There are no days for man which were not represented in that one atonement day. It is the keystone of the arch which spans from eternity to eternity. The events of that day have no parallel in history. They constitute the one, great, and only transaction of the sort in all the revolutions of time. To gaze upon the scenes of that occasion is to behold what the world for four thousand years was waiting for—what has absorbed the profound attention of the good in all ages—and what shall be the chief theme of the songs and celebrations of everlasting life. "Christ was once offered;" and in that one offering of himself, all the eras of human existence were condensed and included. It was the event of this world’s year.
It is also to be observed, that the atoning services of this remarkable day had respect to the whole nation at once. They were "to make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation." Most of the other offerings were personal, having respect to particular individuals, and to special cases of sin, uncleanness, or anxiety. But, on this day, the offerings were general, and the atonement had respect to the entire people. This recalls another great evangelic truth, namely, that Christ "died for all"—"gave himself a ransom for all"—"by the grace of God tasted death for every man"—and "is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." There are theologians who talk of "a limited atonement." But, if they mean by this that the expiatory sufferings of Christ were not meant for all men, I must reject such theology as unscriptural. Jesus commands that his Gospel be preached "to every creature;" and if it was not meant for "every creature," I cannot see how to justify the command. The angel who announced the Savior’s advent, said, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." But these good tidings are no good tidings to those for whom they were not intended. To offer people redemption and eternal life which never was meant for them, would be, not to bring them good tidings, but to mock them. And as the Gospel is to be good news to all, it must needs be available to all. The apostle says, in so many words, that "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ" was made "once for all." (Hebrews 10:10.) Not all are benefitted to the same extent—not all are reconciled and saved—but the reason is that some despise, spurn or neglect a salvation brought to their very doors, and by unbelief make themselves guilty of the blood of Him who laid down His life for them as well as for others. It is no fault of the atoning regulations, and owing to no lameness or arbitrary limitations in the remedy for sin. Redemption is free. The day of atonement was meant to provide forgiveness for the whole people.
Let us then look a little more particularly into the transactions of this important day. I propose to consider them first, as regarded the high-priest, upon whom all the services of the occasion devolved; second, as regards the atonement itself; and third, as regarded the people to be benefitted. Having surveyed these particulars, we may form a correct conception of the great day of atonement.
I. It was to the high-priest a day which imposed numerous inconveniencies, anxieties and humiliations. Seven days before it came, it severed him from his family and home, and confined him to the work of preparation for what was coming. The humbler duties, which at other times devolved upon the ordinary priests, all were on that day to be performed by him. He was put upon slender diet, and, on the atonement day, was required to fast entirely until evening. In order to enter upon the atonement services, he had to divest himself of all his high-priestly habiliments and put on the simple linen dress of one of the common priests. And to all this was added fear and trembling lest he should die as he went into the holy of holies. And so was it with our great High-priest when he undertook to expiate the guilt of man. "Being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and humbled himself, and became obedient unto death." Separated from his heavenly home he became a suffering, laborious, self-denying servant. No gold glittered upon his brow, or tinkled with his steps, or mingled its glory with royal colors to adorn his robe. No jewelry sparkled on his shoulders or on his breast. No chariots of grandeur bore him to the place of his mighty deeds of love. He did have on a robe of purple; but it was a robe of mockery. He did wear a crown; but a crown of thorns, pressed on his brow by malicious enemies. He had in his hand a sceptre; but it was "a reed," placed there in contempt to deepen his abasement. "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich." Though he had glory with the Father before the world was, he laid it all aside, and went forth with "neither form nor comeliness, nor beauty that we should desire him." And thus amid privations, humiliations, and anxieties which made him sorrowful even unto death, did he go through with the services of the great day of the world’s expiation.
It was to the high-priest a day which imposed all its services upon him alone. He was neither to be accompanied nor assisted by any one. Everything to be done was to be done by himself, with his own hands. The law said, "There shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel." Even the ordinary services on this particular day, the trimming of the lamps, the reviving of the fires, the daily sacrifices, the slaying of the animals, the carrying and sprinkling of the blood, the burning of the sacrifices and incense, everything had to be done by himself alone. Thus, when Jesus undertook the expiation of the world’s guilt, "of the people, there was none with him." No one shared in the labor. Isaiah says, "I looked, and there was none to help." His "own arm brought salvation." He "Mb own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree." When his soul was made an offering for sin, it was he alone that officiated. On that solemn day, all helpers were withdrawn. Lover and friend were put far from him. All alone he wrestled in the garden. All alone he hung upon the cross. Even his heavenly Father seemed to retire from him. All the hopes of the world trembled in that one breaking heart, isolated and unhelped. If he faltered, or his strength failed, salvation was lost for ever. The cup was given him to drink, and there was silence in heaven whilst he shuddered over it. The immortality of millions hung upon his drinking of it. And amid "sweat, as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground," he said, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done;" and he drained it with all its bitter dregs, alone. Ask him now, "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel; and thy garments like him that treadeth the wine-fat?" and the response is, "I have trodden the wine-press alone; and of the people there was none with me."
The day of atonement was to the high-priest also a very oppressive and exhausting day. His duties, in his complete isolation, were really crushing. The mere responsibility that was upon him that day was a weight that not every man could bear. In addition to that, he had all the duties concerning the holy ordinances and the sanctuary to perform, including the slaying and offering of some fifteen or seventeen animals. So laborious and trying was his work, that, after it was over, the people gathered round him with sympathy and congratulation that he was brought through it in safety. But it was only a picture of that still more crushing load which was laid upon our great High-priest when making atonement for the sins of the world. None among all the sons of the mighty could ever have performed the work which he performed, and lived. All his life through, there was a weight upon him so heavy, and ever pressing so mightily upon his soul, that there is no account that he ever smiled. Groans and tears and deep oppression accompanied him at almost every step. And when we come to view him in his agonizing watchings and prayers in the garden, and under the burdens of insult and wrong which were heaped upon him in the halls of judgment, and struggling with his load along that dolorous way until the muscles of his frame yielded, and he fell faint upon the ground, and oppressed upon the cross until his inmost soul uttered itself in cries which startled the heavens and shook the world, we have an exhibition of labor, exhaustion, and distress, at which we may well sit down and gaze, and wonder, and weep, in mere sympathy with a sorrow and bitterness beyond all other sorrow.
Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like his?
II. We come now to look at the atonement itself. Here we find that several kinds of offerings were to be made. The object was to make the picture complete by bringing out in different offerings what could not all be expressed by one. They were only different phases of the same unity, pointing to the one offering of Jesus "Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God.’ There was a ram for a burnt-offering, and a kid for a sin-offering, not to signify that Christ was offered more than once, or that there was another offering beside his; but to set forth the fact, that Christ’s one offering was for all kinds of sin; as it is written, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." There is a multiplication of victims, that we may see the amplitude and varied applications of the one great atonement effected by Christ Jesus.
The most vital, essential, and remarkable of these atoning services was that relating to the two goats, as provided for in the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, twenty-first and twenty-second verses. One of these goats was to be slain as a sin-offering, and the other was to have the sins of Israel laid upon its head, and then to be taken away alive and left in the wilderness. The one typified the atonement of Christ in its means and esence; the other, the same atonement in its effects.
It may at first seem a little repulsive to us, to have the blessed Savior typified by a goat. The animal familiar to us by this name, and our tastes respecting it, are by no means favorable to such an association of ideas. But the Syrian goat is a graceful, dignified and clean animal. It was often used as the symbol of leadership and royalty. It was very highly appreciated by the Jews, and was one of the most valuable of their domestic animals. It had none of those bad associations which attach to our goats. The laws of Moses contemplate it with great favor. To an ancient Israelite, it was a pure, elevated, vigorous, useful and noble creature. Contemplating Christ through it, they would have conceived of him as a great leader, strong, virtuous and exalted.
The goats to be used on the day of atonement were these Syrian goats—kids of the first year, without blemish—pictures of our Propitiation, spotless, perfect, and elected to bleed on God’s altar in the freshness, prime and vigor of his manhood. They were to be furnished by the congregation of Israel, procured at the expense of the public treasury, and brought forward by the people. So there was a price paid by the Jewish officials for the apprehension of Jesus. At thirty pieces of silver they procured him. And the people brought him forward to the altar, saying, "Crucify Mm, crucify him!" The sacred lot was to decide which one should die. So, after all, it was God who made the selection. It was the Eternal Father who set apart Christ to bleed for man. The Jews acted out their own malicious counsel when they brought him to the slaughter; but he was, at the same time, "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." (Acts 2:23.)
The lot having designated the victim, it was to be slain. "Without the shedding of blood is no remission." Israel’s sins demanded an offering, and the sacrificial blade soon left that spotless lamb quivering in the agonies of death. The law said to Aaron, "Kill the goat of the sin-offering;" "and he did as the Lord commanded." And thus was the blessed Savior brought as a lamb to the slaughter. The guilt of ages was crying out for blood; and the holy law pointed to him, and said, "Awake, O sword, against the man!" Heaven looked on in breathless wonder. Bound hand and foot to the stake with rugged irons, the clammy sweat gathered on his brow, the languor of receding life settled in his eyes, the exclamations of an unmeasured inward anguish quivered on his parched and sorrowful lips, a convulsive struggle thrilled through his mangled frame, at which a tremor ran down all nature’s nerves, and the Lamb of God hung dead in the face of heavens, which shut their day-beams up and staggered at the awful spectacle! He was taken, and with wicked hands was crucified and slain—slain as the sacrifice for the sins of the world!
I know that there are great and perplexing mysteries surrounding this doctrine, at which the faith of some is staggered. Nor would I expect to find it otherwise with reference to a subject which is at once the centre of all revelation—the treaty ground on which the sublime attributes of Deity embraced each other and united in the wondrous offer of amnesty and reconciliation to a race of rebels under sentence of eternal death—the very foundation of a plan of grace which lay before the great mind of God for unmeasured ages, as the chosen and appointed outlet of glorious immortality to fallen man. The mere signs and manifestations of nature, which attended the death of Jesus, are beyond the grasp of human comprehension; and how much less, then, is it for man to reason out all
—the sweet wonders of that cross,
Where God the Savior loved and died!
But of this I am assured, that "Christ, our passover, was slain for us;" that "for the transgression of my people was he smitten;" that "his soul was made an offering for sin;" that "we were not redeemed with corruptible things ... but by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot;" and hence, that in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the great foundation was laid which is the stepping stone to glory and eternal life.
But, the mere slaying of the victim was not all. Its blood had to be carried and sprinkled before the Lord in the Holy of holies.
The mere death of Christ was not the atonement. It was the preparation, material, groundwork, for the atonement; but not the atonement itself. He needed to rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, and "appear in the presence of God for us," before all the requirements of the case were met. Hence, Jesus, made an High-priest for ever, has "for us entered within the veil"—"passed into the heavens"—"not into the holy places made with hands, which are figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;"—"not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place," and is "even at the right hand of God making intercession for us." And by these holy services, which are now going on in heaven, it is, that he "obtains eternal redemption for us."
The Father hears him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away,
Cannot refuse his Son;
The Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells us we are born of God.
The ottering is accepted. The cry of wrath is hushed. The account of sin is cancelled. Believing Israel is cleansed and free!
Now, the more effectually to portray and signify this forgiveness, was the second goat introduced into these services. The law said, Then "Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away into the wilderness; and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness." Interpreters have been at a great loss in disposing of this scape-goat, and have shown great fertility of imagination in explaining what it signifies. Some think it was a prophecy of the subsequent fate of the Jews; some, that it was a type of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness; and some, that it represents something devoted to the devil. If any of my hearers can receive opinions so wild and incongruous, they are at liberty to adopt them. The true interpretation seems to me so plain, that I am surprised to find that any one should have missed it. That the scape-goat was meant to represent Christ, in some aspect of his atoning services, I have not a shadow of doubt. Everything on the great day of expiation referred to Christ. It was a condensed pictorial summary of redemption through the Son of God. And I cannot see how this goat can be made to insinuate any other subject. Only give this goat its proper place in the service, and every difficulty vanishes.
You will notice, that the scape-goat is not introduced until after the first goat had been slaughtered, and its blood accepted as an atonement in the holy of holies. It does not therefore refer to anything in the Savior’s history by which atonement was made, but to something subsequent—something going out from the atonement—to some effects or results. It does not represent Christ in his temptation, dying, rising, ascending, or intercession, but in the blessed consequences flowing out from these to such as believe. Christ is the scape-goat, in so far as he bears away our sins where they are seen and heard of no more. Nor can I conceive of a more beautiful or impressive figure. There stood the gentle creature, meekly receiving upon its head "all the iniquities of the children of Israel." In that I see a picture of the patient Savior as "the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all." The victim is led forth, and passes out of sight. In that I behold the bearing away of the load of sin from all them that believe. The animal is set loose in the wilderness and is seen no more. It is the significant symbol of the penitent sinner’s forgiveness. His guilt is borne quite away out of view. It is remembered against him no more. It is clean gone for ever. Christ his scape-goat has borne it to the unknown land from which it shall return no more. With this the atonement of the great day was complete.
III. A word now with regard to the people to be benefitted by the services of this remarkable day.
That the services and offerings of this day were meant for the entire Jewish nation, is very clear and distinct. But, not all were therefore reconciled and forgiven. The efficacy of these services, in any given case, depended upon the individual himself. There was a way prescribed for the people to keep the day; and to fail in that, was, of course, to fail in the benefits of the day of atonement. It was a day on which God’s requirement was, "Ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all. It shall be a Sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls." There was a practical and spiritual experience to go along with the priestly services. The blood, and sacrifice, and incense, and solemn entrance into the Holy of holies could do no one any good, and the scape-goat bore no one’s sins away to forgetfulness, who did not come to these services with humbled and penitent hearts, and afflicted souls. The atonement day was to be a day of contrition—of weeping—of soul-sorrow for sin—of confession, reformation, and return to God—a day of heart-melting and charity. Without these accompaniments, its oblations were vain, its incense useless, its solemnities but idle ceremonies. And, as it was with the type, so is it with the antitype. Christ’s atonement is not for them who know not how to appreciate it, whose hearts are not softened to contrition by his dying love, who feel no compunction for their sins which murdered him, and no fond affection for those whom he has redeemed. In vain do we dream of heaven, if we have not repented of our wickednesses, or think of condemnation gone, if we have not broken with all our evil ways. Useless is it to talk of penances and fasts, of good deeds and charities, if the spirit aches not at the remembrance of Calvary. Naught to our souls is all the pardon-speaking blood of Jesus, if there be no breaking and contrition in our own hearts to accompany the offering of it. Nay, without repentance on our part, his glorious mediation fails to become ours, and is the same, yea worse, to us than if it had not been. "Wash you; make you clean; put away the evil of your doings; cease to do evil; learn to do well; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow; cover the naked; and out of cheerful gratitude to Him who bled for thee, go do his holy bidding;"—such are the commands that are upon us to render us acceptable worshippers. "It is such a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul," saith the Lord.
Would you then have Christ’s atoning day to be a blessing to thy soul, come to it with a moved and melting heart. Come to it with thy spirit bowed for thy many, many sins. Come to it as the humbled prodigal came back to the kind Father he had wronged. Come to it as the poor heart-broken publican came, smiting thy guilty breast and crying, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Think of Gethsemane, and weep. Think of Calvary, and weep. Think of the Savior’s great agonies, and weep. Weep in sympathetic sorrow for his mighty griefs. Weep at the sad wrongs which there came upon celestial innocence for thy good. Weep at the prayers of love and intercession which thy dying Redeemer poured out even for his murderers, among whom thou art, in a sense, to be numbered. Weep at being an inhabitant of a world and a member of a race that could thus abuse and kill the very Son of God. Weep at the nails and spear that pierced him, and the crown of thorns pressed on his bleeding brow, and at the anguish uttered in his expiring cries so meekly borne for thee. Press to his cross and plead to be forgiven. Fall on thy face at his grace, and abhor thyself for the vileness that could he expiated only at such a price. Yea, enter that rocky cavern damp and dark, and lay thy hand upon his cold and bloody forehead, and mourn there at that guilt of thine which murdered him. Afflict thy soul, and weep; weep bitterly; but weep in hope that there is pardon yet through that precious Savior’s death; so shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy peace flow as a river.
It was a beautiful arrangement in this connection, that when the year of jubilee came, it always begun with the evening of this day of atonement. The law says: "Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound: in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land." The day was interesting and beautiful from its earliest commencement. If you would have been in Jerusalem as the atonement day drew on, the night before, you would have seen the city become silent and still, as the sun set. No lingerers in the market; no traders; no voice of business. The watchmen that go about the city, you would have heard humming the penitential psalms, reminding themselves of their own and their city’s secret sins, seen through the darkness by an all-seeing God; and the Levites from the temple singing responsively as they walked around the courts. As the sun rose again on the Mount of Olives and brought the hour of morning sacrifice, you would have seen the city pour out its thousands, moving solemnly to the temple—to the heights of Zion’s towers or the grassy slopes of Olivet—to witness with contrite hearts the solemn services which were to take away their sins. The priestly duties having been performed—the atone ment made—the scape-goat led away and gone— and the hearts of the people bowed in humble thankfulness for the favors God had shown them—it remained only for Aaron to put off his linen garments, put on his attirements of gold, purple, and jewels, and make his appearance once more; and instantly, the silver trumpet sounded, and the shouts of Israel echoed over Olivet, and thrilled through all the land: "The year of jubilee is come!" In the morning there was bitterness and tears. In the evening there was triumphant peace. The day of the sinner’s soul-sorrow begins the year of his rest.
Such, then, is the great day of atonement, in its type and in its antitype—a wondrous day—a day on which all man’s days of peace depend—the birth-day of spiritual joy, hope, and immortality—the day from which salvation springs—the day in which the Christian’s heaven has its roots—the day that ushers in the everlasting year of jubilee. And that day to us is now. This hour that you have listened to me is one of its hours. Even now the Savior stands before God in the Holy of holies with incense of supplications for us. What then? Shall we shout, or shall we weep? Shall we rejoice or shall we tremble? Some of you, perhaps, have entered upon this solemn day with hearts sportive and gay. While the Lamb of God was being exhibited dying and dead before you, you, perhaps, were laughing. While Jehovah has been saying, "Afflict your souls," some have been reviling or carousing. While the Son of God lay lifeless and murdered for the sinner’s sins, those meant to be brought to penitence have been dancing and making merry. While hell’s fires were licking up his blood as the only atonement for human guilt, heaven has seen the scowl and heard the words of mockery on the lips of those for whom he died. Meanwhile the day is passing. The shadows of the evening are at hand. And what, oh sinner, if it should close, and leave thee with thy guilt unpardoned, and thy soul uncleansed!
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Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13