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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 16

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Ceremonial Purity. Chaps. 16-27.


This chapter contains the most solemn and significant ordinance found in the entire Levitical code, in the opinion not only of the modern Jews, but of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The great scheme of symbol worship culminated on the day of atonement. It was celebrated in the latter part of the month of September, and it seems to have been a sort of condensation of all the sacrifices of previous months, and to be an atoning or purifying of the tabernacle, the altar, the priests, and the people. Although the main part of the Mosaic ritual was sacrificial, as the guilt of sin was perpetually calling for new acts of purification, yet on this one day the idea of atonement rose to its highest expression in one grand comprehensive series of actions. This solemn service affords the most exact representation of the perfect atonement of Christ which can be found in all the Levitical ritual. See Hebrews 9:0. It also sets forth sanctification through the blood of sprinkling as the second grand element of salvation. How far the people understood and profited by the spiritual lessons of this day we know not. But ceremonially their sins were all pardoned. After stating the occasion of the institution, (Leviticus 16:1-2,) the chapter is divided into three parts: An outline of the whole ceremonial, (3-10,) a detailed description of certain rites, (11-28,) and general rules respecting the day of atonement. Leviticus 16:29-34.


(1.) “Although the Pentateuch from Exodus 30:10 to Numbers 29:0 contains allusions or references to the ‘great day,’ it is remarkable that its observance is not recorded in any other part of the Old Testament. Professor Dillmann has, in his commentary on Leviticus 16:0, convincingly shown that no argument can be drawn from this silence, the historical narratives being chiefly of popular feasts, whereas this fast specially attached to the sanctuary. The same eminent critic has satisfactorily accounted for the omission from passages where we might, perhaps, have expected mention of it. Indeed, to be logically consistent, the argument would require to take into account that we find no express record of it till the first century of our era. Acts 27:9, and Epistle to the Hebrews. Yet the description of the high priest, Simon the Just, in the Book of Sirach (Eccl. l) is undeniably that of his appearance on the day of atonement, which brings us to more than two centuries before Christ. But, indeed, so to state the argument is almost to reduce to absurdity the contention of those who would deny its ancient, and, as we are fully convinced, Mosaic institution.” Dr. Edersheim.

(2.) The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews asserts (Hebrews 9:7) that the high priest went once every year into the most holy place, but an examination of Leviticus 16:12-15 of this chapter will prove that there were at least three entrances. He entered first with a censer in one hand and incense in the other, so that he could not have carried the blood. Secondly, he entered with the blood of the bullock, which, according to tradition, a priest meanwhile had stirred lest it should coagulate. Thirdly, with the goat’s blood. Some think that he entered the fourth time to bring away the censer and the plate of incense. The most obvious way of harmonizing the statements of Moses and of the Epistle is to interpret the latter as meaning on one day every year.

(3.) The fact that the high priest was not permitted to sit down within the vail intimates that his work was never perfect, but must be ever renewed with the rolling years. “Every priest standeth offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man,” Jesus Christ, “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God,” having forever perfected, as to the consciousness, them that are sanctified.

The momentary stay of the high priest in the holy of holies clearly typifies that the time had not come when every perfect believer in Jesus Christ might have the constant communion of the Holy Ghost, the abiding Comforter, his body having become an habitation of God through the Spirit. Jesus, our high priest, has entered heaven, his sanctuary above; and his successor, the Holy Spirit, has entered his holy of holies below the believing heart.

(4.) The typology of the scapegoat is a subject beset with difficulties. No light is reflected upon it from the New Testament, for none of its writers allude to it. It becomes us to walk carefully on ground on which apostles have not ventured. The typical import of the scapegoat depends, first of all, upon its literal meaning. Professor Bush, interpreting the Azazel to signify an evil spirit, has an extended argument to prove that the sending of the goat into the wilderness, laden with sins, symbolizes the rejection of the apostate and reprobate race of Israel guilty of the crucifixion of the Messiah. But, since the live goat was part of the expiatory sin offering, this theory involves the contradiction that the Jews made propitiation for their sins by suffering the wrath of heaven, and, of course, that sinners will make propitiation for their sins while banished to hell! The ancient view, taken by Theodoret, Cyril, Augustine, and Procopius, is, that as the slain goat prefigures the crucifixion, so the living goat typifies the resurrection. But the dying, and not the risen, Christ bore the sins of men. Again, we find no similitude between heaven and the wilderness. Hence we cannot accept this theory, nor that which maintains that this ceremony was designed to ridicule the Egyptian superstition respecting Typhon, the spirit of evil, inhabiting the wilderness, by sending a cursed animal into his realm. It seems more reasonable to regard the scapegoat as symbolizing one aspect of the atonement made by Jesus Christ, since, in the fifth verse, both goats are “for a sin offering.” While the sprinkled blood sets forth the God-ward side of the atonement, the satisfaction of divine justice, the dismissed goat may represent the man-ward aspect of Christ’s expiatory work, the disburdening of the believer’s conscience through the forgiveness of his sins, and the assurance that they are separated from him as far as the east is from the west. The satisfaction of God, as a moral governor, having been made in secret by the high priest alone, it was important for the assurance of the people that there should be a visible transaction, embodying in a sensible form the results of the service, or the man-ward side. Professor Murphy sees in the returnless scapegoat an illustration of “the wider meaning of death in Scripture, which is not annihilation, but a state of ill-fare, in contrast with life, which is a state of well-fare, not terminated, but only fully entered upon, at the separation of the soul and body.

(5.) The whole number of sacrificial animals for this day was fifteen; two daily sacrifices, one bull, two rams, and seven lambs, all burnt offerings; two goats as sin offerings, one of which was eaten in the evening, the blood being sprinkled without; the other, the blood of which was sprinkled within the vail, was burnt; lastly, the high priest’s bull, as a sin offering, which was burnt.

Seven days before this service the high priest was shut up in the sanctuary, and kept away from his wife. Lest he might become ceremonially defiled, a deputy was appointed to act in his stead, if necessary. Elders of the high court read to him and instructed him in the ritual of this important day, and addressed him: “My lord, high priest! Read thou with thy mouth; perhaps thou hast forgotten or never learnt this point. We are delegates of the high court, but thou art delegate both for us and the high court; we conjure thee to make no change in any thing that we have said to thee.” The whole night before the day of atonement he either expounds the law or some one expounds it to him. If he is disposed to sleep, he is suddenly touched and admonished to arise and walk about. During the day’s service he underwent five baths and ten washings of consecration of hands and feet. For the extended ritual of the day of atonement used by the ancient Jews, and in part by the modern, see Delitzsch on the Epistle to the Hebrews, vol. ii, first appendix.

(6.) The requirement that no man should be in the tabernacle when the high priest entered the holy of holies on the great day of atonement, prefigures the fact that Jesus entered within the vail with his own blood without human eye-witnesses. Hebrews 9:12. We are left to conjecture the exact time when this important event took place. Several considerations point to the resurrection morning, just after Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. 1.) The prohibition, “touch me not,” and the reason assigned, “for I am not yet ascended.” The high priest could touch no one before entering within the second vail, lest he touch an unclean person and contract defilement, disqualifying him for his office. One week afterwards Jesus invited Thomas to touch him. 2.) The message given to Mary, “Go unto my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.” It will be noticed that this is in the present tense, “I ascend,” and not in the future. If the message related to the public ascension from the Mount of Olives, we see no urgency in this announcement, which Jesus had several opportunities of giving in person to the assembled apostles during an interval of forty days. 3.) The fact that the Spirit, which could not be given till Jesus was glorified, was given on the evening of the day of the resurrection, as a precursor of the Pentecost, (John 20:22,) implies that his glorification had already begun, and that the work of his office, as the atoning Saviour, was now completed. But the priestly act was not shedding the blood of the sacrifice, which was done by laymen, (Leviticus 1:5,) but sprinkling the blood. This was the great function of the high priest.

This crowning act of the priesthood of Christ must have been accomplished before the Holy Spirit, the purchase of his blood, was bestowed. 4.) Since Jesus was both the sacrifice and the priest, he could not perform the great function of his office, the sprinkling of his own blood, until the resurrection had placed the great high priest’s diadem upon his brow. Hence the high probability that Jesus entered the holy of holies on the day of his resurrection, and presented his own blood at the earliest possible moment. See Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. i, p. 170.

(7.) “In the biblical text the account of that day follows immediately on the laws of purification. We might almost inscribe the various parts of that section as follows: 1.) Clean individually and personally. Leviticus 11:2.) Clean in the family. Leviticus 12:3.) Clean in the congregation. Leviticus 13:1 to Leviticus 15:4.) Above and beyond all, the great cleansing of Israel and its sanctuary. Leviticus 16:0. Thus the first part of the Book of Leviticus, (chaps. 1-16,) which tells how Israel as a people must enter into communion with God, leads up to the second part, (chaps. 17 to the end,) which indicates how this communion is to be manifested and preserved.” Dr. Edersheim.

Verse 1


1. After the death of the two sons of Aaron This judgment of Jehovah is recorded in chap. 10, on which occasion the important safeguards respecting the high priest’s entrance into the most holy place were given. Why this record does not immediately follow chap. x, its natural place, is unknown.

Verse 2

2. Come not at all times Many of the ancient pagan shrines were inaccessible, and hence they were called adytum and abaton, “not to be approached.” This seclusion of the idol within the penetralia of the temple was requisite in order to preserve the veneration of the people, through the operation of that law of the human mind by which the mysterious is clothed by the imagination with extraordinary qualities. But no such reason is the ground of this prohibition. Jehovah’s majesty needs no imaginary splendours. The old covenant says, “Obey and live, disobey and die;” the new one says, “Believe and be saved, believe not and be damned.” Both covenants are essentially the same, inasmuch as faith is the root of obedience, and unbelief and disobedience are in the New Testament expressed by the same word απειθεια .

In the cloud Not the cloud of incense required to soften the insufferable splendours of the shekinah, but the shekinah itself. Hence the Targum of Jonathan, “The glory of my shekinah shall be revealed.” A resplendence beamed forth from between the cherubim; but to make the vision supportable to mortal eyes God hid himself while revealing himself. The cloud is the same as that mentioned in Exodus xl, which appeared over the mercy seat whenever the high priest came before it. The rabbins postulate a cloud continually hanging over the cherubim. Luther, on the contrary, says that “over the propitiatory and cherubim there was nothing located which might be seen, but by faith only was God believed to be seated there.” In the Scriptures the manifested glory of the Son of Man, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, is often associated with a cloud. Daniel 7:13; Revelation 1:7.

The mercy seat We are required by the truth to say that this expression, so poetical and so consolatory to the God-fearing soul, is not a literal translation of the original Hebrew, capporeth, the cover of the ark, in which were enshrined the tables of the law. This cover was underneath the luminous cloud, and hence was the footstool or throne of Jehovah, as the sanctuary in which it was placed is called “the place for thee to dwell in.” Exodus 15:17. The capporeth was a massive gold plate equal to the ark in length and breadth, at either end of which was a solid golden cherub. We find no scripture to sustain Ewald’s assertion that the ark had a cover distinct from this plate, yet it is usually mentioned separately. Exodus 25:17. The word capporeth may be derived from the Piel form of the verb caphar, to cover, in which form it signifies to make atonement; it is very doubtful whether the noun ever signifies an instrument of propitiation ( propitiatorium, Vulgate, ιλαστηριον , the Seventy) in the Pentateuch. Yet it is more probable that in later Hebrew, as in 1 Chronicles 28:11, it acquired the additional meaning of an atonement for sin. This relieves the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews of the imputation made by Furst, that he adopted a gloss in Hebrews 9:5. In Hebrews 4:16 the capporeth is very beautifully styled “the throne of grace,” to which we may come, not with trembling and overwhelming awe, as did the high priest, but “boldly.”

Verse 3


3. Holy place This is here used, not for the court of the priests, but for the holy of holies.

Bullock The high office of Aaron requires the greatest of the sin offerings. See chap. 4, concluding notes. (4.) Note the presumption, that this high official had so failed to keep the holy law of God that he annually needed an offering not only for his conscious and wilful sins, but also for his inadvertencies, ignorances, and errors.

Hebrews 5:2. See concluding notes to chap. 4.

Verse 4

4. The holy linen coat This requirement, that Aaron should divest himself of his pontifical robes when he appears before the Lord as a penitent, teaches us that no worldly distinction, no ecclesiastical preferment, is of any avail to avert the wrath of God. When Aaron represents God to men he may well be clothed with splendour, but when as a sinner he stands before the divine holiness, that splendour pales. The day of atonement stained the glory of all flesh by the revelation of Jehovah’s holiness in contrast with man’s guilt.

Breeches Properly, drawers. See Leviticus 6:10, note. The high priest is required to appear in the apparel of a common priest, with the addition of a linen mitre, a distinctive badge of the pontificate. This change of raiment represents a humiliation as deep as does the wearing of sackcloth upon the common people.

Wash his flesh It became the typical high priest to be “holy, harmless, and undefiled,”

that he might fitly prefigure the spotless Son of God. It was customary to remove him from his own house to a chamber in the temple seven days before, lest he should contract any defilement which might entail an uncleanness during those seven days, and he be disqualified for his duty on the great day of atonement. During this time he was exercised in all the various parts of the service, though not entering within the veil. The law relating to his duties was read to him again and again, lest he should make any mistake in his office on that day to his own destruction and the detriment of the people. The elders of the Sanhedrin solemnly adjured him in these words: “We adjure thee, O high priest, our delegate, by Him that caused his name to dwell in this house, that thou alter not any thing of what we have spoken unto thee.”- Delitzsch on the Hebrews, Appendix.

Verse 5

5. Two kids of the goats This expression in the Hebrew is usually understood to mean” he-goats,” (R.V.,) which were used as sin offerings for princes and for the people on high festival seasons. See Leviticus 23:19, note.

For a sin offering It is worthy of note that both the goats are for a sin offering, though only one of them is to be slain.

Verse 6

6. Shall offer R.V., “present.” The actual offering does not take place until Leviticus 16:11.

An atonement for himself “An innocent man,” says Van der Waegen, “must come and make atonement for the guilty; but the guilty may not come and make atonement for the innocent.” Since innocence is not inherent in fallen man by nature or practice, only as one who had himself been atoned could the high priest make atonement for others. “Every reconciling and sanctifying effect of the sacrifices is dependent on the existence of a personally reconciling mediatorship before God; and here the old covenant proclaims its inadequacy to institute a real reconciliation, in the fact that even the high priest himself, through whose intercessions the defect which attaches to the offering is made good, himself in turn has need of reconciliation and purification, as one subject to sin and weakness.” Comp. Hebrews 5:3. Oehler. Here the Antitype, Jesus, differs from his types. His priesthood was unique in its sinlessness, and his piety unique in its impenitence. When God acknowledges a high priest as well-pleasing in his sight, this is a real declaration that he graciously accepts the whole people. On the contrary, his error is the inculpation of the people. Leviticus 4:3, note. That this required atonement is for involuntary defects and inadvertencies arising from fallen nature, rather than for special cases of transgression, is evident not only from the provision made for the latter in Leviticus 4:3-12, but also from the presumption of sinfulness referred to in Leviticus 16:3, note. Aaron’s confession of sin was in these words: “O, for Jehovah’s sake, do Thou expiate the misdeeds, the crimes, and the sins wherewith I have done evil, and have sinned before thee, I and my house, as is written in the law of Moses thy servant,” concluding with quoting Leviticus 16:30. Delitzsch on the Hebrews, Appendix.

And for his house Hence only a married high priest was permitted to officiate on the day of atonement.

Verse 8

8. Cast lots upon the two goats The lots were first of boxwood, afterwards of gold, with an inscription on one “for the Name ” Jehovah was too sacred to write and on the other, “for Azazel.” Delitzsch on the Hebrews, Appendix. These were put into an urn and shaken, and drawn out with both hands of the high priest; that in the right hand was laid upon the goat standing at his right, and that in the left upon its corresponding goat. Divine Providence was supposed to direct the lots. Proverbs 16:33.

The scapegoat The עזאזל , Azazel, occurs but four times in this chapter, and nowhere else in the Holy Scriptures. It is the puzzle of the Book of Leviticus, over which the most erudite scholars have uttered the despairing groan of “ locus vexatissimus.” Bochart, the chief of Hebraists, notwithstanding his profound learning, frankly makes the following humiliating confession: “I have nothing certain to offer in regard to this word;” and Fairbairn admits that “its exact and determinate import is not to be pronounced on with certainty.” The chief theories are, 1.) That it is a place, a rough mountain in the vicinity of Mount Sinai: but no such mountain has ever been found. Besides this, the place is described indefinitely as any “land not inhabited the wilderness.” 2.) That it is an appellation of God. This is sustained by the Syriac version of Azazel “the mighty God.” The objection to this view is, that then the lot is a useless formality, since each goat would be allotted to the Deity, either as Jehovah or as the mighty God. 3.) That the word is a personal name for Satan or for one of his satellites. This is favoured by the Book of Enoch, in which Azazel is named as an evil spirit, and by the rabbinical writings, where it occurs as the appellation of one of four demons. The theory that the sins of Israel were confessed over the head of the devil, or over an animal devoted to him, thus making his Satanic majesty co-ordinate with the holy God in the sanctification of his people, so shocks our sense of propriety that we should dismiss it without further comment if the names of modern exegetes as celebrated as Bush, Oehler, Keil, and Ewald, had not given to it the weight of their authority. “The idea that it is a sacrifice to the devil is at utter variance with the whole Levitical system, not to speak of the incongruity of a sin offering to that wicked spirit; this is accordingly generally abandoned. The notion is spun from the interpreter’s own brain, without anything in the text to suggest it, that sin is hereby sent back to Satan as the source from which it has proceeded, or the one to whose realm it properly belongs; or that it is intended as an act of scorn and defiance. This malignant accuser may take these sins and do his worst with them, he can never bring Israel into condemnation for offences which have been expiated and forgiven. 4.) The word ‘Azazel’ is derived from a root meaning ‘to remove;’ and may with greater propriety, as it seems to me, be regarded as an abstract term, meaning, as the British revisers render it in their margin, ‘dismissal,’ or, as the American company prefer, as more descriptive of the function discharged by the goat, ‘removal.’” Dr. W. Henry Green. “We must be very careful in the application of this term. It is one of the terms liable to abuse. The image has always been accepted as one symbolical of the work of Christ in bearing away the sins of the world. Considered strictly as a figure, it is full of beauty and helpful suggestiveness. It has, nevertheless, been open to the most mischievous perversion.” Jos. Parker.

Verse 9

9. Lot fell Hebrew, came up out of the urn.

Sin offering All the sins of Israel, without exception, were atoned for this day by the offering of the two goats on the condition of repentance, even sins not committed inadvertently, and therefore excluded from atonement by sacrifice on other days of the year. See Leviticus 4:2, note. The man who had sinned “ with a high hand” that is, defiantly, with open contempt of Jehovah and his law was either suddenly cut off (Numbers 16:30) before the day of atonement or hardened himself beyond repentance. See chap. iv, including note 3.

Verse 10

10. To make atonement with him R.V. “for him.” In Leviticus 1:4 the same Hebrew words are translated “to make atonement for him.” Bahr says, that the means of atonement is never marked by על , upon or for, but always by ב , with, and that the former regularly marks the object of the atonement. Hengstenberg also concurs with this view, and remarks that by the live goat being said to be atoned for, “he was thereby identified with the first, and the nature of the dead was transferred to the living;” so that “the goats stand here in a relation entirely similar to that of the two birds in the purification of the leper, of which the one let go was first dipped in the blood of the slain.” Leviticus 14:7.

Into the wilderness Wilderness, with the article, as here, signifies either the desert lying next to the speaker, or the well-known Arabian desert, or that about Petra.

Verse 11


11. Bullock for himself It must be purchased with the money of the high priest.

And for his house The entire priesthood. There is an antitype; “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy-priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5.

Verse 12

12. The altar before the Lord The great or brazen altar.

Sweet incense Aromatic spices. Since the cloud of sweet incense symbolizes ascending prayer perfumed by the merits of the great Mediator, the Hebrew was taught that after his representative had with all pains purified himself, he must come into the holy presence, not on the ground of right, but as a suppliant imploring mercy.

Beaten small It was pulverized, that, when thrown into the censer, it might instantly produce a cloud of smoke, to soften the intense brightness of the shekinah between the cherubim.

Within the vail The holy of holies.

Verse 13

13. Before the Lord This must here signify in the most holy place. It was considered a grave mistake, amounting to a sacrilege, in a certain Sadducean high priest to dare to kindle the incense without the vail and to carry it smoking within. Since the holy of holies was left in utter darkness, the venture of the high priest into the “thick darkness” where God dwelt strikingly illustrates the faith which is required to approach the mercy seat, where the “light inaccessible” veils itself in the cloud.

That he die not Death through neglect of these precautions may have been natural, and not judicial. See Numbers 4:18, note. “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” Exodus 33:20. “Common priests burned incense every day at the altar without the vail. Only once a year, and only after the most careful preparation, goes the high priest into the holiest. If he fail in his preparation he is liable to die. To ask a confirmatory sign of only Gabriel’s message in the holy place, outside the holiest, is to get dumbness for a sign. The high priest went into the holiest with a cord attached, that his body might be drawn out if he were slain.” Bishop H.W. Warren. The command that the priest envelop himself in a cloud of incense when he raises the curtain expresses the fact that full and cloudless communion with God was not realized under the Old Testament sacrifices; that not until Jesus “by his own blood entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us,” were we able with “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus;” nor until then could believers enjoy the crowning blessing in the gift of God, the “communion of the Holy Ghost.” John 14:16; 2 Corinthians 13:14.

Verse 14

14. Upon the mercy seat Eastward. Luther’s version is very literal, “Gegen den Gnadenstuhl sprengen vorn an,” Sprinkle against the mercy seat in front. Our English version is opposed to every Jewish authority. Ewald, however, supports it, while the Vulgate omits these words. Outram and Murphy insist that “the blood did not come upon the mercy seat, but fell upon the ground.” The “Seventy” follows the ambiguity of the Hebrew, which is, “upon the face of the mercy seat eastward.” This may direct that the eastern or front side of the ark and the front edge of its cover, the mercy-seat, be stained with blood, or that the blood drops be sprinkled on the east side of the ark, between it and the vail. If the latter be the meaning the last clause of the verse is a repetition for the purpose of emphasizing the seven times to denote the perfection of the expiation. “The bearing of the blood of expiation into the most holy place, where no Israelite ever entered save the high priest, taught that the true expiation could only be effected by one who should pass into the presence of God, and leave the door wide open for all to enter.” Dr. A. McLaren. “The anti-typal correlative of the presentation of the blood before the mercy seat was our Lord’s appearance before God the Father, bearing in his glorified body (identical with that which suffered) his own precious blood, now glorified, yet still identical with that which had been shed. That high-priestly self-presentation of the Redeemer is the eternal conclusion and ratifying seal of the work of redemption.” Delitzsch on the Epistle to the Hebrews. See Leviticus 6:27, note, on the blood of Christ in heaven.

Verse 16

16. Atonement for the holy place The holy of holies is viewed as polluted by the impurities of the people and by the imperfect priesthood, and therefore it needs the cleansing blood of sprinkling.

Uncleanness Not depravity or inbred sin, but ceremonial impurity.

Transgressions Actual sins entailing guilt were not pardoned but passed over. Romans 3:25, margin. “The great annual ceremonies of expiation, though powerless to remove spiritual uncleanness, and securing no actual pardon, had this effect, that every man was free to enter the tabernacle and appeal to the divine mercy. They removed whatever external hinderances might have otherwise excluded the sinful nation from the external service of God. They sanctified “to the purifying of the flesh.” Dall. See Hebrews 9:13.

The tabernacle of the congregation The priests’ apartment without the vail. The manner of its purification may be inferred from Leviticus 4:6-7. See note.

Remaineth Dwells.

Verse 17

17. There shall be no man in the tabernacle The entire tabernacle must be vacant. The priests must leave their place and mingle with the Levites on guard around the sacred abode of Jehovah. The penitent people stand in silence and awe while their solitary representative, with trembling, approaches the presence of the holy God. How strikingly this prefigures the fact that there is but one Mediator, the man Jesus Christ. He must ever be solitary in his office. No virgin mother, no saint, no angel can be associated with him in making his atonement and in pleading its merits on high. To thrust an imaginary associate into the office of Intercessor, where Jesus stands alone, is to degrade and vilify him. Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 9:7. See concluding note, (6.)

For all the congregation Every penitent Israelite had a share in the benefits of that atonement, as every penitent believer in Jesus Christ receives pardoning grace through his atoning blood. The conditional repentance, though not expressed, is evidently implied; for the notion that the mere mechanical performance of the high priest, irrespective of the state of heart of the sinner, resulted in a reconciliation, is even in the Talmud itself mentioned only to be forthwith rejected. The universality of the atonement is here clearly fore-shadowed.

Verse 18

18. Blood… horns of the altar The horns of the incense-altar symbolized the divine favour and mercy. The annual application of the blood renewed the expression of that favour when forfeited by Israel’s sin. Some suppose that the altar of burnt offerings is referred to, and that the purification of the incense altar is implied in that of the holy place, Leviticus 16:16. See Leviticus 4:7, note.

Verse 19

19. Cleanse it, and hallow Ceremonially purify and consecrate, so rendering it fit for divine service.

Verse 20

20. Reconciling the holy place Purifying by atonement. Thus the R.V. The Hebrew for reconcile is commonly rendered atone.

Verse 21

21. Lay… hands upon See Leviticus 16:21, and Leviticus 1:4, notes. Among the modern orthodox Jews, instead of the scapegoat, a cock is substituted, which they call an atonement. On the eve of the day of atonement they swing this cock three times around their head, each time saving, in Hebrew, “This is to be sacrificed instead of me.” Then it is slaughtered and eaten.

And confess The Mishna preserves the form of confession: “O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have transgressed, they have rebelled, they have sinned before thee. I beseech thee now absolve their transgressions, their rebellion and their sin that they have sinned against thee, as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant,” concluding with Leviticus 16:30.

All the iniquities This includes all those sins of penitent Israelites for which the ordinary sacrifices did not avail. See Leviticus 16:9, note.

Putting them upon the head of the goat Here is a positive proof that the laying on of hands upon a victim symbolically transferred the sins of the offerer. The high priest was accustomed to pronounce the following confession of sins, placing both hands on the goat’s head: “O Jehovah, thy people, the house of Israel hath sinned, transgressed, and committed wickedness before thee. O Jehovah, let atonement be made for the sins, transgressions, and wickedness whereby thy people, the house of Israel, hath sinned.” Joseph Roberts, who was for years a Wesleyan missionary in India, tells of a Hindoo custom which seems to recognise the devotedness of a substitute goat, which is set at liberty by one who seeks divine favour. “When a person is sick,” says Roberts, “he vows, on his recovery, to set a goat at liberty in honour of his deity. Having selected a suitable one from his flocks he makes a slit in the ear, or ties a yellow string round its neck, and lets it go whithersoever it pleases. Whoever sees the animal knows it to be a nate kadi, ‘the vowed goat,’ and no person will molest it.… When a person has committed what he considers a great sin he does the same thing; but, in addition to other ceremonies, he sprinkles the animal with water, puts his hands upon it, and prays to be forgiven.”

Fit man “A man that is in readiness.” R.V. He was appointed at a suitable time, hence skilled in his office. Tradition says that he was not an Israelite.

Wilderness See Leviticus 16:10, note. In the time of Christ the scapegoat was led to a high rock, twelve miles from Jerusalem, down which it was precipitated and killed. This was done by relays of men stationed along the route a sabbath day’s journey, two thousand paces, apart. By this arrangement the goat was hurried rapidly along and dashed down the precipice, and the fact was quickly telegraphed back from man to man to the vast congregation in the holy city, who awaited in breathless silence the sequel which assured them that their sins had been successfully borne away, according to the ritual, when a shout of gladness went up to heaven. Delitzsch on the Hebrews, Appendix.

Verse 22

22. Shall bear See extended note, Leviticus 10:17; Numbers 9:13.

Verse 23

23. Put off the linen garments The distinctive work of atonement having now been accomplished, the garments of humiliation are laid aside and the gorgeous and costly robes of the high priest are put on. Thus Jesus, after saying “It is finished,” laid aside the robes of mortal flesh soon to put on the vesture of a glorified humanity.

Verse 24

24. And… wash his flesh His hands and feet were washed from the defilement of the sin offering.

In the holy place Rather, in a holy place, probably near the laver. He then put on his golden pontifical garments and appeared in the sight of the people, symbolizing no longer the suffering Saviour, but the exalted “Mediator of the new covenant.” His duties after sending away the scapegoat were to take the fat out of the goat and bullock, whose blood he had sprinkled in the holy of holies, to cut them into pieces, and to send them without the camp to be burned; to read the sixteenth and part of the twenty-third chapters of Leviticus in the court of the women, blessing the people; then, after his change of raiment, he offered the extra goat (Numbers 29:11) and his own ram for his burnt offering, and the people’s ram; he burned the fat of the sin offering, the bullock and goat, offered the daily evening sacrifice as on other days, trimmed the lamps, laid aside his priestly robes and put on his common clothes, and went home, attended by the people, to celebrate a feast of gladness that he had gone safely through the important ritual of the great day of atonement. “The great lesson is, that the separation of sin from the soul is most difficult. The assayer who would separate the pure metal from the dross must carefully follow most minute directions. Some ores are so refractory that we send them ten thousand miles to be treated. Minute and definite are the directions of Him who would separate sin from the soul. There is but one way. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” Bishop H.W. Warren.

Verse 29


29. Statute for ever See Leviticus 3:17, note.

Seventh month Tisri, the first day of which (about the middle of September) the modern Jews celebrate as the beginning of the civil year. For the importance of the seventh month, the first day of which was the feast of trumpets, see Leviticus 23:24.

Tenth day The writer has spent a portion of this day, Sept. 21, 1874, in a synagogue in Boston, witnessing the penitential worship of the Israelites on the day of atonement. In chap. xxiii, 32, this fast is commanded to be observed on the ninth. The discrepancy disappears when we consider that the tenth day began on the evening of the ninth.

Afflict your souls Give free scope to conviction of sin. “It is worthy of note that the Spirit of truth in the unaffected simplicity of a primeval time dwells on the state of the soul alone, and condescends on no outward manifestations of the inward feeling. The rabbis and doctors interpret affliction of soul by fasting, because such was the formal mode in their day.” Dr. J.G. Murphy. That repentance, and not fasting, is here commanded is evident, because (1) fasting is neither expressed nor implied in these words; (2) it should precede the benefits of the atonement in the Old Testament, as it does in the New Testament; (3) the required fasting of a whole nation without exception, “from even to even,” tasting neither food nor water, would not be in harmony with God’s goodness. The command to fast is not found in the law, and it is a disputed inference in the Gospel. The penitence of the Hebrew impressively sets forth the truth, that the universal atonement made by Christ is effectual for the pardon of the penitent sinner only.

A stranger For his civil and religious rights, see Leviticus 23:22, note. He is freely admitted into the modern synagogue on the day of atonement.

Verse 30

30. To cleanse you This cleansing was, 1.) a restoration of the worshipper to membership and communion with the congregation of Israel; and, 2.) the pretermission or Old Testament forgiveness of sins to the penitent believer in the divine promises. For we cannot admit that there was in the Jewish sacraments an operation of grace propria virtute, that is, by themselves alone, irrespective of the spiritual state of the worshipper. “The perfection of the worshippers is the complete restoration of their peace with God; and this only can be attained by the complete removal of the barrier formed by sin, by making them in the fullest sense cleansed.

Had this ever really been once effected for the congregation of Israel by the annual sacrifices of the day of atonement, no need would have been felt for a repetition of them. But this was not so.” Delitzsch on Hebrews 10:2. See Introduction, (7.)

Verse 31

31. A sabbath of rest This sabbath ( shabbathon) was a decalogue Sabbath only when the day of atonement fell on the seventh day of the week. See Leviticus 23:24, note, with concluding note (2) to the same.

Verse 32

32. The priest… anoint The Hebrew pontiff was at first designated as the anointed priest. Afterwards he was styled the great or high priest. See Leviticus 4:3, note.

Consecrate See Numbers 3:3, note.

Verse 33

33. The holy sanctuary The holy of holies, as distinguished from the tabernacle of the congregation, the apartment of the priests. “The holy things were rendered unclean, not only by the sins of those who touched them, but by the uncleanness, that is, the bodily manifestation, of the sin of the nation; so that they required a yearly expiation and cleansing through the expiatory blood of sacrifice.” Keil and Delitzsch. “Thus was the sanctuary cleansed from the defilement of priests and worshippers, and the communion of the Church with its Lord re-established. Alike priests and worshippers could now again have sacrificial access to and fellowship with God. It still remained to cleanse from personal guilt and sin. This was effected by the so-called ‘scapegoat.’” Dr. Edersheim. The human nature of the Word made flesh in which he tabernacled ( εσκηνωσεν ) (John 1:14) and wrought out the work of human redemption, being absolutely holy, never needed purification, since in both flesh and spirit he was “holy, harmless, and undefiled.”

Verse 34

34. For all their sins Though this day is appointed by God as the day for the forgiveness of sins, no such end can be reached except by true repentance and the firm determination not to sin any more. As is stated in Tr. Yoma, 85 b: “He who yieldeth to sin in the supposition that the day of atonement will bring him forgiveness, will find no forgiveness on this day. And only the sins committed by man against God can be atoned for on this day; as to the sins, however, between man and man, this day is powerless to remove them until the offender has appeased the offended.” Since there were many sins and “errors” (Greek, ignorances, Hebrews 9:7) for which there had been no specific expiation in the Levitical code, and many which had been neglected, there was need of one general expiation once each year. See Leviticus 16:9, note. “If the law were not spiritual, atonement would not be so absolutely necessary. That any one could keep the law, and thereby merit the favour of God, never entered the thought of the lawgiver. Its immediate purpose was only to excite a sense of the need of redemption. In this view, the law was only παιδαγωγος εις Χριστον ,” (a child-leader unto Christ.) Hengstenberg. For a reply to Baehr’s denial of the substitutional nature of the Mosaic sacrifices, see Numbers 15:0, concluding note. “To a God of infinite benevolence, justice, and holiness, nothing can compensate for sin save the removal of sinfulness from the heart of the sinner; nothing make room for forgiveness save the establishment of a principle of daily life actually operating and assuring that removal. Wherefore the willing self-sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty is admissible in God’s plan of salvation, not as an end satisfactory in itself, but as a means for effecting that real, practical removal of sin by the destruction of sinfulness, which will justify a just and holy God for pardoning and forgetting the sins of the past. To this principle nothing else in the whole Mosaic ritual so plainly points as does the feast of atonement. In the death of its victims it repeated the daily lesson of bloody sacrifices; while in its liberated offering it set forth the crowning truth, that even self-sacrifice can expiate sins committed only in so far as it removes ’sends away for Azazel’ the disposition to commit sins.” Geo. W. Cable.

And he that is, Aaron, to whom Moses was directed to communicate this command did as the Lord commanded. This bit of history must have been added at least seven months after the dedication of the tabernacle, when Nadab and Abihu were slain and the precepts of this chapter were given. The first day of atonement was after the rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea. Compare Leviticus 9:23; Leviticus 10:1, with Exodus 40:17, and Introduction to Numbers, (4.)

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-16.html. 1874-1909.
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