"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study Leviticus 16:1-22. The Final Sacrifice
Date: November 18th 2017
The Final Sacrifice
In many ways the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus is the locus of the text. Located in the center of the book, and at the center of the Pentateuch, it contains the narrative of that portion of the Mosaic Law that lays down the purpose and processes that would define the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the preeminent sacrificial rite in Israelite life.
It was, and is, God’s purpose to reveal Himself to man in a way that opens an opportunity for us to have a relationship with Him. How can an infinite creator have any kind or relationship with mankind when it is man’s natural state to reject Him? How can a Holy God reconcile Himself to such an unholy people? It is God’s plan to bring to Himself those who would place their faith and trust in Him. Consequently, it is necessary that He provide us with an context within which to learn of and respond in faith and trust.
God started His communion with man when He first breathed spiritual life into him, communicating with Adam and Eve, the first who experienced that spiritual life. However, as is the situation with all people, their sin nature created a barrier to their acceptance of the LORD in faith and trust. This sin nature is the one power that keeps us from the LORD, so it is the one subject that the LORD attended in His plan for the salvation of man.
From Adam through Moses, there were very few people who were open to faith in God, and when the number of faithful was reduced to one family, that family of Noah was delivered when the LORD destroyed the rest of civilization in the Great Flood. The LORD started with a man of faithlessness, Adam. He restarted civilization with a man of faith, Noah. By the time of Abraham, faith still remained within a small remnant, focused around Abraham’s family. His producing 12 faithful grandsons, for the first time, provided an opportunity of faith to come to a large population, one who would come to refer to themselves as the “God’s chosen people.” When Moses brought that family out of nearly 400 years of isolation in Egypt, they were in a humbled state where they would listen to the LORD and follow Him in faith.
As the LORD demonstrated His true presence, power, and provision as He brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and to the base of Mount Horeb. There He set down a methodology of teaching Israel of His holiness and the need to bridge that gap of sin that stands between them and a relationship with Him.
Leviticus 16:1. And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;
The LORD’s instructions on the sacrifices that would be brought to the LORD on the Day of Atonement begins with a reminder of the death of Aaron’s two sons. One of the first lessons that Israel needed to learn was of the holiness of God. He is the creator of the universe, a power beyond our greatest imaginings. He is not to be trifled with. Aaron, Moses, and the nation of Israel watched in shock as Aarons eldest two sons, Nadab and Abihu, pridefully and ignorantly approached the holy ground near the consuming Pillar of Fire, the Shekinah Glory, without an expression of humility, without consecration, and in a state of drunkenness, performing a pagan rite they though was appropriate for their new status as a priest. They were immediately put to death by God using the consuming fire that they so boldly approached. This is an event that Aaron will vividly remember for the rest of his life, an event that will serve as a reminder of the holiness of God and the disastrous consequence of approaching Him without being properly consecrated.
As much as the LORD desires a relationship with His creation, it is also necessary that we understand His power and His holiness. He is to be approached with a sincere appreciation for who He is. To truly know God is to find only awe and wonder in His magnificent power and love. To do otherwise would be to be living a lie. God is the God of truth and those who come to Him are to come to Him in spirit and in truth. There is no other way.
Understanding and responding positively to God’s Holiness is difficult for people who are driven by self-centeredness and pride. God has much to teach us as He did so through this fledgling Israelite nation.
Leviticus 16:2. And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
Though the LORD is omnipresent, that is He is present in every location in the universe, He demonstrated his special presence to Israel in a way that they could understand. He instructed Moses to remove his shoes when he first encountered the LORD near the burning bush on Mount Horeb, where the LORD declared the ground to be holy because of that special presence. Arrogantly infringing upon that holiness caused the death of Aaron’s sons. This same lesson must be taught to Aaron, who has been anointed as the high priest of Israel.
The layout and use of the tabernacle, the “dwelling place” of the LORD’s special presence, was given by the LORD to Moses, and he supervised its construction and use. Divided into three parts, an outer court that contained the laver and the altar, and a pole tent that contained the Holy Place and an innermost part, referred to as the “Holy of Holies,” or “Holiest Place,” a small room that had a heavy cloth veil covering its entrance. So that the people would be continually reminded of the holiness of God’s presence, this room was to be entered by only the High Priest, and only once each year when the following sacrifice would be offered. Like the holy ground at the burning bush or at the burning altar where Aaron’s sons died, the LORD declared the Holy Place to be similarly holy with similar consequences for those who would approach without faith and obedience. The LORD will spell out very specific instructions for access to this “Holy of Holies.”
Leviticus 16:3-4. Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.
We will find that access to this room is limited to one day per year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, and to be entered only by the High Priest after he has been properly prepared, and entry is for only one specific purpose.
So that the people would understand the power that sin has to separate people from the LORD, and that the LORD would provide a way to forgive this sin, He set up a rather complex cult of sacrifices that involved, (1) bringing the very best that they had as gifts to the LORD, and (2) the killing of an innocent animal as a substitute for the separation from God that sinful people truly deserve.
The several different forms of offerings such as the burnt offering, sin offering, peace offering, guilt offering, wave offering, etc., all served to illustrate the concept of atonement for unintentional sin that became known to the one bringing the offering. Such sins could involve breaking any of the Mosaic Laws, either through error or necessity. For example, one would become unclean by touching a dead body, but the care for the body is necessary, so after the embalming process is complete, the one who became unclean could bring a sin offering that would cover that unintended sin. However, there are two types of sins that could not be covered using this sacrificial system: (1) intentional sins, and (2) unintentional sins that were unknown to the sinner where no sacrifice was made.
There was no remediation at all for deliberate sins. However, the LORD provided trespass and sin offerings for unintentional sins that “were specified according to the nature of the offense, when the sinner was aware of his sin. However, when the sinner remained unaware of his guilt, no offering was brought and those sins remained in a sense unaccounted for. If this condition were to be unrelieved, the sacrificial system would fall short of its ultimate purpose. To meet this pressing and ever-present need in Israel the Lord instituted the Day of Atonement” and the specific and unique sacrifices that were mandated to be followed on this special, annual, event.
Leviticus 16:5-6. And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. 6And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.
The first, and very necessary step, is the consecration of himself, as the one who will represent the nation of Israel before the LORD. As one cannot come before the LORD without His forgiveness, it is certainly necessary that the priest, or pastor, or any other who is called to ministry, be in a right relationship with the LORD before he administers his responsibilities. Aaron, like any priest, pastor, bishop, deacon, or lay person, is just that: a person, complete with the same set of emotions, desires, and error-prone life as anyone else. People often put the minister on a form of pedestal, thinking that he or she is specially spiritual and less encumbered by sin than others. However, this is an entirely false assumption. The minister is in just as much need of grace as others, and probably in greater need of encouragement. The first offering will be that of the ram for a burnt offering.
Leviticus 16:7-8. And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 8And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
The sacrifices given on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are different in substance and meaning than those given on the other days of the year. The LORD defined the sacrificial system as a means to separate the Israelites from their pagan backgrounds, and though the idea of a scapegoat was not new, its application on the Day of Atonement is unique. “We may admit outward similarities among other peoples, but the objective of Moses, and the Spirit of God behind him, was entirely different. At the most, the practices of the heathen can be explained as perversions of an objective originating in the mind of God alone.”
Two goats have been prepared for sacrifice, a process that has been repeated many times before. The idea is simple: the wages of sin is death, where death is defined as eternal separation from God. People understand the idea of death as a permanent separation, so the symbolism behind the burnt, trespass, and sin offerings provided a meaning that was completely foreign to their pagan experience. They came to understand that the animal was dying in their place.
The coming sacrifice that is about to be made on this Day of Atonement is also different from all the others in that it is given for all the people of Israel. Again, it is given to Israel as a symbol of atonement for those sins that the people of Israel unintentionally committed, and no sacrifice had been provided. The LORD is going to demonstrate how He will ultimately deal with this sin problem through the treatment of these two goats.
Leviticus 16:9-10. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. 10But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
Both goats came to the altar of sacrifice prepared to die as a sin offering for Israel. Both had an equal chance of being killed. One will be allotted to be set free, and the other to be sacrificed on the altar. Having brought the sacrifices and selected the goat to be sacrificed, the scapegoat is then set off to the side while the offerings take place.
Leviticus 16:11. And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:
The sequence of sacrifices starts much like those of any other day. Again, the Priest offers up the burnt offering for himself and his family, consecrating himself before he serves as an intermediary for the people. This takes place in the same location as is done with other burnt offerings, at the altar that is located in the outer court within view of the people when the veil that covers the gate is opened. From this point on, the sacrifices given on the Day of Atonement are quite different from any other day.
Leviticus 16:12-13. And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: 13And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:
Before Aaron continues with the burnt offering, he is instructed to fill the Holy of Holies, the inner room, with the smoke from a liberal amount of incense. He is to use the consecrated fire from the altar, taking some of its coals and place them in a censor, a bowl with a long handle. Then Aaron is allowed to enter the inner room where he places an entire handful of incense onto the coals, filling the room with a dense smoke. This smoke is intended to block the clear view of the mercy seat, a reminder of the holiness of God who has repeatedly stated that no person can look upon Him and live.
Leviticus 16:14. And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
The tabernacle was oriented such that the Holy of Holies was on the West side of the structure, and the entrance gate is on the East side. The mercy seat is literally the lid of the Arc of the Covenant, a large, gilded wooden box that contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a container of manna, and Aaron’s almond rod. The eastward side of the mercy seat would face the entrance to the Holy of Holies, and would be only a few feet inside the veil. The priest would not actually enter far into the Holy of Holies in order to complete the task that the LORD has assigned to him.
Whether Aaron would enter the chamber with bloodied hands or with a censer to hold the blood is unclear. However, it is quite clear that he is to sprinkle the blood from the sacrificed ram on the front of the mercy seat, doing so seven times. The number seven is used throughout the biblical narrative in almost every book of the Bible to represent completeness, and particularly the complete work of the LORD. This blood, from the burnt offering, served as a recognition of the sin nature of those bringing the sacrifice (in this situation this included the entire nation of Israel), and a recognition of their need for remission. It did not represent any particular sin, but rather the sinful nature that informs so much of their (and our) behavior.
The objects inside the mercy seat each served to represent the sinfulness of the Israelites. The manna served to represent the LORD’s provision for them in the wilderness, a source of sustenance for them, but brought only grumbling and rebellion. The rod represents the LORD’s leadership of the people through Moses and Aaron as they pronounced the Word of the LORD, and again, they rebelled. The Ten Commandments represent the LORD’s provision of a protection against our bent to egregious sin, and they rebelled against the LORD’s commands. The contents of the Arc serve as a reminder of our rejection of the LORD’s provision, His pronouncements, and His protection.
On the top of the mercy seat were two gold “cherubim,” representing the highest of the LORD’s angels, His messengers with their wings stretched over the mercy seat, covering it from view. When the High Priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, the cherubim would “see” the blood covering the sin of the people, and that covering would be “complete” by virtue of the sprinkling of each source of blood seven times. About 1,200 years later we would be able to understand the significance of this practice when the blood of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would serve to cover the sins of all who place their faith and trust in God.
Leviticus 16:15. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
I like manner, Aaron was instructed to leave the Holy of Holies and return to the altar where he would put his hand upon the head of the goat to be sacrificed, imparting on that animal the sins of the people (again, remember that these are sins of error that were not previously brought to the altar). He would then kill the goat, and return to the mercy seat with a portion of its blood. He would likewise sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat in “view” of the cherubim. Between these two sprinklings we find the covering of both our sin nature, and the sinful behavior it spawns.
Leviticus 16:17. And 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.
If any person were in the Outer Court during this procedure, it was necessary for them to leave before the High Priest could enter the Holy Place. The veil of the gate would be shut, and no person in all of Israel would be able to see into either the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies when atonement is made. Unlike all of the other sacrifices that were brought to the altar during the rest of the year, the people would not be able to witness the sacrifice at the altar. This entire procedure was to be hidden from the eyes of the people.
This would set apart the sacrifices on Yom Kippur as being, by far, the most holy of them all. It is this sacrifice that would come to define the nation as a people who seek God, but are consistently guilty of sinful behavior that, without the LORD’s intervention of mercy and grace, would separate them from God for eternity. Without the sacrifice of Yom Kippur there was simply no hope for the Israelites to find forgiveness.
Leviticus 16:18-19. And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. 19And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
Just as he had done at the mercy seat, Aaron is to take the blood of the burnt offering and the blood of the sin offering and sanctify the altar itself by sprinkling the blood of each offering on the altar seven times. There is nothing intrinsically “holy” in the altar itself: it was made by the hands of sinful people. Likewise there is nothing intrinsically holy about anything that man makes with his hands, including our church buildings or the icons that they often contain. Their only holiness comes only when they are sincerely separated out for God’s purpose, as is the altar in the tabernacle. The sprinkling of the blood on the altar is a reminder to us that even the altar must be covered by the shed blood of the sacrifice before it can be used for God’s purposes.
Leviticus 16:20-22. And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: 21And 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 by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: 22And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
Another unique part of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement is the release of the scapegoat, Azazel, in the Hebrew. Unlike the other sacrifices throughout the year, the sin and burnt offerings that were given for the nation of Israel were done within the Tabernacle, out of the eyes of the people. There is no “visual” evidence of the removal of the sins of the people. The use of the scapegoat provided a very needed illustration of the LORD’s plan for the sins of the people.
When Aaron placed his hands on the head of the goat, he was repeating the process that had been used on the burnt and sin offerings prior to the slaughter of the sacrifice: a symbol that represents the LORD taking the sins of the people and placing them, or imputing them, on the sacrifice as a substitute for the sinner. This symbolism served as a metaphor for the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary when the sins of all people who put their faith and trust in God were placed upon Him prior to His sacrifice on that cross. However, the word for sin that is used in the death of Jesus Christ is different than the one used in the Old Testament sacrificial system, as it includes both sins of error and deliberate sin. It was Jesus’ own declaration of His power to forgive deliberate sin that first created conflict between Himself and the Jewish elite.
Unable to see the remission of the sins from the most important sacrifice of the year, the scapegoat illustrated God’s plan for dealing with man’s sin, that when one places their faith and trust in Him, following Him in spirit and truth, following Him in obedience, their sins are forgiven with the price for those sins paid in the sacrifice. When the High priest placed his hands on the head of the goat, as he had done with the burnt and sin offerings, he was first confessing the sins of the nation. Before we can find forgiveness for our own sins, we must first come to the LORD in sincere confession. If we refuse to admit our sins as well as our sinful state (note the parallel to the sin and burnt offerings, respectively), then we despise what the LORD requires of us and turn away from our opportunity for forgiveness. This act also serves as a symbol of placing the sins of the nation on this goat.
The metaphor of the scapegoat provides us with another and equally important facet of God’s forgiveness. When the confessed sins of the people were placed on the goat, it was led off into the wilderness by a chosen person who was given the task to do so. By leading the goat into the “wilderness,” the idea is that the people will never see this goat again, and consequently, they will never see their sin again. Recall that the ancients had a very geographic understanding of God, and were comfortable with the thought that God “tabernacled” with them. By taking the goat into the “wilderness” they would understand that they would understand that God will also never see them again. The sins of those who have been forgiven are as far from God as East is from the West.
The ritual was not quite over. After the release of the scapegoat, Aaron re-entered the Tabernacle and consecrated Himself by washing, and returned to the Altar where he burned the burnt and sin offerings. A small amount of the blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. What remained was carried throughout the camp, when each family was given this one opportunity, on this Day of Atonement, of offering their sacrifices at their own homes. The one carrying the blood would go from home to home and sprinkle this blood on the family altars.
From the very beginning, when the LORD breathed spiritual life into the humans whom He had created, it was His desire to have an eternal relationship with us. As the creator of the universe, we should be entirely amazed that this is true. Why would this God of such majesty and power desire such a thing, other than He created us for this purpose. However, to have a relationship with such a Holy God is literally impossible for us. God also gave us the opportunity to make our own choices and live with their consequences. Our sinfulness and unrighteousness knows no bounds, and we are literally in bondage to it because we simply cannot behave in a sinless manner.
There is a huge gap between the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of the people who He has created. God’s plan was simple, and it is the very foundation of the gospel message: He made a promise to all people, from Adam, through today, and to the end of the age that He would forgive the sins of all who come to Him in faith and trust, sincerely turning from their desires for this wicked world, and turn to Him.
However, forgiveness must come at a cost. As stated above, God is not to be trifled with. To practice forgiveness without cost, to hold to a form of cheap grace, is neither biblical or rational. God illustrated the importance of forgiveness in the sacrificial system when an innocent animal was put to death in the place of the one bringing the offering. This clearly teaches us that we deserve that punishment ourselves: we deserve death. The good news is that forgiveness is found through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, YAHWEH incarnate, and applied on all who place their faith and trust in Him.
Jesus died on that cross for all. The faith that was demonstrated in Abraham found grace in the cross. The faith that is demonstrated by those who love the LORD today find grace in the cross. When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom, opening the Holy of Holies to all. There is no need any longer for animal sacrifices. There is no need for us to place our sins on a scapegoat. The final sacrifice had been made. The work is finished. All sins were covered by the work of the LORD on that cross, just as the blood that was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat on the Arc of the Covenant covered the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement. Just as the High Priest placed his hands on the head of the sacrifice and transferred the sins of the people onto the innocent animal, the LORD took upon Himself the sins of all of the people from Adam to the end of the age, and just as the burnt and sin offerings were killed by the shedding of blood, Jesus died with the shedding of His own blood. Finally, just as the scapegoat served to illustrate the eternal separation of sin from the face of God, the sins of those who find forgiveness at the Cross of Calvary are gone forever. All of the sin that the faithful commit, past, present, and future, no longer has the power to separate them from the LORD.
This is the gospel. All people will find themselves before the LORD when this life ends, either through death or through His promised return. In front of that altar will be those from every faith and religion on this planet. In front of that altar will be everyone who denied any form of religion at all. In front of that altar will be everyone who came to the LORD in sincere faith and trust. Only those who came in faith and trust are approaching that altar with their sins forgiven, and this is why forgiveness is found only by the work of the LORD, Jesus Christ on the cross. The good news is that forgiveness is found by placing one’s faith and trust in God through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
Jesus, the man, died on that Cross, but after three days He rose again Jesus, LORD, and YAHWEH who continues to serve as our Savior as He paid the price for our sin. The heart of the believer is now the Tabernacle and Temple of the LORD and it is on this altar that we give our sacrifices of prayer and praise.
The work is done. The final sacrifice has been made. Let us respond in renewing our faith and trust in the LORD, praising and thanking Him for this wonderful gift of forgiveness.
Note that in the biblical narrative both the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies are often referred to as “Holy Place.” The context of the narrative always clearly illustrates the application of the Hebrew term that is so rendered.
The doctrine of the atonement refers to the restoration of the broken relationship between God and humanity that is accomplished by Jesus Christ. Peters, Ted. Atonement and the final scapegoat. Perspectives in Religious Studies, 19 no 2 Sum 1992, p 153.
The uniqueness of this event combined with the centrality of this text, both canonically and theologically, serves to shine a spotlight on this act in such a way that it becomes a normative text by which other texts should be read. Gilchrest, Eric J. For the wages of sin is... banishment: an unexplored substitutionary motif in Leviticus 16 and the ritual of the scapegoat. The Evangelical Quarterly, 85 no 1 Jan 2013, p 38.
Leviticus 16:16. And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
The name, Azazel, originates from early Jewish mythology that is recorded in several pseudepigraphal books such as the Book of Enoch or The Apocalypse of Abraham that referred to Azazel as a fallen angel who took on the form of a goat as a punishment. Some traditions included the placing of the sin of others on this angel. Consequently, the name became part of Jewish language and plays a large part in the origin of this word that refers to what we refer to as a “scapegoat.” However, the etymology of the name is not part of the biblical narrative and is thoroughly incompatible with the LORD’s purpose for the scapegoat. Though scholars have tried to make the connection, no such connection is warranted. It is simply the Hebrew word for scapegoat.
Lev. 16:22 is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where an animal is said to 'bear on itself the sins of Israel. David Peterson, 'Atonement in the Old Testament', in Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today (ed. D. Peterson; Waynesboro, Ga.: Paternoster Press, 2001), p 15.
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