Law of Atonement
16 Then the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who had died when they [irreverently] approached the presence of the Lord.(A) 2 The Lord said to Moses,
“Tell Aaron your brother that he [a]must not enter at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil (the Holy of Holies), before the [b]mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die, for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.(B) 3 Aaron [as high priest] shall enter the Holy Place in this way: with [the blood of] a young bull as a sin offering and [the blood of] a ram as a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be belted with the linen sash, and dressed with the linen turban (these are the holy garments). He shall bathe his body in water and put them on. 5 He shall take from the congregation of the Israelites [at their expense] two male goats as a sin offering and one ram as a burnt offering. 6 Then Aaron shall present the bull as the sin offering for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the doorway of the Tent of Meeting. 8 Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord, the other lot for the [c]scapegoat. 9 Then Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell and offer it as a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot fell for the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement on it; it shall be sent into the wilderness as the scapegoat.
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as the sin offering for himself and make atonement for himself and for his household (the other priests), and he shall kill the bull as the sin offering for himself. 12 He shall take a censer full of burning coals from the [bronze] altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil [into the Most Holy Place], 13 and put the incense on the fire [in the censer] before the Lord, so that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is on [the ark of] the Testimony, otherwise he will die. 14 He shall take some of the bull’s blood and sprinkle it with his finger on the east side of the mercy seat; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for [the sins of] the people and bring its blood within the veil [into the Most Holy Place] and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.(C) 16 So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place (Holy of Holies) because of the uncleanness and transgressions of the Israelites, for all their sins. He shall also do this for the Tent of Meeting which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness (impurities).(D) 17 There shall be no person in the Tent of Meeting when the high priest goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place [within the veil] until he comes out, so that he may make atonement for himself (his own sins) and for his household and for all the congregation of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar [of burnt offering in the court] which is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the goat and put it on the horns of the altar on all sides. 19 With his finger he shall sprinkle some of the blood on the altar of burnt offering seven times and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 “When he has finished atoning for the Holy Place and the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the wickedness of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat [the scapegoat, the sin-bearer], and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is prepared [for the task]. 22 The goat shall carry on itself all their (the Israelites) wickedness, carrying them to a solitary (infertile) land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.(E)
23 “Then Aaron shall come into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place (Holy of Holies), and shall leave them there. 24 He shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes, and come out and offer his burnt offering and that of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And he shall offer up in smoke the fat of the sin offering on the altar. 26 The man who released the goat as the [sin-bearing] scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place (Holy of Holies), shall be taken outside the camp; their skins, their meat, and their waste shall be burned in the fire.(F) 28 Then he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
An Annual Atonement
29 “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month (nearly October) on the tenth day of the month you shall [d]humble yourselves [by fasting] and not do any work, whether the native-born or the stranger who lives temporarily among you; 30 for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.(G) 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall humble yourselves; it is a permanent statute. 32 So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve and minister as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall wear the holy linen garments, 33 and make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the Tent of Meeting, and for the altar [of burnt offering in the court]. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 This shall be a permanent statute for you, so that atonement may be made for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year.” So he did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
- Leviticus 16:2 The high priest was permitted to enter the Most Holy Place only once a year. The Day of Atonement was the most sacred of all the festivals and the prescribed purpose of this inclusive sacrifice was to atone for the sins of both the nation and the individual believer, and in this way reconcile God’s chosen people to Himself. Only by carefully following all of God’s instructions, could the high priest enter God’s presence and live.
- Leviticus 16:2 Lit propitiatory.
- Leviticus 16:8 Lit goat of removal, or else a name, Heb: Azazel. This goat’s release (v 10) symbolized the carrying away of Israel’s sin.
- Leviticus 16:29 It is assumed by many that humbling oneself is a reference to fasting, but if so, there is no reason to limit the idea to that. The rabbis taught that it was forbidden to eat, drink, wash, anoint oneself (with oil for the hair), put on footwear, or have marital relations. Fasting was defined as eating less than the volume of a large date and drinking less than a mouthful of liquid.