Obedience on the Day of Atonement
Posted October 16, 2022
Lesson 7 Fall Quarter
Lesson Text: Leviticus 16:11-19
Golden Text: Leviticus 16:16
Our lesson this week moves us out of the book of Exodus and into the book of Leviticus. In our lesson last week, we saw the raising of the tabernacle and the things that were to be inside of the tabernacle. You will recall that the ark of the covenant sat in a partitioned portion of the tabernacle which was called the most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies. In last week’s lesson, I spoke of that one day – Atonement Day (Yom Kippur) – that this part of the tabernacle was entered into and we will dive into that day in our lesson this week.
The Day of Atonement
Our lesson opens with the Lord laying out the guidelines for the day of Atonement. As we have seen in recent weeks, there were several guidelines (instructions) given to the children of Israel that they needed to follow – The Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments, and the constructing and raising of the tabernacle.
Following God’s instructions
A day as holy as the Day of Atonement was certainly no different as it was important for the children of Israel to be obedient in following these guidelines. Not following the guidelines for the Day of Atonement would have been very tragic for Aaron (the high priest) and the rest of the people (Lev. 16:2).
In the opening verse of our lesson, we will see Aaron bringing forth a bull for the sin offering of himself and his house as well (v.11). Aaron was keeping to the instructions as he had been commanded to do by the Lord. Even before bringing forth the bull, Aaron was supposed to enter the tabernacle at a specific point in time (Lev. 16:2). Aaron, we will also see, was to dress in a certain attire when taking part in this ceremony; he was also supposed to literally wash his body in water before even putting on the appropriate garments (Lev. 16:4).
Aaron was instructed to bring the bull as a sin offering for himself and his house while at the same time, he was to take from the congregation of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering (Lev. 16:5-6). Aaron, before entering the tabernacle, was, again, instructed to kill the bull in the courtyard and offer up the offering for he and his house.
Now, to understand the purpose of these offerings we need to understand what each offering represents. As we have seen in recent weeks, a burnt offering as a sign of committing oneself to the Lord. The sin offering was made for the atoning of one’s sin – essentially like asking God for forgiveness.
So, going back to the first verse of our lesson, the bull for the sin offering, we will now understand was for the atonement of the sins of Aaron and his house. Before Aaron could even offer up an offering for the congregation, he had to take care of himself and his house! Again, before Aaron could even enter into the Holy Place of the tabernacle, he physically had to consecrate himself! So, as you can see, this day was incredibly holy – incredibly important – and it was important to properly follow each step.
Aaron, was then instructed to take a censer full of burning colas from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of finely beaten sweet incense; this was to be brought inside the veil into the Holy Place (v.12). The follow up verse tells us that the incense was to then be thrown on the fire so that the smoke from the burning incense would build up so much that it would cover the mercy seat – the top cover of the ark (v.13).
We often talk about the burning of incense but I have rarely explained its purpose according to scripture. The burning of incense was actually incredibly significant to the Lord as it was also seen as a sign of both prayer and worship. This is actually why the Lord was not happy with the children of Israel that would burn incense to idols! It was a sign of them serving and worshiping idols rather than worshiping the Lord.
In fact, one who did not burn incense properly before the Lord would die, which was the case for a couple of Aaron’s sons that profaned their offering before the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2). Also, the aroma of the offering was significant as well. You will read throughout Old Testament scripture how the aroma of the offering either pleased the Lord or was not pleasing to God (Ex. 29:18,25; 29:41). A sweet smelling offering was one that pleased the Lord and was accepted by Him.
So, we get the idea here that the burning of incense was very significant. Along with essentially hiding the covering of the ark, we see that Aaron was communicating with the Lord in prayer and worship through the burning of incense. Even the aroma of the burning incense in the Holy Place was very significant during this ceremony.
Blood of the bull
After killing the bull, Aaron was instructed to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy he was to sprinkle the blood seven times (v.14). So, after burning the incense in the Holy Place, Aaron would take some of the blood of the bull he had already offered up to atone for himself and begin sprinkling it. As we can see here in this verse, the sprinkling of the blood of the bull was very specific here.
We have to remember that this was the one time of the year where the blood of the sin offering was actually sprinkled in the Holy Place. At all other times, the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled in the ‘sanctuary’ part of the tabernacle. Again, the sin offering was for the atoning of the sins which we see was brought directly before God with it being sprinkled on the mercy and then on the ground before the ark.
The blood being sprinkled seven times obviously points to a certain sign that we do not miss. Seven, we know to be the number of completion; God rested on the seventh day as His work of creation was final and complete. So, sprinkling the sin offering seven times, we should consider, to be a sign of complete atonement for himself and his house.
Purpose of the goats
Aaron was then instructed to kill the goat of the sin offering which was for the people; he was to do with its blood the same that he did with the blood of the bull. You will recall that I mentioned earlier how the congregation of Israel were to bring two goats to Aaron. So, which one of the goats was the sin offering? The goat to be sacrificed for the sin offering was chosen by casting lots; one goat would become the sin offering and the other would become the scapegoat (Lev. 16:8).
So, Aaron was to take the blood of the goat and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat on the ground; he was to sprinkle the blood seven times again. This, again, was a sign of total atonement, however, this time it was for the total atonement for all of the congregation of Israel.
An added detail that we will see here in our follow up verse is that this was also for the atoning of the Holy Place (v.16). Why did the Holy Place need atoning? Well, the Holy Place and the tabernacle of meeting needed atoning because it remained among the people and their sins. We have to remember, the tabernacle, and therefore the Holy Place, went wherever the people went as the whole structure was mobile. So, the sins of the people would pollute the structure and atonement needed to be made for it to keep it holy.
Scripture of the scapegoat is not included in our lesson but let’s briefly touch on the idea of the scapegoat. Though the blood of one of the goats had been sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, the sins of the people were still with them. So, Aaron would exit the tabernacle and lay the sins of the people on the other goat. That goat would become the scapegoat as it had all the sins of the people laid on it. Then, the scapegoat would be carried away from the camp and let loose in the wild to carry away with it the sins of the people (Lev. 16:10,20-22).
Final instructions for the blood
Now, these aren’t the absolute final instructions for the day as there would still be some more instructions; the scapegoat instructions that I just mentioned actually happened after what we are about to cover. However, these are some of the final instructions that deal with the use of the blood of the sacrifices.
We will first see that no other person was to be in the tabernacle with Aaron as he was performing this ceremony; as I said in last week’s lesson and said earlier, only Aaron was allowed to go into the Holy Place (v.17). I believe I would have had to be held back because of how significant this day was; I would want to make sure that Aaron was doing everything right because of the significance of my atonement!
After working in the Holy place, we will see that Aaron was instructed to then go out to the sanctuary and sprinkle blood on the altar in the sanctuary. This was being done for the very same reason as the blood was being sprinkled in the Holy Place – atonement needed to be made for these altars. What is noticeable about this offering is that both the blood of the bull and the blood of the goat was to be sprinkled on the horns of the altar.
Similar to the sprinkling of the blood in the Holy Place, we find that the blood was to be sprinkled seven times. This, again, shows that this atonement was total – for the congregation of Israel and for the high priest as well. So, again, we see just how important it was for Aaron and the rest of the congregation to be obedient to keeping God’s instructions. Breaking away from these instructions with one misstep would mean no atonement for the high priest or the congregation.
The Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – is actually still celebrated today. Though, because we now live under grace, we don’t have to worry about offering up these sacrifices to atone for our sins. As the writer of Hebrews said, the blood of Christ was more than enough to atone for all of our sins (Heb. 9:11-15)! That said, we must be obedient in having faith – trusting in the Lord – so that we are forgiven of our sins.