This great day in Israel was on the tenth day of the seventh month, or our September. The people would be seen crowding to the Tabernacle in huge masses. All secular work was suspended just as if it was a Sabbath. It was also a day of humiliation on account of all their sins of the past year. National sin not only polluted the people, but also the beautiful sanctuary. They were defiled and it was rendered on this special day that it was necessary for them to be purged with atoning blood. This was in addition to all the sacrifices they had already offered during the past 12 months.
Offerings Peculiar to This Day
Besides the usual stated daily burnt offering, there was an additional one on this day. It consisted of one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs, with the accompanying meat and drink offerings according to Numbers 29: 7-8. The special offerings according to Leviticus 16, though, were:
First, a young bullock for a sin offering for Aaron and his house
Second, two goats for a sin offering for the people
Third, a ram for a burnt offering for Aaron and his house
Fourth, a ram for a burnt offering for the people
There is much said about the sin offerings in Leviticus 16, but there is little about the other forms of sacrifice. One reasons might be that the character of the day of atonement would be mostly centered around the people’s sins.
High Priest Officiating in White Robes
On this day Aaron had washed his whole body in water and dressed, not in the high priest’s colored robes, but simply in the white linen garments. Then he began the services peculiar to the day of annual atonement by presenting at the door of the tabernacle the bullock for himself and his house. Then he presented the two goats for the people. He cast lots upon the goats and one lot was for the Lord and the other was for the scapegoat.
The goat upon which the lot fell for the Lord he again presented before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle. The first time it had formed one united offering, and the second time it was for a sin offering to be sacrificed in the usual way. The destiny of the other goat, after being presented, was to be sent away alive into the wilderness as the scapegoat for the people.
High Priest In The Holy of Holies
After Aaron had slain the bullock for himself and his house, he entered the tabernacle carrying a censer filled with burning coals of fire from off the brazen altar in one hand, and in the other hand sweet incense. The golden candlestick was on the left, and the shewbread table on the right. The golden altar lay before him, but he was on his way to the holy of holies where God was visibly enthroned on the ark of the covenant.
No one had been in this chamber for the last 12 months. It was where God was, and with deepest reverence Aaron lifted the veil. He entered and immediately placed the censer on the ground and dropped the incense on the fire at the same time. Clouds of sweet odors at once arose as a sweet smelling savor to God. As the incense was burning, he retraced his steps to the court. There he received the blood of the slain bullock and returned to the throne room. He sprinkled it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward, and before the mercy seat with his finger seven times. This sprinkled blood was an acknowledgement that on account of the sins they had committed the past year, he and his house were unclean and deserved death; but on the ground of that blood, they had obtained forgiveness and cleansing.
The goat upon which the lot fell for the Lord was the people’s sin offering, and it was now slain by Aaron. He then carried its blood into the holy of holies and sprinkled it in the same manner as he had done that of the bullock. Just as he had done for himself, he now asked and obtained forgiveness of the sins they had been guilty of during the past year. When he reappeared in the court it was the signal that all Israel had been pardoned for another year.
The Tabernacle Cleansed
Just as the people had been cleansed, the tabernacle also required it. It was polluted by the sins of those in whose midst it stood. The sprinkling of the blood upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat sufficed for the cleansing of the most holy place, as well as for Aaron and the people. So the holy place must likewise be cleansed.
Aaron approached the golden altar with the mingled blood of both sin-offerings. He then rubbed the blood on it seven times and by this rite both the altar and the holy place were cleansed. The remainder of the blood was poured out at the foot of the brazen altar. This constituted its cleansing and that of the court in which it stood, for almost all things are by the law purged with blood.
For Aaron, his house, the people, the holy of holies, the incense-altar, and the holy place, the altar of burnt offerings and the court, atonement had now been made. They had all been cleansed with the blood.
After all this had been done, the people did not fear anymore that flashes of fire from the cloudy pillar would consume them, nor the plague destroy them, nor their Divine King depart form their midst. They knew that he would continue to dwell in the beautiful tabernacle as His palace temple for another year, and the people could approach and hold communion with Him through the medium of the high priest.
This was the last significant thing that was done after all the significant rites had been accomplished to cleanse and forgive the people of their sins.
One the great day of atonement, two goats formed one combined offering for the people. We have already seen that one was slain and its blood sprinkled out for cleansing. The sins that had already been atoned for were now symbolically put upon the head of the live scapegoat. This was done in order to give the Israelites a more vivid sense of how graciously and completely God had forgiven their sins. With this done, the goat was led by an already chosen man into the wilderness. He led the goat down the court, out at the gate, through the streets that were formed by the tents of all the thousands of Israelites, and went out beyond the encampment out into the wilderness and left it there.
We are not told exactly what happened to the scapegoat, but the truth that was intended to be portrayed to the Israelites was that God had completely forgiven His people of their sins and they were lost forever and God would not remember them against the Israelites any more. The people did not actually see Aaron sprinkling blood for them over the mercy seat, but this scapegoat was a striking symbol that their sins would be forever removed out of God’s sight.
Thus God for Christ’s sake completely forgives the sins of believers, and just as the scapegoat took them out into the wilderness and they were forgotten, so does God both forgive and forget. Our Heavenly Father has removed our sins “as far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.”
The Two Goats – Two Features of The Same Picture
The goat that was sacrificed and the one that was sent into the wilderness are two features of the same picture. The blood of the slain goat that was sprinkled on the mercy seat signified that pardon and cleansing were obtained through the shed blood of the innocent victim. The sins put upon the head of the live goat would have had no significance at all had the blood of the slain goat not already been sprinkled upon and before the mercy seat. As the Bible says “without shedding of blood, there is no remission.” The two goats, in a sense, were like two halves that had to make a whole to be complete.
As we have already mentioned, while Aaron had been engaged in the solemn work of annual atonement, he was dressed in white garments only. After the Atonement had been made in the prescribed way and God had accepted the sacrifice for the sins of the people, he entered the holy place and washed his body again. Then he arrayed himself in the beautiful golden robes and reappeared in the court. Since God had accepted their sacrifice, they could now approach Him through the medium of the high priest. Now the way of access was opened again for another year, and Aaron now offered the burnt offerings; the ram for himself, and the ram for the people. After this he burned the fat from both offerings on the altar.
The Altar Beyond the Encampment
On this holy day, the Levites built a fire outside the camp and the bodies of the animals slain as sin offerings for the high priest and the congregation were consumed. The Altar within the tabernacle was deemed not sufficiently significant for this purpose. A high priest’s sins and a nation’s sins were considered more heinous in the sight of God than those of private individuals. To emphasize the seriousness of this offering, they built a fire outside the camp and offered the sacrifice on it.
In the same way, when Jesus died on the cross, it was outside the city. He also died for the heinous crimes of man, but His offering was a one-time thing instead of Him having to do it every year for the sins of all the people in the world.
The Laver Beyond the Encampment
They had also made a temporary laver beside the fire for the Levites and priests to wash their hands. God wanted to impress upon the people that He was truly Holy, and sin was hateful in His sight. Therefore, the man who led the goat into the wilderness, as well as the priests and Levites who had carried the bodies of the slain bullock and goat to the fire outside the camp had all become ceremonially unclean. They had to wash their hands at the laver to become ceremonially clean again before they could return to the court. “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart. Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever.” Because of what Jesus did for us, we may now approach God acceptably and enjoy His blessings.
Christ and The Great Day of Atonement
Everything that happened on this special day correlates with the Atoning work of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Because Aaron had to wash himself and put on white raiment before he could atone for the sins of the people, Jesus lived on the earth in a spotless manner and was truly holy so that He could atone once and for all for the sins of the people. Just as Jesus had to bear our sins and die alone, no one else was in the tabernacle with Aaron when he made the official atonement for the people’s sin. Just as the incense rose up towards heaven as a pleasing fragrance to God, so Jesus did the same thing and is now our intercessor. Now he lives to plead for us before a Holy God.
Everything that happened on this great day of the year was just a foreshadow of the events to come when the True Lamb of God would come and die once and for all so the people wouldn’t have to do this every year. At the conclusion of the services Aaron blessed the congregation by saying these words: Our Great High Priest ever liveth to shower down blessings, great and without number, upon His people.
The greatest lesson that we can learn from this whole subject of Atonement is: WITHOUT THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD THERE IS NO REMISSION. We should be constantly seeking to have our consciences sprinkled with the precious blood of Christ. If we could only see what a wonderful gift Jesus gave us when He died on the cross, we would strive to live our lives differently.
Below is a sketch of the priests and Levites making the sacrifice and the setup outside the camp.