Atonement Day: Leviticus 16
Have you ever got a really sticky substance on your hands or something else? You try to wipe it off, but instead of cleaning the sticky substance whatever touched the sticky substance gets sticky. It seems no matter what you do the sticky stuff is just multiplying and defiling everything it comes near! So it is with sin, everything that sin touches or even comes near to is defiled by its presence. Sins of omission (the things we should have done but failed to do), sins of commission (things we did that were wrong to do), sins omitted intentionally, and sins omitted unintentionally, sins committed intentionally, and sins committed unintentionally all defile and keep us from fellowship with God.
Background: Exodus 40 after Moses purifies the tabernacle according to the command of the LORD, God inhabits the tabernacle in a visible cloud.
Lev 1-7, the sacrifices for regular worship are prescribed so that people can receive atonement and remain in fellowship with Yahweh.
Lev 8-10, the priests are ordained to lead tabernacle worship and Aaron’s 1st tabernacle leadership God displays his glory to the people in a display of acceptance and then Nadab and Abihu’s unauthorized worship leads to a display of God’s glory in judgment.
Lev 11-15, the LORD spells out the many ways that impurity can spread throughout God’s people leading to the defilement of the tabernacle.
Lev 16:1-3a, It seems that these verse chronologically happen immediately after the incident of judgment on Nadab and Abihu in the tabernacle. In Leviticus 16 the LORD prescribes an annual day of atonement/purification for not only the people & priest but also for the tabernacle and its furnishings. It seems that the sinfulness of the people causes defilement to the tabernacle that must be remedied. Clearly after the sin of Aaron’s sons the tabernacle has been defiled by their sin. The reason the information about clean and unclean is between these is probably to teach the people about the absolute myriad of ways that they are intentionally and unintentionally causing disruption to their covenant relationship with God.
Main Point: Perfect and permanent purification from sin is necessary to maintain covenant fellowship with God.
Outline: The bulk of Leviticus 16 deals with the practical details of the annual Day of Atonement that could be called the liturgy, but then at then end we get some information on how the everyday people of God were to act or relate to the day. So our three part outline today is 1st the atonement day liturgy, 2nd atonement day worship, and 3rd atonement day completed. Let’s jump in!
1. Atonement Day Liturgy (1-28) 5 Animals, 2 washings, 2 outfits & 1 incense cloud
Preparation for Purification by 1st washing and 1st set of clothes (3-5) God prescribes the specifics of how purification from sin must be dealt with. Specifically in this instance he must wear linen cloths instead of his normal high priestly garments and wash his entire body. One truth we face again and again in these commands and really all of Scripture is that God is God and we are not! God alone defines what is sin and not sin, clean and not clean, and even how forgiveness and atonement for sin can be accomplished. No matter how enlightened you or our world thinks it has become you do not get to define reality, God does! One day you will stand before the Judge of the Universe and the enlightenment of our world is going to seem rather small.
Incense Cloud for protection (12-13) First of all I will not be going through the verses in order, because the various aspects of the liturgy are separated so I am going to talk about them topically. If you are an outline person you can send me a message and I will give it to you. We are not really told how the incense cloud that Aaron is told to prepare will protect him, just that it will, “so that he will not die.” It could be to obscure Aaron’s sight so that he does not look upon the glory of the LORD and die, or it could be that the incense is a pleasing aroma that averts God’s wrath toward sinners like Aaron. We don’t know but it is important!
Animal#1: Bull for Aaron & son’s purification offering (6, 11, 14, 25, 27-28) Aaron has already killed the 1st animal which was a purification offering or sin offering for he and his sons. Now he takes the blood into the most holy place and sprinkles blood toward the mercy seat 7 times.
Animal #2: God’s chosen goat for Israel’s purification offering (7-9, 15-19, 25) After he has made purification in the Most Holy place for the priesthood then he the goat that has been chosen by lot to die is skilled and its blood is taken into the Most Holy place and sprinkled to make atonement for the people. Then the blood of both animals is taken out into the tent of meeting to make atonement in there, then it is taken into the courtyard to the altar to make atonement for the altar. So the entire tabernacle has purification made for it. The phrase “make atonement” occurs at least 16 times by my count in this chapter. And atonement is made for places, priests, and people. Clearly the sin and impurity of people does not only affect them, but it has a defiling affect on those around them. Did you hear that? Your sin, does not only affect you! I don’t care how many times we say our sin only affects us, we are lying to ourselves and everyone else. Our unrepentant sin defiles those around us including our family and friends. Our unrepentant sin defiles God’s people and even our fellowship with God himself. Warnings about it pervade the NT.
Animal #3: God’s chosen “Azazel” Goat to carry away sin (10, 20-22, 26) The 2nd goat for the people has the sins of nation confessed over it transferring them to the goat. And then goat is driven out of the camp taking the defilement of God’s people far away from them and the God they wish to maintain covenant fellowship with. So what or who is “Azazel”? There are three major options for what “azazel” means 1st some believe it is a place near the camp where the goat was drive to. But that is made difficult by the transient nature of the people until Jerusalem. 2nd some people believe it is a reference to the evil forces of the world and in some ancient literature the name is placed on Satan the prince of darkness. And 3rd some believe the word basically means “scapegoat” as some of your translations may have translated it. So which one is it? I cannot have absolute confidence but I lean towards the 2nd option that this goat was sent out to “Azalel” as a representative of evil forces in the world. A couple of reasons I lean that way 1st in v 9-10 the lots seem to fall on one for the LORD and one for someone else called Azazel. 2nd the azazel goat is not called an offering or a sacrifice, but instead is sent out bearing sin, it is as if the people are saying sin comes from the evil forces of the world and they are sending theirs back to it. 3rd and finally there is an unusual reference to “goat demons” in Lev 17:7 where the people are told to no longer sacrifice to them, which may be a reference to the false worship attributed to these evil forces. Regardless of which option is correct the application is the same. Our sin is removed from us and sent away so that we are no longer responsible for it and can have restored fellowship with God.
Preparation for Worship by 2nd washing and 2nd set of clothes (23-24a)
Animals #4 & 5: Rams for priests & Israel’s burnt offering (24) The two rams are offered as whole burnt offerings in worship of God after purification has been completed. The fatty parts of the sin offerings are also burned up but the rest is taken outside the camp to be burned. The people who do that and lead the azazel goat out of the camp have to wash before coming back into the camp to keep the came free from sin.
So the rather complicate liturgy is described
2. Atonement Day Worship (29-34) 4 expectations for God’s people
Annual Day of Special Worship (29, 31, 34) “And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 16:34) I don’t have time to get into this in depth but it is also at the half way point in the year exactly 6 months after Passover which was the beginning of their year.
Solemn Day of Special Worship (31) We are not very good at “solemn” in our culture. We like everything to be “happy”. But our sin is a serious thing and we should be contemplating it with a solemn intensity regularly in our lives.
Afflicted Day of Special Worship (29, 31) God oriented worship in the OT around seasons of feasting and fasting. We love the feast days, but avoid the fast days. Again what time in our regular calendars are we abstaining from God’s good gifts so that we can intensify our thinking about our sin and our need for ongoing sanctification!
Spectated Day of Special Worship (17) One final note that I found interesting is that when you consider this day, no one had a role in the tabernacle except for the high priest. The people were to Sabbath in afflicted solemnness but they probably stayed in their tents while it was happening. You see atonement is not something you can do to have fellowship with God, it is something that is done for you. If you are here this morning because you hope to earn God’s favor by coming to church or going through religious exercises can I just tell you it will not work. We receive atoning forgiveness for our sins by Christ dying on the cross in our place alone! We simply believe that his work is powerful to save us and turn from our sin trusting in him.
3. Atonement Day Completed (Hebrews 9:1-10:18)
Main point restated: Perfect and permanent purification from sin is necessary to maintain covenant fellowship with God.
But bloody animals don’t remove sin “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
But our Sacrifice is Better “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11–12)
One of the powerful takeaway that I keep coming back to in the midst of the extensive section of God prescriptions for worship in the OT is how beautiful the sacrifice of Jesus for us is. Annually on the day of atonement there were all of these components necessary for atonement to be made: 5 animals, 2 ritual washings, 2 outfits, and incense cloud, prescriptions for how the blood was to handled, carcasses handled, etc. But Jesus laid his life down once of his own volition and conquered all of sin and death, fulfilled all of the laws of the OT sacrificial system, rose powerfully from the grave and is sitting resting in the heavenly tabernacle. He does not have to get up again next year!
We respond in solemn afflicting repentance, praising Jesus for the work he has accomplished for us.