The Yom Kippur of God, Part 1

I did not post anything yesterday (or the day before for that matter!), but that is partly because I was getting ready to post this, so forgive me…

Especially in the Gospel of John, Pilate’s actions are an inversion of the High Priest’s duties during the Day of Atonement. This was pointed by Peter Leithart’s post here.

My plan for this post will be to explain the instructions in Leviticus for the Day of Atonement, not to directly address the fulfillment in Christ. I will do that in the next post, hopefully tomorrow.

The instructions concerning the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 gets legs when two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered “strange fire” to the Lord and were consumed by fire from the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 10:1-3). In other words, the Old Covenant had an initial failure on the part of the High Priest (and those he was the federal head over) that resulted in a Day of Atonement. Not that there would not have been such a day apart from this disobedience, but it is significant that we are told of the occasion that led to the instructions regarding what became an annually practiced rite called Yom Kippur today.

Aaron is instructed to not enter the Holy of Holies behind the veil because God is going to be on the mercy seat on top of the Ark and Aaron will die if he sees God in His uncovered glory (v.2). Aaron is to bring a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family, and a ram for a burnt (or ascension) offering (v.3). He is to then put on his holy garments (which never leave the tent of meeting (v.23)) after a thorough washing with water (v.4) Aaron then takes two male goats from the people of Israel for the sin offering and another ram for a burnt/ascension offering (v.5).

An important thing to note so far is that the two goats are not from Aaron, but rather from the “congregation of the people of Israel.” The goats are for the sins of the people of Israel corporately. Another thing that is important is that Aaron has to offer an offering of sin for himself and his family, from whom all of the Priests of the Old Covenant were to come. This is a devastating reality. Indeed, the reason that the Holy of Holies cannot be opened to the people. God is now among His people, but behind a veil and dangerously naked in His glory. If we gaze at Him like that, we would die. Continuing with the instructions…

First, Aaron makes his sin offering for himself and his house using the bull (v.6, 11). Then Aaron sets up the two goats of the congregation before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, which is in sight of everyone in the congregation (v.7). He then casts lots for them, one for a sin offering and the other a live atonement for “Azazel” or what is commonly described as “scapegoat” but is most likely describing a demon (possibly a goat demon that was commonly idolatrously sacrificed to, compare 17:7) (v.8-10).

The important part here is that the goats are displayed before the Lord, and before the congregation of the people of Israel. The lot is cast to determine which is to die as a sin offering. The lot’s result is the Lord’s decision (Proverbs 16:33) displaying God’s sovereignty over all the things that to us may seem random or senseless (including sin itself!).

Aaron, after making atonement for himself and his family, takes the censer full of fiery coals and two handfuls of incense behind the veil and places it before the mercy seat in order to make God’s presence in the Holy of Holies less visible so that Aaron will not die when he sees God (v.11-13). Aaron then sprinkles the blood of the bull (for his own sin offering) on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat seven times (v.14). He then kills the sin offering goat of the congregation for their sins and does the same thing with the blood of the goat (v.15).

This is the actual way the rite is accomplished, so less can be said about it specifically. The high priest’s sins are dealt with as well as the congregation’s in the blood sprinkling. That point cannot be emphasized enough, as it is one of the hinges upon which the author of Hebrews offers his critique of the Old Covenant in light of Christ. The next section is so important that I am going to quote it directly.

“Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.” (Lev 16:16) During this process, no one may be within the tabernacle until Aaron has finished the atonement process for the tent of meeting (v. 17). He then brings the blood of the bull and goat offering to the horns of the altar outside of the Holy Place, but within the tent of meeting to finish the consecration (v.19).

This is so amazing in light of Christ, but I will not discuss it here(this hurts bad!)! The sin offering is for the tent of meeting where God dwells with His people, not for the guilt of the people of Israel’s actual sins per se. The sin offering is primarily about the cleansing of the tabernacle because of the sinfulness of the people of Israel which means that the blood brought to the Holy Place is to make God’s dwelling with His people possible, because it is constantly defiled by their sinfulness surrounding it. This means that the sin offerings were to consecrate the Temple of God! You may, from this point, see where I will go with this, and where I think that the New Testament has gone… But alas, on to the scapegoat…

When Aaron finishes this process he presents the living goat and lays his hands on his head and confesses the sins of Israel on its head and sends the goat away to the wilderness using a man who is standing by ready to do this (v.20-21) This goat bears the iniquities on itself and bring it away from the people (v.22).

The scapegoat bears the sins of Israel and takes them away from Israel into the wilderness. This is an important point as well for understanding how the crucifixion is a fulfillment of the Day of Atonement that takes away Israel’s sin once and for all (cf. Zech 3:9b), though I don’t think that Christ fulfills the scapegoat typology specifically. When he is described this way in sermonic illustrations I understand the point being made, and I have no objections to the theological point per se but rather with the intentions of the author of Hebrews and the specific typological significance of the goat of Azazel.

Aaron has to remove the holy garments and placing them in the tent of meeting and the cleanse himself with water, as does the person who sent the goat to Azazel because they bore the iniquities of Israel and dealt with the sin offerings. He then offers the ascension/burnt offerings for atonement for himself and the people (v.23-24, 26). The fat of the sin offering is left on the alter and someone takes the skin and flesh and dung outside the camp to be burned. Then the person who burnt the remainder of the sin offerings has to bathe himself, as well, in order to be allowed access into the camp again (v.25, 27-28)

This shows that the “dirty work” of the Day of Atonement had to be cleansed, and that the garments required to enter into the presence of God need to stay there and not be defiled by common things. I think some of the importance of this passage is about the sacrament of baptism in the New Covenant, but I will make another legitimate connection provided by Bill Parkinson at church on this last Sunday to the crucifixion in the next post.

I hope that the layout of the Day of Atonement was helpful, and I will try to draw it all together in the next post!

Until then…

To be continued…

  1. February 8th, 2011

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