THE DAY OF ATONEMENT WAS THE GREAT day in Israel. It was peculiarly holy, and on it no work must be done. The Jews called it Yoma, the day. It was the keystone of the sacrificial system. Whoever did not on that day afflict his soul, was cut off from Israel. Lev. 23:29. The Day of Atonement, occurred on the tenth day of the seventh mouth, called Tishri, about the latter part of our October. The special preparation for this day began ten days earlier. Of this the Jewish Encyclopedia, article "Atonement," says: "The first ten days of Tishri grew to be the ten penitential days of the year intended to bring about a perfect change of heart, and to make Israel like newborn creatures, the culmination being reached on the Day of Atonement when religion's greatest gift, God's condoning mercy, was to be offered to man." --Vol.11, p.281. "The statement is further made that the idea developed also in Jewish circles that on the first of Tishri, the sacred New Year's Day and the anniversary of creation, man's doings were judged and his destiny was decided, and that on the tenth day of Tishri the decree of heaven was sealed."--Ibid.
A Jewish conception of what took place on the Day of Atonement is given in the Jewish Encyclopedia as follows: "God, seated on His throne to judge the world, at the same time Judge, Pleader, Expert, and Witness, openeth the Book of Records; it is read, every man's signature being found therein. The great trumpet is sounded; a still, small voice is heard; the angels shudder, saying, This is the day of judgement: for His very ministers are not pure before God. As a shepherd mustereth his flock, causing them to pass under his rod, so doth God cause every living soul to pass before Him to fix the limit of every creature's life and to foreordain its destiny. On New Year's Day the decree is written; on the Day of Atonement it is sealed who shall live and who are to die, etc. But penitence, prayer, and charity may avert the evil decree."--Ibid., p.286.
On the third day of the seventh month the high priest moved from his house in Jerusalem into the temple precincts. There he spent the week in prayer and meditation, and also in rehearsing the ritual for the Day of Atonement, so that he would make no mistake. There was with him also, at least in later years, another priest, who, in case the high priest should become sick or die, could go on with the service on the Day of Atonement. Generally, one of the older priests was also with the high priest during this time, instructing and helping him, and making sure that all was understood and would be done in the approved manner. The night before the Day of Atonement, the high priest was not permitted to sleep, lest some defilement should come to him.
On the Day of Atonement all were up early. The high priest officiated in the daily morning sacrifice, which was conducted on this day as on other days. Num. 29:11. After this service was over, the special services began. The record in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus yields the following information:
The high priest was first to bathe and put on the holy white garments. Throughout the year he had been wearing the high-priestly insignia, the beautiful robe and ephod with the precious stones and breastplate. On this day, however, before going into the most holy, he put off these garments and put on the white garments of the priest, the difference between his attire and that of the priest being that the girdle was white, and that he wore the linen mitre of the high priest instead of the bonnet of the priest. Lev. 16.4; Ex. 28:39,40; 39:28. As he begins the service, the high priest receives from the congregation two goats and a ram, which, together with his own sin offering, a bullock, are presented before the Lord. He kills the bullock, which is for himself, and a priest catches some of the blood in a bowl, stirring it so that it will not coagulate while the high priest performs another part of the service.
After the bullock is killed, the high priest takes coals from the altar of burnt offering, and puts them in a censer. He also takes his hands full of sweet incense, and carrying both the coals and the incense, he goes into the tabernacle and enters the most holy. There he places the censer on the mercy seat, "that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not." Lev. 16:13.
Having finished this part of the ceremony, he goes outside and receives from the priest the blood of the bullock, which he carries into the most holy. There he sprinkles the blood with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward, "and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times." Verse 14. By this act he makes "atonement for himself and for his house." Verse 6.
Before the bullock is killed, another ceremony has taken place. Lots have been cast upon the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Verse 8. The goat upon which the lot fell for the Lord is to be offered as a sin offering. The other, the scapegoat, is to be presented alive before the Lord, "to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness." Verses 9,10.
After the high priest comes out from the most holy, having performed the ritual with the blood of the bullock, he kills the goat of the sin offering that is for the people. He again enters the most holy, and sprinkles the blood of the goat as he sprinkled the blood of the bullock upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. Verse 15. This makes atonement for the most holy, "because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins." Verse 16. He then does the same thing for the tabernacle of the congregation, that is, the holy place. Having made atonement for the sanctuary, he goes out to the altar and makes atonement for it, putting upon the horns of the altar both of the blood of the bullock and of the blood of the goat. He sprinkles it with his finger seven times, to "cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." Verse 19.
Having thus "made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness." Lev. 16:20-22.
This part of the service being finished, Aaron puts off the linen garments, washes himself in water, and puts on his regular high priestly garments. Verses 23,24. He then comes out and offers a burnt offering for himself and one for the people. Verse 24. The fat of the sin offering is then burned on the altar. The man who led the scapegoat into the wilderness is to bathe himself and wash his clothes before he can come back into the camp. The man who disposed of the bullock whose blood was brought into the sanctuary and whose body was burned without the camp, must also wash his clothes and bathe himself in water before he can return. Verses 26-28. The special offering mentioned in Numbers 29:7-11, consisting of a bullock, a ram, and seven lambs for a burnt offering, and "one kid of the goats for a sin offering; beside the sin offering of atonement," is then offered before the regular evening sacrifice, which closes the services of the day.
Of the work done on that day the record states, "On that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." Lev. 16:30. A summary is given in verse 33: "He shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation."
In the reading of the record of the Day of Atonement as given in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, some questions present themselves which we shall now consider. If the question is asked, Just what was accomplished by the services of the Day of Atonement? the answer of course is that atonement was made. If the further question is asked, For whom, or for what was atonement made? the answer is, in the language of the thirty-third verse, that atonement was made for the holy sanctuary, for the tabernacle of the congregation, for the altar, for the priests, and for all the people.
This divides the atonement into two parts, atonement for the sanctuary, that is, for the holy things; and atonement for persons, that is, for priests and people. The purpose of the atonement for the people is said to be "to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." Verse 30. As for the sanctuary, the statement is made, "He shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgression in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness." Verse 16. Concerning the altar it is stated, "He shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." Verse 19.
It will be noted that the holy places and the altar were cleansed not because of any inherent sin or evil in the sanctuary or altar as such, but "because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel," and "because of their transgressions in all their sins." The same is true of the altar. The priest is to "cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." Verse 19.
These statements make it clear that it was the sins of Israel that defiled the sanctuary and the altar. This defilement had taken place throughout the year in the daily ministration. Each morning and evening a lamb had been slain and its blood sprinkled upon the altar "round about." This had defiled the altar. Offenders had brought their sin and trespass offerings. In the case of a priest or the whole congregation, the victim's blood had been sprinkled in the holy place. This had defiled the sanctuary. In the case of a ruler or one of the common people, the blood had been put upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and the flesh had been eaten by the priests. This had transferred the sins to the priesthood as well as defiled the altar. Through these means the sanctuary and the altar had been defiled, and the priesthood made to bear sins. The services of the Day of Atonement were to dispose of all these sins and to cleanse both sanctuary and priesthood as well as people.
The question may well be raised, Why was any cleansing needed by the people? Had they not brought their sacrifices from time to time throughout the year, confessed their sins and gone away forgiven? Why would they need to be forgiven twice? Why should "a remembrance" be "made of sins every year"? Should not "the worshippers once purged" "have had no more conscience of sins"? Heb. 10:2,3. These questions demand an answer.
It may be pertinent to remark that our salvation is always conditioned upon repentance and perseverance. God forgives, but the forgiveness is not unconditional and independent of the sinner's future course. Note how Ezekiel puts it: "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, it them shall he die." Eze. 18:24.
This text states that when a man turns away from the right, all his good deeds "shall not be mentioned." The converse is also true. If a man has been wicked, but turns from his evil way, "all his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him." Verse 22.
God keeps an account with each man. Whenever a prayer for forgiveness ascends to God from a true heart, God forgives. But sometimes men change their minds. They repent of their repentance. They show by their lives that their repentance is not permanent. And so God, instead of forgiving absolutely and finally, marks forgiveness against men's names and waits with the final blotting out of sins until they have had time to think the matter through. If at the end of their lives they are still of the same mind, God counts them faithful, and in the day of judgement their record is finally cleared. So in Israel of old. When the Day of Atonement rolled around, each offender had a chance to show that he was still of the same mind and wanted forgiveness. If he was, the sin was blotted out, and he was completely cleansed.
The Day of Atonement was the day of judgement to Israel, as evidenced by the quotations at the beginning of this chapter. Day by day during the year, the transgressors had appeared at the temple and received forgiveness. On the Day of Atonement these sins came in review before God, or as Hebrews puts it, there was "a remembrance again made of sins." Heb.10:3. On that day every true Israelite renewed his consecration to God and confirmed his repentance. As a result, he was not only forgiven, but cleansed. "On that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." Lev. 16:30. It must have been with happiness in their hearts that Israel went home in the evening of that day. "Clean from all your sins." Wonderful assurance! The same promise is given in the New Testament: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1John 1:9. Not only forgiven, but cleansed! Cleansed from "all unrighteousness," from "all your sins!"
O the bliss of the glorious thought --
My sin, not in part but the whole.
Of the final judgement the revelator says: "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the book, according to their works." Rev. 20:12. "The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books." The Day of Atonement was a type of that day. There were no books kept in the sanctuary. But there was a record of sin. Every drop of blood on the altar of burnt offering sprinkled in the morning and evening service constituted a record of sins committed. On the horns of the same altar, and also on the holy place, a record of sins forgiven was made by the sprinkling of blood as sinners came with their personal sacrifices to obtain forgiveness. On the Day of Atonement the sins of those who had already obtained forgiveness were blotted out. The others were "cut off." Thus the sanctuary was cleansed of the record of sin accumulated through the year. This cleansing of the record also effected the cleansing of the people whose sins already had been forgiven. The sins were blotted out. They did not any longer remain as a witness against the people. Atonement was made, and the people were not under condemnation. They were cleansed, free, happy. Even the record existed no more.
It now becomes our duty to inquire just how this atonement was brought about. The observing student will wish to know how the sanctuary can be cleansed by the sprinkling of blood, when it was by that very means that the sanctuary was defiled. Would not more blood still further defile, rather than cleanse? The student will also wish to know why a bullock is used as a sin offering as well as a goat, and what each accomplished; and lastly, why a scapegoat is necessary.
In any study of the sanctuary and of the levitical priesthood, it is to be remembered that no type is an exact counterpart of that which it is intended to portray. The real work of the atonement in heaven involves so many factors that it is quite impossible to find an earthly parallel. Christ lived, died, and rose again. How can a fitting type be found to illustrate this? A lamb may represent Christ and be slain as he was. But how can the resurrection be shown? Another live animal may be used, but the type is not perfect.
The high priest typified Christ. But Christ was sinless, and the priest was not. Any offering which the high priest offered because of his own sins, could therefore not be true to type. For these reasons various ceremonies were necessary to illustrate the complete work of Christ; and yet they failed to illustrate fully. The priest typified certain aspects of Christ's ministry. So did the high priest, the veil, the shewbread, the incense, the lamb, the goat, the meal offering, and many other items in the sanctuary service. The holy apartment had its signification; so had the most holy, the court, the altar, the laver, the mercy seat. Almost everything was symbolical, from the priests' dress to the ashes used in sprinkling the unclean. Yet all of it put together did not constitute a complete type, and much of it did but imperfectly mirror its original.
In another chapter the statement is stressed that Aaron not only represented the people, but was practically identified with them. What he did, they did. What they did, he did.
The high priest "represented the whole people. All Israelites were reckoned as being in him." In him "everything belonging to the priesthood gathered itself up and reached its culmination." "When he sinned, the people sinned."
Adam was the representative man. By him "sin entered into the world." By his "disobedience many were made sinners." And so "by one man's offence death reigned by one," and "through the offence of one many be dead." Rom. 5:12,19,17,15.
Christ also was the representative man. He was the second man and the last Adam. "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." 1Cor. 15:47. This second man, "the Lord from heaven," undid all that the first man had done by his transgression. By the disobedience of the first man "many were made sinners." By the obedience of the second man "shall many be made righteous." Rom. 5:19. By the offence of the first man, "judgement came upon all men to condemnation." By the righteousness of the second man, "the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Verse 18. And so, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1Cor. 15:22.
The high priest was a type of Christ and a representative of the nation. As a representative of the nation, he was identified with their sins and was worthy of death. As a type of Christ he was their mediator and saviour. In either case he transacted with God for the people. In this sense he was the people. If God accepted him, He accepted the people in him. If God rejected him, He rejected the people in him. For this reason the people were anxious to hear the sound of the bells and the pomegranates on the Day of Atonement. When at last the atonement had been effected and the reconciliation was complete, the sound of the bells as the high priest resumed his high-priestly garments was the sign that God had accepted the substitute. As he stepped outside and the sound was clearly heard by all, their joy and thankfulness were profound. God had once more accepted them in the person of the high priest.
When the high priest went into the most holy on the Day of Atonement, he went in as the representative of the people. In him Israel appeared before the Lord to give account of the sins of the year. The record of these sins appeared in blood on the altar of burnt offering and in the holy place. With the Day of Atonement the day of reckoning had come, the day of judgement when all sins were to come in review before God. The high priest appears in God's presence, while the veil of incense shields him. For the first time that year sin is brought before God in the most holy. The high priest sprinkles the blood of the bullock "upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times," and receives "atonement for himself, and for his house." Lev. 16:14,11. He is clean. Whatever sins he is identified with, whatever sins he is responsible for, have in figure been transferred to the sanctuary. He is clean; but the sanctuary is not.
What has thus far been accomplished is this: The high priest in his representative capacity has appeared before God and the law. He has acknowledged his sins and sprinkled the blood. The law has in effect asked:
"Have you sinned?"
The high priest has answered: "I have sinned, and I have confessed my sins."
The law says: "The wages of sin is death. I have no other choice than to demand life."
The high priest replies: "I have brought the blood of the victim. Accept it."
The blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat. A substitute has been accepted instead of the sinner. On this substitute the sin has been placed; it is made sin, and as such has died. It has paid the penalty of transgression. It has died in the sinner's place and for sin. It has paid the debt due because of sin.
In our consideration of sacrifices for sin, stress has been laid on the placing of hands upon the victim's head, thus transferring sin to the victim. In each case the victim dies with guilt upon its head, dies for sin. Thus Christ took our sins upon Himself and was made sin. Being made sin, He must die; for the wages of sin is death.
Christ however, died not only for sin, but for sinners. When He died for sins He died because He identified Himself with us and took our sins upon Himself. He died for sins because our sins were laid upon Him, and He must bear the penalty. Dying thus for sinners, He satisfied the claims of the law.
Christ died not only as a substitute for the sinner, but also as the Sinless One. Taking our sins upon Himself -- we say it reverently -- He ought to die; the law demanded it. But personally Christ has not sinned. He was sinless; yet He died. And the death of the Sinless One is a definite part of the plan of God. The death of the sinner satisfies the claim of the law. The death of the Sinless One provides the ransom and frees the sinner from death.
After the high priest had offered the bullock and sprinkled its blood upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat, he was told to "kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: and he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness." Lev. 16:15,16.
It has before been noted, but should here be emphasised, that the blood of the bullock and that of the goat accomplish two different things. The first makes atonement for Aaron and his house. The second makes atonement for the people and the sanctuary. Verses 11,15,16. Nothing is said of the blood of the bullock making atonement for or cleansing the sanctuary, but this is definitely stated of the blood of the goat. Verses 15,16. This may be accounted for on the following grounds:
In all cases where atonement is made for a person -- with one minor exception discussed elsewhere -- the atonement is accomplished by means of blood, and indicates transfer of sins to the sanctuary. The sinner transfers his sins to the victim which is slain, and the blood is sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering or in the holy place in the sanctuary. The blood which -- because of sin having been confessed on the victim -- might be called sin-laden blood, typically and ceremonially defiles the place where it is sprinkled. Thus the sanctuary is made unclean.
When the high priest comes out after sprinkling the blood of the bullock, he is cleansed. Whatever sins he carried for which he was responsible had been confessed and transferred to the sanctuary. When he steps out of the most holy, he is cleansed, free, holy, a type of Christ, the Sinless One. He has confessed his sins, they have been forgiven him, and he has no further confession to make for himself. The Lord's goat, whose blood he is about to sprinkle, also typifies the Sinless One, the sin bearer. In all the offerings during the year the death of Christ as the Sinless One was portrayed. He was made sin who knew no sin. In the goat on the Day of Atonement He is typified as the chosen of God, harmless, undefiled.
To repeat: In the goat offered on the Day of Atonement we have symbolic reference to the death of the sinless Christ "who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." Heb. 7:26. The blood of this goat has cleansing efficacy. It makes possible the cleansing of the sanctuary.
The sprinkling of the blood of the morning and evening sacrifices for the nation "covered" all sin done throughout Israel for that particular day. The daily sacrifice on the altar represented Christ who died for us "While we were yet sinners;" who gave "Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour;" who "is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:2; 1Jhn. 2:2. The daily burnt offering is therefore symbolic of Him who gave Himself for the sin of the world, dying for all men, thus making provision for all who will come to Him to be saved. The sprinkling of the blood "round about upon the altar" denotes the temporary or provisional atonement provided, and also constitutes a record of sins committed but not as yet individually atoned for.
The individual offerings, such as sin, trespass, and burnt offerings, constituted, in effect, a record of sins for which atonement was sought. The sins had already been recorded in the daily morning and evening service. Now the individual offenders register their repentance by bringing the required offerings, and the blood is duly placed on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, or sprinkled on the altar of incense, or on the veil. The blood thus sprinkled recorded confessed sins. It has already been noted that all confessed sins found their way eventually into the sanctuary; for in cases where the blood was not carried directly into the sanctuary, the flesh was eaten by the priests who thus carried sin; and when the priests offered sacrifices for themselves, these sins would, with their own, be carried into the holy place.
This earthly tabernacle service was typical of the work carried on in the sanctuary above, where a complete record is kept of sins committed and of sins confessed. When the Day of Atonement came, all Israel were supposed to have confessed their sins and to have that confession recorded in blood in the sanctuary. To complete the work it was now necessary to have the record removed, to have the sins blotted out, to cleanse the sanctuary of its blood defilement. Before this specific cleansing was done, the high priest went into the most holy with the blood of the bullock and made atonement for himself and for his house. This having been done the work of cleansing begins. The most holy is cleansed with the blood of the goat, and then the holy. Thus the record of sin is blotted out. After this the altar is cleansed.
"He shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." Lev. 16:19. Thus he makes "an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar." Verse 20. All is now cleansed, reconciled, and atoned for.
It will be noted that thus far in the record nothing has been said of the people's cleansing. This is as it should be. The people had already confessed their sins. They were forgiven. Only the record of their sins remained, and on this day that was blotted out. And with the blotting out of the record, that last vestige of sin is removed from the sanctuary, and the people are clean. "On that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." Lev. 16:30. All those who had sent their sins beforehand to judgement had them blotted out. The blotting out of the record constituted the cleansing of the people. They began the new year with a clean slate.
We would call attention to one more thing, namely, the putting of the bullock's blood on the horns of the altar. Verse 18. That the goat's blood is put on the altar needs no further explanation, for that is to cleanse it. But why the blood of the bullock?
The high priest represents the whole people. He transacts for them with God. As Christ's representative he typically effects atonement, so that when his work is done on the Day of Atonement all sin has been dealt with, and all confessed sin blotted out. When he therefore confesses these sins, he does so on behalf of Israel and receives atonement. Hence the high priest is said to make "atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins." Verse 30.
There were doubtless those in Israel who delayed their confession until it was too late to bring an individual sin offering before the Day of Atonement. They were repentant, but they had been delayed in coming to the sanctuary. Others were sick and could not come, or were on a journey in far lands. None of these had brought their sin or trespass offerings. Were they to be left out?
Their sins were recorded by and in the daily morning and evening sacrifice, but no confession had been recorded in the sanctuary, because they had brought no sacrifice. What is to be done? The high priest puts of the blood on the horns of the altar, thus recording confession and forgiveness for them. He does the work which they would have done had there been time or had they been able, and because of their repentance they are included in the atonement. Of such are the thief on the cross and others.
Thus the work of the Day of Atonement is finished, as far as all confessed sins are concerned. Every one who has confessed his sins and repented of them has the assurance of sins blotted out. He has heard the bells as the high priest resumes his high-priestly garments, telling of the completed work. He is not only a pardoned sinner, he is not only forgiven, he is cleansed. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1John 1:9. The forgiveness has been accomplished in the daily service; the cleansing on the Day of Atonement. Even the record of sin is blotted out. Israel is clean.