Day-of-Atonement 1 2In the previous post, we looked at how we as followers of Jesus need to understand the Book of Leviticus in order to fully appreciate all that Christ’s sacrifice accomplished for us.  Over the next two posts, I will focus in on the most unique sacrifice described in the Book of Leviticus, and suggest how God can use it to help us deal with the lingering presence of sin in our own lives today.

The first 15 chapters of the Book of Leviticus go on in thorough detail about the sacrificial system that God provided for the people to be able to deal with their sin and uncleanness.  Then we turn to chapter 16, and we encounter a completely different kind of sacrifice: the Lord called for an annual Day of Atonement.

The Day of Atonement sacrifice was special.  There was no other sacrifice like this one…

Leviticus 16:6-10 – 

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

This annual Day of Atonement sacrifice was a two-stage sacrifice.  The first stage was quite common – it follows the pattern/style of many of the other sacrificial rituals detailed in Leviticus 1-15:

  • present a bull and a goat to God, both without defect.
  • Kill the two animals, sprinkle their blood in certain places in certain ways,
  • burn and dispose of their organs and hide in certain ways –
  • it’s a pretty standard/typical Levitical sacrifice up to this point.

The second stage, though, is quite unique.  And this is the portion of the Scripture that we will focus on today.  There is a bull and two goats involved in the Day of Atonement sacrifice.  The bull and the first goat are killed and offered sacrificially.  The second goat, though, is dealt with in a very different way…

Leviticus 16:20-22 – 

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

We’re going to focus in here on the scapegoat, but before we do, let’s skip ahead to the end of the chapter to see what this entire two-stage offering actually accomplished for the nation of Israel.

Leviticus 16:30 & 34 – 

30 because on this day, atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins… 34 This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.

The outcome of this two-stage offering was atonement for the entire nation.  For one day each year, the entire nation of Israel would be clean in the eyes of God, their sins paid for and removed from them.  That’s the importance of the annual Day of Atonement for the people of God.  This is a major deal to Israel – it was their most sacred and special day of the year!

scapegoat214Let’s go back and look at what God commands Aaron, the high priest, to do on the The Day of Atonement.  God commands two things: basically, sacrifice one goat and drive away another.

There is a model here for dealing with both our sin (nature) and our sins (acts of disobedience) that we can learn from our Jewish forefathers: sin must be killed and sins must be driven away.

It’s not enough just to kill sin.  Even when something is dead, we can still cherish it and keep it close by to comfort us and remind us of the good times we had together.

  • We taxidermy our hunting triumphs.
  • Some people bury their dead pets in their back yard.
  • We bury our loved ones in graves that we can go visit,
  • or we put their ashes in an urn that we can see.

I’m not making light of death; what I am saying is that it is not enough for our sin to be dead.  We often cherish and hang on to our dearly departed.  Even in death, we can still cling to our sin, and give it a sort of resurrection by our longing affection for it.  No, sin cannot just be killed, its effects must also be driven away.

In part 2 of this series, I will describe a modern day appropriation of this The Day of Atonement “scapegoat”, and I will connect it to the responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus to participate with Christ in the “driving away” of our sins…