1. On the Day of Atonement the high priest wore special vestments
The high priest had to be ceremonially clean, and wear ceremonial clothes.
“He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments”.
The turban is significant, since Jesus had to wear a Crown of Thorns.
2. The priests chose two perfect adult male goats
In the Old Testament, according to the Law, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the priests chose two perfect adult male goats. They had to be perfect physically, and, according to Passover laws, not one bone of their bodies was allowed to be broken. This is described in Leviticus 16:5, “He shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering”.
3. The two goats were presented by the priests outside the Temple
The priests then presented the two physically perfect goats to God, and asked God which one was to be slaughtered as a sin offering. This is described in Leviticus 16:7, “He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle”.
4.The scapegoat was chosen by lots
Using lots, one of the lambs, known as the “scapegoat” was to be later set free in the wilderness. This is described in Leviticus 16:8-10, “Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering.
But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness”.
The priests cast lots, and allowed God to choose the outcome.
5. The scapegoat received the rite of atonement, and was set free
The scapegoat was not set free immediately, but only after the atonement had been made. The scapegoat was kept alive, received the rite of atonement, and was then sent into the wilderness.
This is described in Leviticus 16:10, “The other goat shall be kept alive and placed before the Lord. The rite of atonement shall be performed over it, and it shall then be sent out into the desert as a scapegoat”.
6. The High Priest then put incense on the burning coals of the altar
This is described in Leviticus 16: 12,13: “Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the Mercy Seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die”.
The veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Outside the veil, in the Holy Place, was the “altar to the Lord”, commonly referred to as the Altar of Incense.
The High Priest took some burning coals from the altar in the Holy Place. He then brought incense, entered the Holy of Holies, and placed the incense on the fire in front of the Ark of the Covenant. The resulting cloud of incense covered the Mercy Seat.
This covered the Mercy Seat and the Ark of the Covenant with a cloud of incense, so that the high priest would not be able to see the Lord when He appeared in Shekinah Glory, or the high priest would die. God had already declared to Moses, in Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
7. The High Priest then prayed and asked forgiveness from God for the sins of the people
The passage above is all about prayer before the throne of God. By Rabbinic tradition the High Priest spent most of the 3-hour period asking God for forgiveness. An important detail is that it was pitch black during this period, except when God appeared in Shekinah Glory between the cherubim, and above the Mercy Seat.
8. The sacrificial goat was then sacrificed, and its blood sprinkled on the Mercy Seat
The sacrificial goat was then sacrificed as a sin offering, and its blood sprinkled on and before the Eastern side of the Mercy Seat, in the Holy of Holies, within the Veil of the Temple. This act atoned for the sins of the people.
This is described in Leviticus 16:14,15,16:
“He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the Mercy Seat on the East side; and before the Mercy Seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat and before the Mercy Seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins”.
The High Priest sacrificed the goat outside the Temple. Some of its blood was collected in a small basin, and taken by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies. He then sprinkled the blood of the goat on the Eastern side of the Mercy Seat, and also in front of the Mercy Seat, causing atonement for the sin of the children of Israel.
By Rabbinic tradition, and in the Jewish Talmud, the Western side of the Mercy Seat was reserved only for the Messiah to sprinkle His blood. This is a very important detail, as we shall see later.
9. The High Priest was completely alone in the Tabernacle
The High Priest was completely alone in the Tabernacle, so that He alone would atone for the sins of the people. This is described in Leviticus 16: 17, “There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel”.
The high priest wore small bells around the hem of his linen garments, so that the priests outside the Tabernacle could hear him moving around. He would also have had a rope tied to his ankle. If he died, his body was pulled out using the rope around his ankle.
10. The High Priest then spread blood on the horns of the altar in the Holy Place
The High Priest then spread blood on the horns of the altar in the Holy Place, using his finger, seven times. This is described in Leviticus 16: 18, 19, “And he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel”.
11. There was a confession of sin by the high priest over the scapegoat
This is described in Leviticus 16:20,21, “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man.”
12. The scapegoat bore all the sins of the people to an uninhabited land
This is described in Leviticus 16: 22, “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness”.
This is a picture, painted by the Holy Spirit, of the complete forgiveness by God of all sin, as part of the Old and the New Covenant.
- Psalm 103:12, “As far as the East is from the West, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us”.
- Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”.
In the second temple period, the Talmud records that the Levites tied a scarlet thread of wool around a horn of the Scapegoat. After the goat was driven off a cliff, witnesses were sent to examine the thread. For centuries, this thread is reported to have miraculously turned white, indicating that God had accepted their sacrifice and forgiven the nation of Israel. It was believed that this was in fulfilment of Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” (quoted from www.rbc.org)
13. The high priest then removed his ceremonial linen garments
The high priest was required to remove his ceremonial linen garments. This is described in Leviticus 16: 23,24 “Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people”.
14. This happened every year on the Day of Atonement, on the 10th day of the 7th month
This is described in Leviticus 16:29, “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month”.
15. On the Day of Atonement the high priest made atonement for the Jewish people
The high priest himself made atonement for the people. This is described in Leviticus 16: 30, “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD”.
16. By Rabbinic tradition, the high priest spent 3 hours in the Holy of Holies, in the pitch darkness
As we shall see, this mysterious 3 hour period of darkness, repeated during the Crucifixion, was very important.
17. During this 3 hour period, God appeared in “Shekinah Glory” between the Cherubim, over the Mercy Seat
When the high priest approached the Ark of the Covenant, God appeared in “Shekinah Glory.” This was described as an incredibly bright light, as was always the case when God appeared. This is described in Exodus 40:32-35, “Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle”.
18. By Rabbinic tradition, at the end of this period of 3 hours, the high priest stood up and said, “It is finished”
This is most important, because Jesus Christ used these very words from the Cross.
19. The Day of Atonement to be an everlasting annual statute
This is described in Leviticus 16: 34, “This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.”
We have now completed our study of the Old Covenant.