Summary: A taught this at a Wednesday night Bible study (Adapted from Dr. Leon Morris' book, The Atonement: It's Meaning and Significance, chapter 3 "The Day of Atonement))


What or who was a common scapegoat in your family?

I have always loved to see the spring come each year, with all that it brings, with one notable exception—spring cleaning. Israel’s annual Day of Atonement was something like a spiritual spring cleaning. In one sense, Israel did not look forward to the coming of this day any more than I look forward to spring cleaning. Unlike the other Jewish holidays, the Day of Atonement was no festive event. It was a day of national mourning and repentance.


As we come to Leviticus 16 we have to remember this: Leviticus 10:1-2

To approach God one must approach Him in the right way or there will be disaster. These two young men had chosen to do things their own way. This was all the more serious in that they had just gone through the ceremony of being made priests. This was a time for sticking closely to what God had commanded, and they did not. These men had a high position, and those in the priestly ministry must above all people be obedient to the commands of the Lord.

Does this mean that no one could approach the Lord. No, but the approach must be made in the right way. Therefore, there is this warning in vs. 2. Not even the high priest could enter the Lord’s presence any way and any time he wanted.

One specific day, one specific man, and one specific way was the only acceptable approach. This approach also was done in connection with the putting away of the nation’s sins. This added to the importance of this occasion.

This was a day of fasting. It must be noted that there were several feasts days for the Jews but just one great fasting day, the Day of Atonement. One this occasion the nation remembered their sins. Now, they had a regular sacrificial system in which animals were offered on the altar every day. However, these were not adequate, there was more, always more to atone for.

On the tenth day of the seventh month (called Yom Kippur today, this year it is Saturday September 14), there was this solemn time of fasting and repentance.

Thesis: Let’s briefly go over the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement and then talk about the Day of Atonement in the NT

For instances:

The Ceremonies of the Day of Atonement

He had to be alone (vv. 1-2, especially 16:17 )- No Levite could assist in this important ritual. The high priest had to officiate alone.

He got the animals for the sacrifices (vs. 3, 5). For himself and his household he took a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering; for the whole nation he took two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a bunt offering.

He laid aside his glorious garments (v. 4)

He washed (v. 4)- For the priest, this meant getting rid of any ceremonial defilement. Several washings throughout the day.

He offered a sin offering (vv. 6-11)

He entered holy of holies (vv. 12-13)- High priest actually entered the holy of holies three times: first, with incense, which pictures the glory of God; then, with blood from the sacrifice for himself and his household; and finally, with the blood shed for the people. All of this was preparation for main task of the Day of Atonement, the giving of the sin offering for nation.

The Presentation of the Goats (16:15-34)- Note that the two goats were considered one sin offering (v. 5 ). They illustrate two aspects of atonement:

1. After the high priest returned from sprinkling the blood of his sin offering, he took the goat that was designated to die and killed it as a sin offering for the entire nation. He then entered the holy of holies for the third time, this time with the blood of the goat. He sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat and before it, and thus covered the sins of the nation (vs. 15-19).

Having applied the blood, the high priest then took the live goat, laid his hands on its head, and confessed the sins of the people, thus symbolically transferring their guilt to the innocent animal. The word “scapegoat” comes from a Hebrew word which means “to remove.” This goat was then sent away into the wilderness, never to be seen again, and this illustrated the removal of the nation’s sins (vs. 20- 22). Some might asked what happened to this scapegoat? In the time of the NT before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the scapegoat was lead out of the city to a steep cliff. The man leading the goat tied one piece of the scarlet cord to a rock and the other to the goat’s horns. Then from behind he pushed the goat over the cliff. It rolled over and over and was broken in pieces before it had gone half way down. Having thus made quite sure that the animal would not come back, the man returned to Jerusalem.

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