Summary: What happened on Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement and what is its significance for us today?

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Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement Heb 9:6-7; Lev 16

v7 reminds us that the Jewish High-Priest went into the HoH, once a year on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) – the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar. This study is mainly to provide some background and preparation for the lessons and contrasts which are the main themes of chapters 9 and 10. In modern Judaism the sacrifices and ceremonies that we are going to consider are no longer practiced. There is no High-Priest, no altar, no temple. Hosea’s tragic prediction about Israel’s sacrifices has been fulfilled:

4 For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3:4-5).

V6 of Ch 9 tells us that, after the tabernacle was built and fitted out as we have previously seen the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the High-Priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance

The first verse of Lev Ch 16 tells us what prompted this law, the death of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died. We don’t have time to look at what happened then, but you can read about it for yourself in Chapter 10. God wanted His people to be absolutely clear about the rules for people going into the inner part of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, which was virtually the same as going into His holy presence.

In verse 2 we read that the LORD said to Moses: "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. The gist of what follows in the remainder of the chapter is that only Aaron could enter God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, then only once a year, and only after precisely following the rituals and offering the required sacrifices. Among this, there are some important lessons about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man and the need for regular, repeated offerings to cover the people’s sin – yet these offerings gave only one of them brief entrance into God’s presence.

So what happened on that day?

Preparation of the High-Priest

First Aaron, the High-Priest, had to prepare himself. Before doing anything else he had to wash his body in water v4. Then, having bathed, he had to dress himself in a special way. He didn’t wear the gorgeous clothes made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen (Ex 28) but instead he wore the clothes simple clothes of an ordinary priest.

Next v 3,6 he took a bullock, killed v11 and offered it as a sin offering for himself, his household; and for the rest of the Jewish people. He took the bull’s blood, some coals from the fire and incense v12 into the holy place, put the incense onto the coals and went into the Holy of Holies wafting the smoke from the incense in front of him v13 so that it obscured the Shekinah glory of God that rested above the Ark of the Covenant. Finally he sprinkled the blood of the bull on and around the Mercy Seat.

Two goats – one offering

He also took two goats to the entrance to the Holy Place as a sin offering v5,7, probably leaving them at the entrance while he went inside with the incense and bulls blood. He presented both goats to the Lord and cast lots to determine which would die and which would live v8-10. One lot chose a goat to be sacrificed to the Lord and the other, one to be sent away into the wilderness. This second goat is called the scapegoat, presumably because it escaped immediate death.

Aaron then killed the first goat as a sin offering for the people v15 and took its blood into the Holy of Holies, sprinkling it on and around the Mercy Seat as he had with the bull’s blood. In this way he made atonement for the Holy Place which was contaminated by the the children of Israel because of their uncleanness of, and because of their transgressions v16.

After this he went to the altar of burnt offering and applied blood from both the bull and the goat to the horns of the altar v18. As with the blood sprinkled at the Mercy seat this was done to purify the altar and its surroundings which had been contaminated by the sin of the people v19. This all sounds very gory to us, but God promised that when He saw the blood, it would cover over man’s sin.

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