The Day of Atonement was a solemn holy day for the Israelites. It is first mentioned in Exodus 30:10 when God described the Altar of Incense He required for Aaron, the High Priest, “to make atonement on its horns”. 1 He goes on to explain, “this annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for generations to come”. The Israelites were also instructed to build a Tabernacle for the sacrifices with very specific directions from God. There was an outer court where the people were allowed to go to worship and offer daily sacrifices.
The inner court was divided into two parts. It was thirty feet long, fifteen feet wide, fifteen feet high and contained the Altar of Incense, a lampstand, table, and the Bread of the Presence.2 There was a curtain in the room that separated these items from the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. This section was called the Holy of Holies and could only be entered once a year on the Day of Atonement. The exact details of how and when the High Priest was to enter to perform sacrifices come in Leviticus 16-17. It was to be performed annually on the tenth day of the seventh month. He must first wash himself in holy water and put on the holy linen tunic and trousers. Then he was required to create a cloud of incense to cover the Holy of Holies.
Once inside he must take the blood of a bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat seven times. This was to cleanse himself from sin. He would bring two goats with him and then cast lots to find out which one would be sacrificed, and which would be the scapegoat. The goat that was chosen for the sacrifice would be slaughtered and the blood would be sprinkled in the same way as the bulls. The scapegoat was kept alive and the wickedness of the Israelites was symbolically laid on its head. It was released into the wilderness and never allowed to return. The Height Priest would then wash, change, and complete the sacrifice by burning the fat of the sin offering on the Altar of Incense. During this time, the Israelites were required to observe a Sabbath day of rest as they meditated on the atonement that was being made for their sins.
Curious how this was fulfilled in Christ? Look for my next Dig Deeper!
- Unless otherwise noted all Biblical references are from the New International Version.
- Max Anders and Thomas D. Lea, Holman New Testament Commentary: Hebrews & James, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 166.