There are three phases of learning I go through whenever someone tries to teach me something new. There’s the absolute confusion stage, where I consider bailing because nothing I am hearing makes any sense. Then I get to the fuzzy outline stage – I can kind of see where you’re going but if you stop now, I will never remember this. Finally, I reach the give me an example stage. You give me an example, and all of a sudden everything is crystal clear. That’s how I learn. There is no other way.
Speaking of giving examples, Leviticus 16. In this chapter God lays out the rules and regulations for the Day of Atonement. This is a big deal. It’s a yearly ceremony where the high priest makes atonement for the sins of the entire congregation. And it is quite a process. First, the priest gets dressed in sacred, linen garments. He gathers the animals for the sacrifices: two rams, a bullock, and two goats. He offers the bullock as a sin offering for the priests. Then he takes the two goats and casts lots over them, which was kind of like flipping a coin. One goat becomes the goat to be sacrificed and the other goat becomes the scapegoat. The sacrifice goat is killed as a sin offering for the Israelites. Then the high priest enters the tabernacle to burn incense and sprinkle the blood from the offering inside the Most Holy Place.
Coming back out of the tabernacle, the priest sprinkles more blood on the altar. Then he lays his hands on the scapegoat and confesses the sins of the people over it. The scapegoat is carried away into the wilderness and released. The priest then takes off his sacred garments, bathes, and puts on his regular priestly garments. He offers the two rams as burnt offerings on the altar. Lastly, the remains of the bullock and goat are taken outside of the camp and burned. All of this happened every year on the tenth day of the seventh month. The entire day was a holiday – instead of doing work, everyone came to the tabernacle. They were there to observe the sacrifices, but they were also there to think about the services. What did they mean? Why did God want them to do this?
The Treasures Within:
This is the absolute confusion stage. There are so many details that it’s hard to keep things straight. First there’s the sin offerings. There’s one – the bullock – for the priests and one – the goat – for the Israelites. The blood of those animals is shed for the people’s sin, as a reminder that the wages of sin is death. In order for sins to be forgiven, blood has to be shed to cover those sins. That blood is sprinkled in the Most Holy Place and on the altar to “cleanse” them (verses 16, 19). This is another reminder that shed blood, aka death, takes away sin. The Most Holy Place and the altar are “cleansed” of the sins that have been committed by the Israelites.
Then there’s the scapegoat. All of the sins of the Israelites are confessed over the goat and symbolically transferred to him. By taking the goat outside of the camp and releasing him, the sins of the Israelites are symbolically banished – from the camp and from their lives. The man who releases the goat even washes his hands, sort of like removing all trace of sin. The last part of the Day of Atonement, the burnt offerings and the burning of the remains of the sin offerings, sort of reiterates the first two parts: blood is shed to make atonement for sin and then all traces of sin are banished. Altogether, the Day of Atonement is about sin.
This is our fuzzy outline. The Day of Atonement accomplished two things: forgiveness of sin and destruction of sin. Forgiveness through shed blood and destruction through the releasing of the scapegoat/burning the remains. But in the midst of these details, gracefully hidden between the lines, is a promise: that one day, Jesus would accomplish both of these things once and for all. By dying on the cross, Jesus would forgive all sins. By destroying Satan and sin at the Second Coming, Jesus would destroy sin forever.
Think about those sentences for a second. Forgiveness of all sins. Sin destroyed forever. What?! The pain, the oppression, the mistakes, the shame, the addiction, the cycles, the entrapment that results from sin – all of that will go away forever. This is amazing! This is hope! This is good news.
And God didn’t want the Israelites to forget it. So every year, on the Day of Atonement, the Israelites experienced God’s example – His high definition, real time promise. And every time we study these words, we experience the same. An example of just how powerful God is. A reminder that we have hope. A promise that one day, sin will be completely destroyed once and for all.
God’s Message To Us:
“We’re in the endgame now.” There is a light at the end of this tunnel…our sins are forgiven…our suffering will end…sin will be destroyed forever…the sin offering has been made…Jesus died on the cross for our sins…we will not live like this forever…God has a plan to save us. Year after year, day after day of atonement, God repeated these words to His children, the Israelites. Read after re-read of this chapter, God repeats the same words to His children, you and me. He wants us to get this. He wants us to believe this. He wants us to trust Him. So what did it all mean? Why did God want them to do this? To help them understand. To help them hope. To help them believe.
What do you think? What do you think is the significance of the Day of Atonement? What message did God put in this chapter for you?