Reflections based on Leviticus 16:1–34.
For 364 days of the year, the priests were not allowed in the Most Holy Place within the Tabernacle – and last week we saw how God’s holy fire could simply consume people. During the Day of Atonement, however, the priests were instructed to go in to make atonement for the sins of the nation as a whole. As we can see at the start of this passage, Moses had been warned after the death of Aaron’s sons that the priests were not allowed to enter the Most Holy Place whenever they wanted. This means that on the Day of Atonement the priest (here Aaron) had to go through elaborate preparations before he could enter past the final curtain placed in front of the atonement cover on the Ark. The Hebrew word kaphar means ‘to cover over’ and was used to describe the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The word can also be translated as ‘atonement’. This Day of Atonement was a day of great celebration, and yet it only covered over Israel’s sins. Only Jesus’ sacrifice would allow for the removal of sins so, until that day, the people needed the priests to cover their sins in this way.
It is interesting to note that there are two goats here – one sacrificed and another sent out into the desert as a scapegoat. This is really significant, as it shows God was not only forgiving their sins through the sacrifice, but was removing them from sight thereby taking away both their guilt and shame. What a great picture of what Jesus does for us! It seems only fitting that God instructed the people to celebrate the Day of Atonement as a day of rest, in order to mark it as special.
Prayer: God, You not only made a way to cover over Your chosen nation’s sins until Your Son’s appointed time on earth, but You also dealt with our guilt and shame. Thank You Lord. Amen.