Day of Atonement
The most important of the seven major festivals for Old Testament Jews was the Day of Atonement. For on this day only, the High Priest had the opportunity to enter the Inner Sanctuary, and come into close contact with God to make atonement for all the people.
The tenth day of the seventh month each year was the Day of Atonement. The people were not allowed to do any work on this day, but must assemble with afflicted souls, and observe the day as holy. It was also deemed a Sabbath Day. Whoever did work on this day or was not afflicted in soul must be cut off from the people. We see then how important a day it was (Leviticus 23:27-32).
On the Day of Atonement, the priest would prepare a bull and two male goats for the purpose of atonement. He would draw lots for the goats – one as sacrifice for God and the other for azazel, to be kept alive. Aaron’s descendant who was the High Priest then would cleanse his body, put on the full set of the High Priest’s holy garment, and come before the door of the tabernacle. He would slaughter the bull as a sin offering, and make atonement for himself and his house. Then he would take a censor, gather burning coals from the altar, bring along incense and the blood of the bull, and warily enter the sanctuary. He would put the incense onto the fire burning in the censor, so that the cloud of incense would fill the sanctuary and cover the mercy seat on the ark. Then he would take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his fingers on the east side of the mercy seat, and also at the front of the mercy seat seven times. After that he would come out of the Inner Sanctuary and approach the altar before the tabernacle, slaughter the male goat that was chosen to be a sin offering, and make atonement for the people. This time, he would bring the blood of the goat back into the Inner Sanctuary, and sprinkle the blood before the mercy seat just as before. All of the myriad sins and iniquities of the Israelites would be cleansed by this ceremony of atonement. The High Priest had to be very careful before God. Any mistakes could result in death. When he came out of the Inner Sanctuary again, he would wipe some the blood of the bull and goat onto the four corners of the altar, as well as sprinkle some blood onto the altar with his fingers seven times to cleanse and consecrate it. Going in front of the tabernacle, the High Priest would fetch the live goat and lay both his hands on its head, confessing the myriad sins and transgressions of the people and laying these sins on the goat itself. That goat would then bear all of the iniquities of the people. A man would be instructed to deliver it into the wilderness. This goat was called azazel, meaning “removal”. The High Priest would then take off his holy garment and leave it in the tabernacle. He would wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his own clothes, come out and make burnt offerings for himself and the people. The fat of the bull and goat would be burned on the altar as sin offerings. The person who took the goat for azazel must cleanse himself and wash his clothes before he could enter the camp. Other parts of the bull and goat that were used for atonement must be brought outside the camp and burned with fire. The person who did the burning must also cleanse himself and wash his clothes before he could come back into the camp (Leviticus ch. 16).
All of these rules of the Day of Atonement were
merely a foretelling of the crucifixion of Christ on
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14)