In the last study, we looked at the purpose of the sin scrifice. We found that although this sacrifice was needed because of the sin and uncleanness that YHVH’s people left as a stain on the temple, altars, and ark it really did not forgive them of those sins. The main reason for the sin sacrifice was to obtain the blood that would purify the temple, altars, and ark. We found that in the case of Exodus, sacrifice wasn’t even necessary to obtain atonement, because the temple and its services had not yet been installed.
In the first two studies, we looked at what atonement was in relation to the temple, altars, and ark, and what the purpose of the atonement was anytime a census was taken. In both of those cases, atonement brought restoration to the temple, altars, and ark – and in the case of the census, to the sacrifices themselves – by returning them to the condition needed to be able to serve YHVH. The half-shekel restored the ability of those who were far from the temple to be able to take part in the blessings of the temple services. Now, with an understanding of the purpose of the sin offering, and with a sneak peak into what atonement meant for the temple and its services, we can finally learn what atonement means for us as YHVH’s people and how it is obtained.
The best place to learn this is in the continued study of the Day of Atonement. Picking up where we left off in the last study, remember that the priests were to cleanse themselves before going into the tabernacle with the blood of the sin sacrifice to purify the ark from the stains of sin and uncleaness that had contaminated it.
and YHVH said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on….“Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before YHVH, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before YHVH, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. Leviticus 16:2-4, 11-14
Before the priest could even begin thinking about the sins of the nation, they had to remove their own stains from the ark and tabernacle. They had to atone for themselves first before they could atone for the nation. Once they were restored to the condition that allowed them to perform the duty they were created for, they could begin their service and make things ready for the atonement of the nation of Israel.
The work that was done for the nation began with two choice male goats. From these one is chosen for YHVH by casting lots. This will be the sin offering (better understood as the purifying offering) whose blood will be used to purify the ark from the stains created by the nation of Israel. (Remember, this is how atonement is made for the altar – first through the blood of the bull, representing the priest cleaning up his own mess, and now through the blood of the lamb, representing the nation of Israel cleaning up their own mess.)
Once the altar had been purified, it could be consecrated. This simply means that the altar was ceremonially given the sole purpose of burning offerings to YHVH – the whole reason it was created in the first place.
And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before YHVH at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for YHVH and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for YHVH and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before YHVH to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before YHVH and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel. Leviticus 16:5-10, 15-19
Can you see the work of atonement here? When the altar was created and consecrated it was for the sole purpose of bringing gifts to YHVH. The sins and uncleanness of the people stripped it from its purpose rendering it unusable. Once the stains of sins and uncleanness were removed by blood, it was restored to its intended purpose ceremonially through the sprinkling of blood. Atonement has been made for the altar!
So, what about the rest of the people – the nation of Israel?
“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:20-22
The goat that remains – the one that is still alive – is the one that carries the sins of the people of Israel. Aaron, the high priest, lays both of his hands on the head of this goat and confesses all the iniquities, transgressions, and sins of the people of Israel over it. By doing this, he has transferred their acts of sin to the goat. Then, just as repentance is an act of “sending away” your sin so that you never commit it again, the goat carries the sins of the nation of Israel out of camp.
In the previous study, we debunked the theory that an animal sacrificed reminded the offerer that they themselves deserved death. On the contrary, the person who deserved death due to sin was never even able to make a sacrifice for himself. Sacrifices were only made for those who had committed accidental sin or did not sin in rebellion. It is my opinion that if ever there was an animal that was meant to remind us of what we deserve, it is this Azazel goat. There is no death involved – just a sending away as man does to the bride who has indecency in her. (Deut. 24:1-4) It is not the death or sacrifice of any animal that brings us to the realization of what we deserve, but the continued life of one goat sent out into the wilderness with the sins of the nation on his head every single year.
We can see this very thing stated over and over again throughout scripture.
When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to YHVH, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then YHVH said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And YHVH put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Genesis 4:12-15
(Note, not only did YHVH not require the death of Cain, he promised vengeance on anybody who would take his life.)
And again, when the children of Israel sinned greatly by building and worshiping the golden calf, what did YHVH threaten to do? He intended to send them away – just like the Azazel goat.
Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3
YHVH gave the people who lived in ancient Israel requirements for obtaining atonement.
- The people washed themselves of any contaminates before coming to the tabernacle. They took inventory of their sins and repented.
- They took upon themselves the responsibility of cleaning up their own mess by providing the blood that removed the stains they left on the altar, ark, and tabernacle through their uncleanness and sins.
- They removed their sins far from the camp by placing them upon the head of a goat and sending them away.
- Then, they formally stated their desire to make their relationship right again with YHVH, through the gift they brought Him – the burnt offering.
“Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before YHVH from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as YHVH commanded Moses. Leviticus 16:23-34
The final piece of the Day of Atonement is the burnt offering. This burnt offering came in the form of two rams – one for the priest and one for the people of Israel – along with the fat from the sin (a.k.a. Purification) offering. At this point in the ceremony, we can see that the burnt offering had nothing to do with the sins of anybody. At this point, all sin and any remembrance of sin is gone. The Azazel goat has been sent off and any reminders of sin have been washed from the tabernacle. This final offering is simply a gift that is presented to YHVH.
The original Hebrew word for the burnt sacrifice is qorban. It is from this word that we get the Hebrew word qorab wich means to come close or draw near. That is what this final offering is about. Now that there is no more sin or uncleanness in the people of Israel, they may draw near to their God. They may dwell in His presence. With the completion of this sacrifice comes atonement.
It is through this ceremony that we can see that atonement is about a relationship. When man was created, he was created in relationship with YHVH. When Israel was chosen, they were chosen to have a relationship with Him – there was even a marriage covenant. But it is through sin that all of us are stripped from having a relationship with our God.
The Day of Atonement shows YHVH’s plan to restore mankind to his original purpose. First it is achieved through recognizing that we have done wrong. We take responsibility for our sins by doing everything in our power to right the wrong(s). Then we have to make the decision to never repeat that wrong. At this point, we can ask for forgiveness and offer our lives (the way we live) as a gift. When we do our part, we are restored to what we were created to be, and our purpose is restored – the purpose of relationship and being images bearers of YHVH. This is atonement.