The Day of Atonement
The Levitical arrangements for the removal of sin bore on their forefront this inscription: ‘The law made nothing perfect.’ There was neither a perfect mediator in the priesthood, nor a perfect atonement in the sacrifices, nor was there a perfect forgiveness as the result of both.
Hebrews 10:1 – For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
The sacrifices were always a continual recurrence and were intended to supplement each other, yet they always left room for something better to come along. According to Hebrews 10:4, it was not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away the sins of the people.
So as we look back, it is evident that the sacrifices were meant as just a forerunner just as John the Baptist was. They were just meant to prepare the way for the ultimate Sacrifice in Jesus Christ.
The Day of Atonement
This weakness in the law was never more evident than on this special day in the lives of Israel. The Day of Atonement was the special day that pardon and acceptance was attained for Israel for another year.
On this day, the High Priest alone officiated. He was not in the ordinary dress of the priesthood, but in one that was special for the day, and peculiarly expressed purity.
The people also did things differently from those on any other occasion. They were to fast and ‘afflict their souls,’ and the day itself was to be as a special Sabbath.
Its central services consisted of a series of grand sacrifices that were unique in character from all the other regular sacrifices that were done each day. The sacrifices also had a special purpose and special results that were to be attained for the people.
Leviticus 16:33 – ‘He shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.’
But even the fact that there was such a need for a Day of Atonement showed that all the sacrifices were insufficient to be anything but a temporary fix, and were just only done until something better came along for them.
The Talmud devotes a special section to the Day of Atonement, and simply calls it ‘the day.’ In Acts 27:9 it is called ‘the fast,’ which tells the general object of its importance.
It took place on the 10th day of the 7th month (Tishri), which is symbolically when the sacred or Sabbath of months had just attained its completeness. We also must not overlook the position of that day as it related to the other festivals.
The seventh or sabbatical month closed the festive cycle, with the Feast of Tabernacles being the last festival of the year on the 15th of that month. But before that grand festival of harvesting and thanksgiving, Israel must be reconciled unto God. They could not rejoice until they found out if God had accepted their sacrifice and they had been forgiven of their sins. They had to be reconciled to God in order to be at peace with Him and rejoice before Him on His blessings for their lives.
The importance of the Day of Atonement became more striking as it preceded the Feast of Tabernacles when we remember how that feast of harvesting brought Jewish people from all different nations into Jerusalem for the Feast.
Also, the Jubilee Year was always proclaimed on the Day of Atonement according to Leviticus 25:9.
The Teaching of Scripture about the Day
This was also the only day in every year that the High Priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place. He was arrayed in a peculiar white dress that was special just for this day. He also wore a white girdle. His garments were very simple and were totally different from the ‘golden garments’ that he usually wore to lead the sacrifices.
On this day he appeared not as the ‘bridegroom of Jehovah,’ but as the emblem of perfect purity that was the object of this special day. The High Priest had to wash his body with water and have it as clean as possible before he could put the garments on. Ordinarily he only had to wash his hands and feet, but this was a special day.
Numbers 29: 7 – 11
From this passage it appears that the offerings on the Day of Atonement were special to the day and had a special meaning.
The ‘continual burnt-offering’ was the daily morning and evening sacrifices along with their meat- and drink-offerings. The festive sacrifices of the day consisted of the High Priest and Priesthood offering ‘a ram for a burnt-offering’ for themselves, and for the people of one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year for the meat-offerings that were part of a burnt-sacrifice. Then there was to be one kid of the goats for a sin-offering and lastly, the peculiar sacrifices of the day.
These peculiar sacrifices were a young bullock as a sin-offering for the High Priest, his house, and the sons of Aaron; then there was to be another sin-offering for the people that consisted of two goats, one of which was to be killed and its blood sprinkled as had been directed. The other goat was to be sent away into the wilderness and symbolically bore ‘all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins’ which the people had confessed over him. The High Priest had laid hands upon the goat while the people confessed their sins and they were transferred to him.
The following is the order of these sacrifices:
the ordinary morning sacrifice
the expiatory sacrifices for the high-priest, the priesthood and the people which consisted of one bullock, and one of the two goats, with the other being called the scapegoat
the festive burnt-offerings of the priests and the people and with them another sin-offering
the ordinary evening sacrifice, which included in all fifteen sacrificial animals
According to Jewish tradition, the whole of the services that day were performed by the high-priest himself leading. He also had more than 500 priests who would help him carry on this tremendous work.
If the Day of Atonement happened to fall on a Sabbath, they had all the above special sacrifices plus the ordinary Sabbath sacrifices.
The high-priest purchased from his own funds the sacrifices brought for himself and his household, while the public sacrifices were paid for from the Temple treasury.
The high-priest wore his linen garments only at the expiatory sacrifices, and the rest of the sacrifices he was arrayed in the ‘golden vestments.’ All this made it necessary for him to change clothes, which meant that he had to bathe his whole body maybe more than once.