The Day of Atonement
The Duties of the High Priest
Seven days before the Day of Atonement, the high-priest left his house in Jerusalem and took up residence in his chambers in the Temple. A substitute was appointed for him just in case something happened – like he should die, or become Levitically unfit for the duties that he was to perform.
Their carefulness went so far as to have him sprinkled twice – on the 3rd and 7th days – with ashes of the red heifer during his time of separation. This was just in case he had unknowingly been defiled by a dead body.
During that week, the high-priest also had to practice the various priestly rites; such as sprinkling the blood, burning the incense, lighting the lamp, offering the daily sacrifice, etc. He could not make a mistake, because every part of the Day of Atonement services revolved almost totally around him.
Some of the elders of the Sanhedrim were appointed to see to it that he fully understood the meaning of the service that he was about to perform. If he did not, they made it their business to instruct him in it. After all, this was many years after the time of Aaron, so a high priest during that time might not have known or understood all the rites that he was to perform.
All the various sacrifices were brought before him the day before, so there wouldn’t be any surprises on the actual Day of Atonement. And finally, the elders made the high-priest take a solemn oath that he would not change even a single thing in the rites of the day.
The above oath was taken chiefly for fear of the Sadducean notion that the incense should be lighted before the high-priest actually entered into the Most Holy Place; while the Pharisees held that this was to be done only within the Most Holy Place itself.
The evening meal of the high-priest before the great day was to be scanty. All night long he was to listen to and expound on the scriptures, or be otherwise employed, so that he would not fall asleep.
At midnight, then, the lot was cast for removing the ashes and preparing the altar. Then, to distinguish this day as special from all the others, there were four fires instead of the usual three arranged on the altar of burnt offering.
The Morning Service
The services of the day began with the very first ray of morning light. The people had already been admitted into the sanctuary. They were so afraid that he would change some small thing in the service, that only a very thin linen cloth separated him from public view. Because of this, they had to set up a special place for him to bathe himself.
Altogether he changed his garments and washed his whole body 5 times on the Day of Atonement, and his hands and feet 10 times.
When the first dawn of morning was announced in the usual manner, the high-priest pulled off his ordinary dress and put on his golden vestments. He washed his hands and feet, and then proceeded to perform everything that was necessary for the traditional morning service.
With the first morning service finished, the high-priest washed his hands and feet, pulled off his golden vestments, bathed, and then put on his ‘linen garments.’ Then he washed his hands and feet again and proceeded on to the Atonement Day special services.
The bullock for the sin-offering stood between the Temple-porch and the altar. It was placed towards the south; the high-priest stood facing the east, or the worshippers; then he turned the head of the sacrifice towards the west to face the sanctuary.
The high-priest then laid both hands upon the head of the bullock and confessed as follows:
‘Ah, JEHOVAH! I have committed inquiry; I have transgressed; I have sinned – I and my house. Oh, then, JEHOVAH, I entreat Thee, cover over (atone for) the iniquities, the transgressions, and the sins which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before Thee, I and my house – even as it is written in the law of Moses, Thy servant: “For, on that day will He cover over (atone) for you to make you clean; from all your transgressions before JEHOVAH ye shall be cleansed.” ‘
In the solemn confession, the name JEHOVAH was said 3 times
It was also pronounced 3 more times in the confession which the high-priest made over the same bullock for the other priests
It was uttered 1 time when he cast the lot as to which of the two goats would be the one ‘for Jehovah’
It was spoken 3 times in the confession over the ‘scape-goat’ which bore the sins of the people
In all, the high-priest spoke the name 10 times, and as he spoke it, those who stood near put their faces to the ground while the multitude responded:
‘Blessed be the Name; the glory of His kingdom is for ever and ever.’
It had formerly been the practice to pronounce the name of Jehovah distinctly, but some of the people had attempted to make use of it for magical purposes; after that they decided to speak the name with bated breath. One had to listen with rapt attention to catch it, because it was almost lost among the sound of the musical instruments as they accompanied the people in the benediction.
The first part of the service had taken place between the porch and the altar. The next part was performed close to the people. It was performed in the eastern part of the Court of Priests. The choosing of the scape-goat and rituals that went with it will be covered in the next text.