The Day of Atonement
Choosing the Scape-Goat
The two goats that had been chosen had been placed with their backs to the people and their faces westward towards the sanctuary. The high-priest now faced the people and stood between the two goats. He shook an urn and thrust both his hands into it. At the same time he drew the two lots and lay one hand on the head of each goat. The people thought it a very good sign if the right-hand lot fell ‘for Jehovah.’
The two goats had to be alike as much as possible in look, size, and value. They even tried to arrange their purchase at the same time. This was to carry out the idea that these two goats formed parts of one and the same sacrifice. They each played an important part in the ceremony. The importance of this view will be explained later.
The Goat Shown to the People
When the high-priest opened his hand and saw which lot had fallen to the one that was the scape-goat, he tied a tongue-shaped piece of scarlet cloth to the horn of that goat. Then he tied another piece around the throat of the goat that was to be slain for Jehovah.
The goat that was to be sent forth was now turned around towards the people, stood facing them, and waited until their sins were laid upon him and he was carried forth into the wilderness.
This definitely was the forerunner to what Jesus experienced before his crucifixion. He stood before the people just before he was to be led forth to bear their iniquities.
Tradition says that when the sacrifice was fully accepted, the scarlet mark which the scape-goat had borne became white. This was to symbolize the gracious promise in Isaiah 1:18, even though it did not take place for forty years before the destruction of the Temple!
The Confession of Sin and the Sacrifice
After the scape-goat had been presented to the people, the high-priest then walked back towards the sanctuary and now laid his two hands on the bullock which stood between the porch and the altar. He confessed his own sins, his household’s sins, and also those of the whole priesthood. Then he killed the bullock, caught up his blood in a vessel, and gave it to an attendant who kept stirring it so that it wouldn’t coagulate.
The high-priest next went to the altar of burnt-offering, filled the censer with burning coals, and then put a handful of frankincense in the dish that was set out for that purpose.
The rule was that everything brought in actual ministry unto God must be carried in the right hand – hence the incense in the right and the censer in the left. On this day, though, the high-priest was allowed to reverse the common order because the censer was much larger and heavier than usual.
All eyes were trained on the sanctuary as the figure of the white-robed high-priest bore the censer and the incense and slowly disappeared within the Holy Place. After this, the people could see nothing more of his movements.
The curtain of the Most Holy Place was folded back and the high-priest stood alone and separated from all the people in the Holy of Holies. The only light was the red glow of the coals in his censer.
In the Tabernacle, God Himself had resided between the cherubim which stood on top of the Ark of the Covenant. In the Temple of Herod, though, the room was empty and the high-priest rested his censor on a large stone, called the ‘foundation-stone.’
The high-priest now carefully emptied the incense into his hand and threw it on the coals of the censor, being as far away as he could possibly be. He now waited until the smoke had filled the Most Holy Place. After the smoke had completely filled the room, he walked backwards until he was out of the room.
He then prayed outside the veil the following prayer: ‘May it please Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that neither this day nor during this year any captivity come upon us. Yet, if captivity befall us this day or this year, let it be to a place where the law is cultivated. May it please thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that want come not upon us, either this day or this year. But if want visit us this day or this year, let it be due to the liberality of our charitable deeds. May it please Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that this year may be a year of cheapness, of fulness, of intercourse and trade; a year with abundance of rain, of sunshine, and of dew; one in which Thy people Israel shall not require assistance one from another. And listen not to the prayers of those who are about to set out on a journey. And as to Thy people Israel, may no enemy exalt himself against them. May it please Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that the houses of the men of Saron may not become their graves.’
The high-priest was not to prolong the above prayer any further, because the people would then become afraid for his safety when he was so long coming out.
The Sprinkling of the Blood
While the high-priest was offering incense in the Most Holy Place, the people withdrew a distance and worshipped in silence. When at last they saw him emerging from the sanctuary, they knew that God had accepted their offering and they had received mercy for another year.
When the high-priest came out, he took the blood from the attendant that had been stirring it to keep it from coagulating. He then entered the Most Holy Place once more and sprinkled the blood with his finger once upwards towards where the mercy seat would have been in the Tabernacle. Then he sprinkled the blood seven times downward, counting in the following way:
‘Once’ (upwards), ‘once and once’ (downward), ‘once and twice’ and so on to ‘once and seven times.’ He always repeated the word ‘once’ because it referred to the upwards sprinkling, and so he wouldn’t make a mistake.
When he came out, he then deposited the bowl with the blood before the veil. He killed the goat that had been set apart for Jehovah, and entered the Most Holy Place a third time.
He sprinkled as before up and down for seven times, and deposited the bowl with the blood of the goat on a second golden stand before the veil. He took up the bowl with the bullock’s blood and sprinkled it up and down seven times towards the veil outside the Most Holy Place, then did the same with the blood of the goat.
Finally, he poured the blood of the bullock into the bowl which contained that of the goat, and again the mixture of the two into that which had held the blood of the bullock, to thoroughly mingle them together. He sprinkled each of the horns of the altar of incense and sprinkled seven times on top of the altar.
By the time everything was over, he had sprinkled 43 times with the expiatory blood. He had to always take care, though, that he never got any of the sin-laden blood on his own clothes. Then what was left of the blood was poured out on the west side of the base of the altar of burnt-offering.
By doing these sprinklings, the high-priest had cleansed the sanctuary in every part from the defilement of the priesthood and the worshippers. They were now totally clean and atoned for. There was now again free access for all and the people were once more restored back to God.
If it had not been for these services, it would have been impossible for the priests and people to offer sacrifices, obtain forgiveness of sins, or have any fellowship with God.