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The Day of Atonement
'But into the second (tabernacle) went the high-priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people...But Christ being come an high-priest of good things to come...by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.'-- Hebrews 9:7, 11, 12
It may sound strange, and yet it is true, that the clearest testimony to 'the weakness and unprofitableness' 'of the commandment' is that given by 'the commandment' itself. The Levitical arrangements for the removal of sin bear on their forefront, as it were, this inscription: 'The law made nothing perfect'--having neither a perfect mediatorship in the priesthood, nor a perfect 'atonement' in the sacrifices, nor yet a perfect forgiveness as the result of both. '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' (Heb 10:1). And this appears, first, from the continual recurrence and the multiplicity of these sacrifices, which are intended the one to supplement the other, and yet always leave something to be still supplemented; and, secondly, from the broad fact that, in general, 'it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins' (Heb 10:4). It is therefore evident that the Levitical dispensation, being stamped with imperfectness alike in the means which it employed for the 'taking away' of sin, and in the results which it obtained by these means, declared itself, like John the Baptist, only a 'forerunner,' the breaker up and preparer of the way--not the satisfying, but, on the contrary, the calling forth and 'the bringing in of a better hope' (Heb 7:19; see marginal rendering).
The Day of Atonement
As might have been expected, this 'weakness and unprofitableness of the commandment' became most apparent in the services of the day in which the Old Testament provision for pardon and acceptance attained, so to speak, its climax. On the Day of Atonement, not ordinary priests, but the high-priest alone officiated, and that not in his ordinary dress, nor yet in that of the ordinary priesthood, but in one peculiar to the day, and peculiarly expressive of purity. The worshippers also appeared in circumstances different from those on any other occasion, since they were to fast and to 'afflict their souls'; the day itself was to be 'a Sabbath of Sabbatism' (rendered 'Sabbath of rest' in Authorised Version), while its central services consisted of a series of grand expiatory sacrifices, unique in their character, purpose, and results, as described in these words: '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' (Lev 16:33). But even the need of such a Day of Atonement, after the daily offerings, the various festive sacrifices, and the private and public sin-offerings all the year round, showed the insufficiency of all such sacrifices, while the very offerings of the Day of Atonement proclaimed themselves to be only temporary and provisional, 'imposed until the time of reformation.' We specially allude here to the mysterious appearance of the so-called 'scape-goat,' of which we shall, in the sequel, have to give an account differing from that of previous writers.
The names 'Day of Atonement,' or in the Talmud, which devotes to it a special tractate, simply 'the day' (perhaps also in Hebrews 7:27 *), and in the Book of Acts 'the fast' (Acts 27:9), sufficiently designate its general object.
It took place on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri), that is, symbolically, when the sacred or Sabbath of months had just attained its completeness. Nor must we overlook the position of that day relatively to the other festivals. The seventh or sabbatical month closed the festive cycle, the Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th of that month being the last in the year. But, as already stated, before that grand festival of harvesting and thanksgiving Israel must, as a nation, be reconciled unto God, for only a people at peace with God might rejoice before Him in the blessing with which He had crowned the year. And the import of the Day of Atonement, as preceding the Feast of Tabernacles, becomes only more striking, when we remember how that feast of harvesting prefigured the final ingathering of all nations. In connection with this point it may also be well to remember that the Jubilee Year was always proclaimed on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9). *
* According to the Jewish view, it was also the day on which Adam had both sinned and repented; that on which Abraham was circumcised; and that on which Moses returned from the mount and made atonement for the sin of the golden calf.
The Teaching of Scripture about the Day
In briefly reviewing the Divine ordinances about this day (Lev 16; 23:26-32; Num 29:11), we find that only on that one day in every year the high-priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place, and then arrayed in a peculiar white dress, which differed from that of the ordinary priests, in that its girdle also was white, and not of the Temple colors, while 'the bonnet' was of the same shape, though not the same material as 'the mitre,' which the high- priest ordinarily wore. The simple white of his array, in distinction to the 'golden garments' which he otherwise wore, pointed to the fact that on that day the high-priest appeared, not 'as the bridegroom of Jehovah,' but as bearing in his official capacity the emblem of that perfect purity which was sought by the expiations of that day. Thus in the prophecies of Zechariah the removal of Joshua's 'filthy garments' and the clothing him with 'change of raiment,' symbolically denoted--'I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee' (Zech 3:3,4). Similarly those who stand nearest to God are always described as arrayed 'in white' (see Eze 9:2, etc.; Dan 10:5; 12:6). And because these were emphatically 'the holy garments,' 'therefore' the high-priest had to 'wash his flesh in water, and so put them on' (Lev 16:4), that is, he was not merely to wash his hands and feet, as before ordinary ministrations, but to bathe his whole body.
From Numbers 29:7-11 it appears that the offerings on the Day of Atonement were really of a threefold kind--'the continual burnt- offering,' that is, the daily morning and evening sacrifices, with their meat- and drink-offerings; the festive sacrifices of the day, consisting for the high-priest and the priesthood, of 'a ram for a burnt-offering' (Lev 16:3), and for the people of one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year (with their meat-offerings) for a burnt-sacrifice, and one kid of the goats for a sin-offering; and, thirdly, and chiefly, the peculiar expiatory sacrifices of the day, which were a young bullock as a sin-offering for the high-priest, his house, and the sons of Aaron, and another sin-offering for the people, consisting of two goats, one of which was to be killed and its blood sprinkled, as directed, while the other was to be sent away into the wilderness, bearing 'all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins' which had been confessed 'over him,' and laid upon him by the high-priest. Before proceeding further, we note the following as the order of these sacrifices--first, the ordinary morning sacrifice; next the expiatory sacrifices for the high-priest, the priesthood, and the people (one bullock, and one of the two goats, the other being the so-called scape-goat); then the festive burnt-offerings of the priests and the people (Num 29:7-11), and with them another sin-offering; and, lastly, the ordinary evening sacrifice, being, as Maimonides observes, in all fifteen sacrificial animals. According to Jewish tradition, the whole of the services of that day were performed by the high-priest himself, of course with the assistance of others, for which purpose more than 500 priests were said to have been employed. Of course, if the Day of Atonement fell on a Sabbath, besides all these, the ordinary Sabbath sacrifices were also offered. On a principle previously explained, the high-priest purchased from his own funds the sacrifices brought for himself and his house, the priesthood, however, contributing, in order to make them sharers in the offering, while the public sacrifices for the whole people were paid for from the Temple treasury. Only while officiating in the distinctly expiatory services of the day did the high-priest wear his 'linen garments'; in all the others he was arrayed in his 'golden vestments.' This necessitated a frequent change of dress, and before each he bathed his whole body. All this will be best understood by a more detailed account of the order of service, as given in the Scriptures and by tradition.
Seven days before the Day of Atonement the high-priest left his own house in Jerusalem, and took up his abode in his chambers in the Temple. A substitute was appointed for him, in case he should die or become Levitically unfit for his duties. Rabbinical meticulousness went so far as to have him twice sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer--on the 3rd and the 7th day of his week of separation--in case he had unwittingly to himself, been defiled by a dead body (Num 19:13). *
During the whole of that week, also, he had to practise the various priestly rites, such as sprinkling the blood, burning the incense, lighting the lamp, offering the daily sacrifice, etc. For, as already stated, every part of that day's services devolved on the high- priest, and he must not commit any mistake. Some of the elders of the Sanhedrim were appointed to see to it, that the high-priest fully understood, and knew the meaning of the service, otherwise they were to instruct him in it. On the eve of the Day of Atonement the various sacrifices were brought before him, that there might be nothing strange about the services of the morrow. Finally, they bound him by a solemn oath not to change anything in the rites of the day. This was 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 only interesting point here is the Scriptural argument on which the Sadducees based their view. They appealed to Leviticus 16:2, and explained the expression, 'I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat,' in a rationalistic sense as applying to the cloud of incense, not to that of the Divine Presence, while the Pharisees appealed to verse 13.
The evening meal of the high-priest before the great day was to be scanty. All night long he was to be hearing and expounding the Holy Scriptures, or otherwise kept employed, so that he might not fall asleep (for special Levitical reasons). At midnight the lot was cast for removing the ashes and preparing the altar; and to distinguish the Day of Atonement from all others, four, instead of the usual three, fires were arranged on the great altar of burnt- offering.
The Morning Service
The services of the day began with the first streak of morning light. Already the people had been admitted into the sanctuary. So jealous were they of any innovation or alteration, that only a linen cloth excluded the high-priest from public view, when, each time before changing his garments, he bathed--not in the ordinary place of the priests, but in one specially set apart for his use. Altogether he changed his raiments and washed his whole body five times on that day, * and his hands and feet ten times. **
When the first dawn of morning was announced in the usual manner, the high-priest put off his ordinary (layman's) dress, bathed, put on his golden vestments, washed his hands and feet, and proceeded to perform all the principal parts of the ordinary morning service. Tradition has it, that immediately after that, he offered certain parts of the burnt-sacrifices for the day, viz. the bullock and the seven lambs, reserving his own ram and that of the people, as well as the sin-offering of a kid of the goats (Num 29:8-11), till after the special expiatory sacrifices of the day had been brought. But the text of Leviticus 16:24 is entirely against this view, and shows that the whole of the burnt-offerings and the festive sin-offering were brought after the expiatory services. Considering the relation between these services and sacrifices, this might, at any rate, have been expected, since a burnt-offering could only be acceptable after, not before, expiation.
The morning service finished, the high-priest washed his hands and feet, put off his golden vestments, bathed, put on his 'linen garments,' again washed his hands and feet, and proceeded to the peculiar part of the day's services. The bullock for his sin-offering stood between the Temple-porch and the altar. It was placed towards the south, but the high-priest, who stood facing the east (that is, the worshippers), turned the head of the sacrifice towards the west (that is, to face the sanctuary). He then laid both his hands upon the head of the bullock, and confessed as follows:-- 'Ah, JEHOVAH! I have committed iniquity; I have transgressed; I have sinned--I and my house. Oh, then, JEHOVAH, I entreat Thee, cover over (atone for, let there be atonement 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."' It will be noticed that in this solemn confession the name JEHOVAH occurred three times. Other three times was it pronounced in the confession which the high-priest made over the same bullock for the priesthood; a seventh time was it uttered when he cast the lot as to which of the two goats was to be 'for JEHOVAH'; and once again he spoke it three times in the confession over the so-called 'scape-goat' which bore the sins of the people. All these ten times the high-priest pronounced the very name of JEHOVAH, and, as he spoke it, those who stood near cast themselves with their faces on the ground, while the multitude responded: 'Blessed be the Name; the glory of His kingdom is for ever and ever' (in support of this benediction, reference is made to Deut 32:3). Formerly it had been the practice to pronounce the so-called 'Ineffable Name' distinctly, but afterwards, when some attempted to make use of it for magical purposes, it was spoken with bated breath, and, as one relates (Rabbi Tryphon in the Jerus. Talm.) * who had stood among the priests in the Temple and listened with rapt attention to catch the mysterious name, it was lost amidst the sound of the priests' instruments, as they accompanied the benediction of the people.
* Possibly some readers may not know that the Jews never pronounce the word Jehovah, but always substitute for it 'Lord' (printed in capitals in the Authorised Version). Indeed, the right pronunciation of the word has been lost, and is matter of dispute, all that we have in the Hebrew being the letters I. H. V. H.--forming the so- called tetragrammaton, or 'four-lettered word.'