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The Teaching of Scripture
Thus viewed, not only the text of Leviticus 16, but the language of Hebrews 9 and 10, which chiefly refer to the Day of Atonement, becomes plain. The 'blood,' both of the bullock and of the goat which the high-priest carried 'once a year' within 'the sacred veil,' was 'offered for himself (including the priesthood) and for the errors (or rather ignorances) of the people.' In the language of Leviticus 16:20, it reconciled 'the Holy Place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar,' that is, as already explained, it rendered on the part of priests and people the continuance of sacrificial worship possible. But this live scape- goat 'let go' in the wilderness, over which, in the exhaustive language of Leviticus 16:21, the high-priest had confessed and on which he had laid 'all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,' meant something quite different. It meant the inherent 'weakness and unprofitableness of the commandment'; it meant, that 'the law made nothing perfect, but was the bringing in of a better hope'; that in the covenant mercy of God guilt and sin were indeed removed from the people, that they were 'covered up,' and in that sense atoned for, or rather that they were both 'covered up' and removed, but that they were not really taken away and destroyed till Christ came; that they were only taken into a land not inhabited, till He should blot it out by His own blood; that the provision which the Old Testament made was only preparatory and temporary, until the 'time of the reformation'; and that hence real and true forgiveness of sins, and with it the spirit of adoption, could only be finally obtained after the death and resurrection of 'the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.' Thus in the fullest sense it was true of the 'fathers,' that 'these all...received not the promise: God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.' For 'the law having a shadow of the good things to come,' could not 'make the comers thereunto perfect'; nor yet was it possible 'that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.' The live goat 'let go' was every year a remover of sins which yet were never really removed in the sense of being blotted out--only deposited, as it were, and reserved till He came 'whom God hath set forth as a propitiation...because of the passing over of the former sins, in the forbearance of God' (Rom 3:25). *
* We have generally adopted the rendering of Dean Alford, where the reader will perceive any divergence from the Authorised Version.
'And for this cause He is the mediatory of a new covenant, in order that, death having taken place for the propitiation of the transgressions under the first covenant, they which have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance' (Heb 9:15).
This is not the place for following the argument further. Once understood, many passages will recur which manifest how the Old Testament removal of sin was shown in the law itself to have been complete indeed, so far as the individual was concerned, but not really and in reference to God, till He came to Whom as the reality these types pointed, and Who 'now once at the end of the world hath been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself' (Heb 9:26). And thus did the types themselves prove their own inadequacy and insufficiency, showing that they had only 'a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things themselves' (Heb 10:1). With this also agree the terms by which in the Old Testament atonement is designated as a 'covering up' by a substitute, and the mercy-seat as 'the place of covering over.'
The Term 'la-Azazel'
After this it is comparatively of secondary importance to discuss, so far as we can in these pages, the question of the meaning of the term 'la-Azazel' (Lev 16:8,10,26). Both the interpretation which makes it a designation of the goat itself (as 'scape-goat' in our Authorised Version), and that which would refer it to a certain locality in the wilderness, being, on many grounds, wholly untenable, two other views remain, one of which regards Azazel as a person, and denoting Satan; while the other would render the term by 'complete removal.' The insurmountable difficulties connected with the first of these notions lie on the surface. In reference to the second, it may be said that it not only does violence to Hebrew grammar, but implies that the goat which was to be for 'complete removal' was not even to be sacrificed, but actually 'let go!' Besides, what in that case could be the object of the first goat which was killed, and whose blood was sprinkled in the Most Holy Place? We may here at once state, that the later Jewish practice of pushing the goat over a rocky precipice was undoubtedly on innovation, in no wise sanctioned by the law of Moses, and not even introduced at the time the Septuagint translation was made, as its rendering of Leviticus 16:26 shows. The law simply ordained that the goat, once arrived in 'the land not inhabited,' was to be 'let go' free, and the Jewish ordinance of having it pushed over the rocks is signally characteristic of the Rabbinical perversion of its spiritual type. The word Azazel, which only occurs in Leviticus 16, is by universal consent derived from a root which means 'wholly to put aside,' or, 'wholly to go away.' Whether, therefore, we render 'la-Azazel' by 'for him who is wholly put aside,' that is, the sin-bearing Christ, or 'for being wholly separated,' or 'put wholly aside or away,' the truth is still the same, as pointing through the temporary and provisional removal of sin by the goat 'let go' in 'the land not inhabited,' to the final, real, and complete removal of sin by the Lord Jesus Christ, as we read it in Isaiah 53:6: 'Jehovah hath made the iniquities of us all to meet on Him.'
The Carcasses Burnt 'Outside the City'
While the scape-goat was being led into the wilderness, the high- priest proceeded to cut up the bullock and the goat with whose blood he had previously 'made atonement,' put the 'inwards' in a vessel which he committed to an attendant, and sent the carcasses to be burnt 'outside the city,' in the place where the Temple ashes were usually deposited. Then, according to tradition, the high- priest, still wearing the linen garments, * went into the 'Court of the Women,' and read the passages of Scripture bearing on the Day of Atonement, viz. Leviticus 16; 23:27-32; also repeating by heart Numbers 29:7-11.
* But this was not strictly necessary; he might in this part of the service have even officiated in his ordinary layman's dress.
A series of prayers accompanied this reading of the Scriptures. The most interesting of these supplications may be thus summed up:--Confession of sin with prayer for forgiveness, closing with the words, 'Praise be to Thee, O Lord, Who in Thy mercy forgivest the sins of Thy people Israel'; prayer for the permanence of the Temple, and that the Divine Majesty might shine in it, closing with--'Praise be to Thee, O Lord, Who inhabitest Zion'; prayer for the establishment and safety of Israel, and the continuance of a king among them, closing--'Thanks be to Thee, O Lord, Who hast chosen Israel'; prayer for the priesthood, that all their doings, but especially their sacred services, might be acceptable unto God, and He be gracious unto them, closing with--'Thanks be to Thee, O Lord, Who hast sanctified the priesthood'; and, finally (in the language of Maimonides), prayers, entreaties, hymns, and petitions of the high-priest's own, closing with the words: 'Give help, O Lord, to Thy people Israel, for Thy people needeth help; thanks be unto Thee, O Lord, Who hearest prayer.'
These prayers ended, the high-priest washed his hands and feet, put off his 'linen,' and put on his 'golden vestments,' and once more washed hands and feet before proceeding to the next ministry. He now appeared again before the people as the Lord's anointed in the golden garments of the bride-chamber. Before he offered the festive burnt-offerings of the day, he sacrificed 'one kid of the goats for a sin-offering' (Num 29:16), probably with special reference to these festive services, which, like everything else, required atoning blood for their acceptance. The flesh of this sin-offering was eaten at night by the priests within the sanctuary. Next, he sacrificed the burnt-offerings for the people and that for himself (one ram, Lev 16:3), and finally burned the 'inwards' of the expiatory offerings, whose blood had formerly been sprinkled in the Most Holy Place. This, properly speaking, finished the services of the day. But the high-priest had yet to offer the ordinary evening sacrifice, after which he washed his hands and his feet, once more put off his 'golden' and put on his 'linen garments,' and again washed his hands and feet. This before entering the Most Holy Place a fourth time on that day, * to fetch from it the censer and incense-dish which he had left there.
On his return he washed once more hands and feet, put off his linen garments, which were never to be used again, put on his golden vestments, washed hands and feet, burnt the evening incense on the golden altar, lit the lamps on the candlestick for the night, washed his hands and feet, put on his ordinary layman's dress, and was escorted by the people in procession to his own house in Jerusalem. The evening closed with a feast.
If this ending of the Day of Atonement seems incongruous, the Mishnah records (Taan. iv. 8) something yet more strange in connection with the day itself. It is said that on the afternoon of the 15th of Ab, when the collection of wood for the sanctuary was completed, and on that of the Day of Atonement, the maidens of Jerusalem went in white garments, specially lent them for the purpose, so that rich and poor might be on an equality, into the vineyards close to the city, where they danced and sung. The following fragment of one of their songs has been preserved: *
'Around in circle gay, the Hebrew maidens see; From them our happy youths their partners choose. Remember! Beauty soon its charm must lose-- And seek to win a maid of fair degree. When fading grace and beauty low are laid, Then praise shall her who fears the Lord await; God does bless her handiwork--and, in the gate, "Her works do follow her," it shall be said.'
* The Talmud repeatedly states the fact and gives the song. Nevertheless we have some doubt on the subject, though the reporter in the Mishnah is said to be none other than Rabbi Simeon, the son of Gamaliel, Paul's teacher.
We will not here undertake the low-spirited task of describing what the modern synagogue has made the Day of Atonement, nor how it observes the occasion--chiefly in view of their gloomy thoughts, that on that day man's fate for the year, if not his life or death, is finally fixed. But even the Mishnah already contains similar perverted notions of how the day should be kept, and what may be expected from its right observance (Mish. Yoma, viii). Rigorous rest and rigorous fasting are enjoined from sundown of one day to the appearance of the first stars on the next. Neither food nor drink of any kind may be tasted; a man may not even wash, nor anoint himself, nor put on his sandals. *
The sole exception made is in favor of the sick and of children, who are only bound to the full fast--girls at the age of twelve years and one day, and boys at that of thirteen years and one day, though it is recommended to train them earlier to it. *
In return for all this 'affliction' Israel may expect that death along with the Day of Atonement will finally blot out all sins! That is all- -the Day of Atonement and our own death! Such are Israel's highest hopes of expiation! It is unspeakably saddening to follow this subject further through the minutiae of rabbinical ingenuity-- how much exactly the Day of Atonement will do for a man; what proportion of his sins it will remit, and what merely suspend; how much is left over for after-chastisements, and how much for final extinction at death. The law knows nothing of such miserable petty misrepresentations of the free pardon of God. In the expiatory sacrifices of the Day of Atonement every kind * of transgression, trespass, and sin is to be removed from the people of God.
* For high-handed, purposed sins, the law provided no sacrifice (Heb 10:26), and it is even doubtful whether they are included in the declaration Leviticus 16:21, wide as it is. Thank God, we know that 'the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin,' without exception.
Yet annually anew, and each time confessedly only provisionally, not really and finally, till the gracious promise (Jer 31:34) should be fulfilled: 'I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.' Accordingly it is very marked, how in the prophetic, or it may be symbolical, description of Ezekiel's Temple (Eze 40- 46) all mention of the Day of Atonement is omitted; for Christ has come 'an high-priest of good things to come,' and 'entered in once into the Holy Place,' 'to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself' (Heb 9:11,12,26).