If you like our 14,000 Articles library, you'll love our Courses tailor-made for all stages of church life:

Courses cover a wide range of Bible, Theology and Ministry.

Day of Atonement

ATONEMENT, DAY OF. Theologically and spiritually, the Day of Atonement is the center of Leviticus, “the book of holiness.” The sixteenth chapter gives the law for the Day of Atonement. The divinely inspired commentary on this chapter is found in Heb.9.1-Heb.10.25. Israel had two beginnings for its years, six months apart. In the first month on the fourteenth day, they ate the Passover as a memorial of the events leading to the Exodus from Egypt; half a year later, in the seventh month on the tenth day (Lev.16.29), they afflicted their souls and the priest made atonement for them. The Jews now celebrate their New Year’s Day (Rosh Hashanah) on the first day of the seventh month (Sept.), and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), properly yom hakkippurim, on the tenth.




Relevant passages.

The main passages dealing with this annual fast, with the legal enactments involved, are found in: (1) Leviticus 16, the central passage; (2) Exodus 30:10, which refers to making atonement annually on the horns of the altar of incense; (3) Leviticus 23:26-32, in the list of annual feasts, where the date is mentioned, is ordered a holy convocation at the sanctuary, the fasting, an offering by fire, and rest from work; (4) Leviticus 25:9, which says the Year of Jubilee was to commence on this day; (5) Numbers 18, where duties and privileges of priests and Levites are given; (6) Numbers 29:7-11, which gives laws connected with the sacrifices, fact of a holy convocation, fasting, rest from labor, the sacrifices of sin offering, burnt offerings, meal offerings, and drink offerings; (7) Ezekiel 45:18 ff., which presents a number of regulations for the festivals of Israel and the sacrifices.

The occasion for the day.


The purpose of the day.

The ritual of the day had in view one goal: to avert the wrath of God for the sins of the past year and to insure His continued dwelling among them. The shedding of blood and the sending off of the scapegoat were meant to cleanse the nation, the priesthood, and the sanctuary from sin. The entire meaning of the sacrificial system reached its climax, and the day has been well called the “Good Friday of the OT.”

This day was observed to remind Israel that in spite of all the daily, weekly, and monthly (on the new moon) sacrifices, sin was not fully atoned for. Always the offerer stood at a distance from God, unable to enter the holy presence of God, typified by the Shekinah cloud over the mercy seat. On this day the high priest was allowed by God to enter the Holy of Holies with blood as a representative of the people.

The basic principle underlying the Day of Atonement is that the offerings for sin throughout the year could not provide for or cover unknown (“secret”) sins. Nevertheless, by these sins the sanctuary, the people, and the land were all rendered unclean. God could not be honored as He deserved under such circumstances. The Day of Atonement was instituted for the accomplishment annually of a complete atonement for all sin (Lev 16:33). The whole priestly legislation was given its highest expression: God’s holiness was recognized and satisfied by sacrifice. All the ceremonies and rituals of the day were meant to symbolize, as far as possible, a complete atonement for sin and the utter removal of the cause of God’s displeasure. The Day of Atonement marked the highest exhibition of the mediatorial work of the high priest. In him all the people had access into the presence of God.

According to later Jewish theology, on New Year’s day God determined the fate of every man on earth and on the Day of Atonement He sealed the decree. The intervening ten days of penitence (actually counting from the first of Tishri through the tenth of the month) were observed in order to avert an unfavorable decree. Only unintentional sins were in view (4:2, 13; Num 15:24), as declared by Yoma 8:9 (the Mishnaic tractate on the Day of Atonement): “He who says, I will sin, the Day atones; to him the Day will bring no atonement” (cf. Heb 9:7, “errors”).

The importance of the day.

The Day of Atonement is the only fast day stipulated in the Mosaic law. In the couple of centuries before the advent of Christianity, it played a significant role in Judaism. References to it in the Mishnaic Tractate Yoma and in other Jewish sources leave no doubt in the matter. Conceptually, the Crucifixion accounts of the NT and the entire Epistle to the Hebrews, with Paul’s letters, are directly related to it. The Day of Atonement was so central and vital to Judaism that it has outlived the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70 and the loss of the entire sacrificial system. The observance actually manifested that Israel believed the cleansing of their sins was accomplished by the prescribed rites given by God, and that the forgiveness and grace of God were extended to them and formed the basis for their continuance in fellowship with Him as His covenant people.

On their part, it demonstrated godly sorrow for their sins (indicated by their fasting). It realized the purification of the sanctuary defiled by the sins of Israel. Atonement was made for all the transgressions of the congregation. The consciousness of sin in Israel was deepened through the exercises of the day. God was propitiated for the year just past.

The day is not without spiritual significance and instruction for the Christian today. The more one compares the rituals of this day with what was accomplished perfectly by Christ on Calvary, the more the conviction is confirmed that all the rites of the Day of Atonement, and all the religious appointments in Israel, were only shadows preparing for the coming of finality in Christ (Heb 9:24; 10:1)

The day as a fast.

Practically all, with but few exceptions, have taken the words of Leviticus 16:29 to indicate the day as a fast. “And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you” (cf. also 23:27, 29; Num 29:7). It is also described as a “sabbath of solemn rest” (Lev 16:31; 23:32), literally, “a sabbath of sabbatism,” “a most solemn sabbath,” or a Sabbath of sabbatical observance when no work was allowed (Num 29:7).

Contents of Leviticus 16.

Basic to a proper understanding of the day is a close scrutiny of the details (Lev 16). The ch. may be divided into four sections: (1) vv. 1-10: personal preparations by Aaron for the rites of the day; the animals for sacrifice; the clothing and bathing of Aaron; (2) vv. 11-24: the ceremonies described in detail; (3) vv. 25-28: additional concluding directions for the ceremonies of the day; (4) vv. 29-34: directions for the congregation. The contents of these sections are so clearly interwoven and interdependent that the views which attribute the ch. to various sources cannot be substantiated. Modern attempts to disprove the unity of the ch. are far too arbitrary and subjective to be tenable.

The rites of the day.

The rites of the day were complex and minute, but all had meaning for the ultimate purpose of the day: atonement by sacrifice according to God’s specific appointment. As already seen, the feast was so important that, through the years, later observances added elements to the original arrangement. It is profitable to examine both observances.

Early observance.

On this day the high priest removed his official garments of glory and beauty, clothed himself in white linen as a penitent with the rest of the nation, and then carried out the ceremonies of the day. (1) He offered a bullock as a sin offering for himself and the priests. (2) With a censer of live coals from the altar of incense he entered the Holy of Holies to fill the compartment with incense. (3) He sprinkled the blood of the bullock on the mercy seat and on the floor before the Ark of the covenant. (4) He cast lots over the two live goats brought by the people. (5) Slaying one of the goats as a sin offering for the nation, he took the blood inside the veil and sprinkled it as before, thus making atonement for the holiest place. (6) He confessed the sins of the people over the live goat, placing his hands on its head. (7) He sent the live goat away into the wilderness. The live goat is called the scapegoat (i.e., the escape goat). Symbolically, it carried away the sins of the people (cf. the writer’s article, “The Scapegoat of Leviticus 16,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 115 [Oct. 1958], 320-333). (8) He clothed himself in his usual apparel, offering now a burnt offering for himself and one for the people with the fat of the sin offering. The flesh of the bullock and the goat were burned outside the camp.

Later observance.

In later times the feast gained in significance, so its ritual was greatly enlarged (cf. H. Danby, The Mishnah [1933], 162-172 on Yoma). For instance, on the Day of Atonement the high priest had to bathe five times and perform ten washings. No matter how unobservant a Jew may be of the rites of Judaism, unless he has finally severed all ties with his faith, he still celebrates this day. In Judaism, after the close of the OT canon, the first day of the seventh month witnessed a blast of trumpets and a holy convocation (Lev 23:23), which began a ten day period of repentance. In modern Judaism the Day of Atonement concludes the ten days of penitence, beginning with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which coincides with the Biblical Feast of Trumpets. The ten days are set aside for spiritual meditation and preparation for the great Day of Atonement. (Together these ten days are known as “The Solemn or Awesome Days.”) The Day of Atonement, then and now, begins on the evening of the ninth of Tishri at sunset and lasts until the evening of the tenth (23:32). Fasting includes no eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on footwear, and marital intercourse (Yoma 8:1). Children and the sick always have been exempt from the fast.

Because the high priest was the central personality throughout the ceremonies, he took up residence in the Temple seven days before the festival (Yoma 1:1). He rehearsed the ceremonies he was to perform. On the eve of the day he kept an all night vigil. In fact, men were esp. delegated to keep him awake. After bathing (Lev 16:4) and offering the burnt offering in the morning (Num 29:8-11), he donned white linen (Lev 16:4) and was prepared to conduct the rites. These rites consisted of (1) the sacrifice for the priests, (2) the sacrifice for the people, and (3) the scapegoat ritual. With the blood of the bullock (the sin offering) and with incense, the high priest entered the holiest (16:12-14). After filling the compartment with a cloud of incense, he left to pray and again entered the Holy of Holies (in a second stage of the ceremonies) to sprinkle blood on the propitiatory for the sins of the priests.

The sacrifice for the nation was a goat chosen by lot from two identical animals. This goat was slain and its blood sprinkled on the Ark seven times. The veil and the horns of the altar of incense were also sprinkled. The live goat, designated as “for Azazel” (16:8, 10, 26) as the first had been “for the Lord,” was taken by the high priest, who laid his hands on it, confessed the sins of the people, and then committed it to one esp. appointed to lead it away into the desert amid the jeering and imprecations of the people. After this the high priest put off his garments and put on his usual apparel to offer burnt offerings with the fat of the slain bullock and goat (16:24). The remains were carried outside the camp and burned. The people rejoiced and danced at sunset.

The rabbis claimed the high priest sprinkled blood forty-three times on this day. The Mishnah indicates that whenever the high priest pronounced the ineffable divine name (YHWH), the congregation prostrated themselves and cried: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” At the conclusion of the ceremonies of the day, so great was the relief of the people that they accompanied the high priest to his home where he entertained them at a feast. The people in general gave themselves to rejoicing; the young men and maidens danced in the vineyards (Ta’anit iv. 8).

Today no sacrifices are offered, but the day is observed by abstaining from labor, by prayers, fasting, and multiplied confessions. The services are begun with the blowing of the ram’s horn (as though to direct God’s attention to the willingness of Abraham to offer Isaac according to the will of God; Gen 22) and the recital of the solemn prayer called Kol Nidre (“All vows”). It is prob. from the Middle Ages, and in it the worshipers petition God to forgive them for breaking vows they could not fulfill. Worship services are conducted the next day from early morning until sunset, when a blast of the ram’s horn concludes the ceremonies of the day.

The silence of the historical books.


Historicity of the day.

It is an impossible task to excise, stylistically or logically, Leviticus 16 from its fundamental place in the scheme of the Book of Leviticus or from the entire priestly system in Israel for that matter. Furthermore, it is both hopeless and useless to seek to dismember the closely knit and logically presented stipulations and rites of Leviticus 16. A historical difficulty of insurmountable proportions is this: if the Ark of the covenant no longer existed after the Exile, and the prediction of Jeremiah 3:16 led Israel to expect no restoration or recovery of the same, how could the Day of Atonement have been inaugurated at that late date when its entire efficacy and worth were linked inseparably with that Ark? Furthermore, since Ezekiel and his appointments are related to a distant future (a view which has much to commend it), the argument based on his regulations (which, it can be readily verified, differ widely from those of the Pentateuchal legislation) is pointless when it aims to credit him with influencing the legislation in Leviticus 16.

NT references.

The reference to the fast in Acts 27:9 is understood generally to point to the Day of Atonement, because it is the only one mentioned in the Mosaic law. Even a cursory reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews will disclose that it moves in the atmosphere and ritual of the OT sacrificial system and, in particular, of the Day of Atonement. The aim of the sacred writer is unequivocal: it is to demonstrate the fulfilling finality of the central event of the Scriptures, the atonement of Christ on Calvary.

Hebrews explains the ritual of the day as a type of the atonement accomplished by Christ (Heb 9 and 10). The High Priest is the Lord Christ. The blood is His blood shed on Calvary. As the high priest of the OT entered the holiest of all with the blood of sacrifice, the unmistakable evidence of forfeiture of life, so Christ has entered into heaven to appear before the Father in our behalf (Heb 9:11, 12). It is emphasized that the entrance of the high priest into the most holy, with blood, typified the appearance of Christ in heaven for us when He had purchased redemption for us (9:24-28).

The fact that the same sacrifices had to be repeated each year spoke clearly and conclusively that final atonement had not yet been achieved. Christ provided eternal redemption for the world (9:12). The OT offerings served only to bring about a temporary and outward ceremonial cleansing; Christ’s one sacrifice adequately provided inward cleansing of heart and conscience (9:13, 14). Whereas the ordinary Israelite could not enter the innermost sanctuary, and only the high priest was permitted to do so one day annually, the believer today has constant access through grace to the very presence of the holy God (4:14-16; 10:19-22). The ceremonies of the day formally closed when the sin offering was burned outside the camp of Israel; Jesus suffered outside the gate of Jerusalem when He bore our reproach (13:11, 12).

Bibliography

J. C. Rylaarsdam, IDB, I, 313-316; T. K. Cheyne, EB, I, 383-389; W. Moeller, ISBE, I, 324-328; Theological Dictionary of NT, IV, 924-935 (esp. 927-931); M. L. Margolis, Jew Enc, II, 284-289; A. Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (1874), 263-288; I. Abrahams, “High Priest’s Procession on the Day of Atonement,” JQR, 4 (1905), 17:586; L. Belleli, “High Priest’s Procession on the Day of Atonement,” JQR 3 (1905), 17:584; S. Talmon, “Yom Hakkippurim in the Habakkuk Scroll,” Bibliographical Footnotes, Biblica (Nov. 1951), 32:549-563; L. L. Morris, “Day of Atonement and the Work of Christ,” Reformed Theological Review (Feb. 1955), 14:9, 10; F. H. Woods, HERE (1960 ed.), V, 863-867; R. L. Rubinstein, “Atonement and Sacrifice in Contemporary Jewish Liturgy,” Judaism (Spring 1962), 11:131-143; J. Morgenstern, “Fire Upon the Altar Once Again,” Encounter (Spring 1965), 26:215-224; H. Cohen, “Day of Atonement,” I., Judaism (Summer 1968), 17:352-357; H. Cohen, “Day of Atonement,” II, III, Judaism (Winter-Spring 1969), 18:84-90, 216-22.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

a-ton’-ment:

I. THE LEGAL ENACTMENTS 1. Named

2. Leviticus 16

(1) Contents, Structure and Position

(a) Leviticus 16:1-10

(b) Leviticus 16:11-24

(c) Leviticus 16:25-28

(d) Leviticus 16:29-34

Use of Number Four

Place in Leviticus

(2) Modern Attempts to Disprove Unity of Chapter II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT 1. The Significance for Israel

2. The Significance from a Christian Standpoint

III. ON THE HISTORY OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT 1. The Long Silence of History

(1) The Facts and the False Conclusions

(2) The Historicity of the nodetitle

2. Further Development

I. The Legal Enactments. 1. Named:

In addition to the chief passage, Le 16, which is treated under a separate head, we have the following:

In Ex 30:10 it is mentioned in the directions that are given for the construction of the altar of incense that Aaron, once a year, is to make an atonement on the horns of the altar, with the blood of the sin offering, which is used for the purpose of an atonement for sin.

In Le 23:26-32 mention is made in the list of festivals of the Day of Atonement, on the 10th day of the 7th month. It is ordered that for this day there shall be a holy convocation at the sanctuary, a fast, an offering by fire, and rest from labor from the 9th day of the 7th month in the evening.

According to Le 25:9 the year of jubilee begins with the Day of Atonement.

Nu 18 speaks of the duties and the rights of the priests and the Levites. In contrast with the latter, according to 18:7, Aaron and his sons are to perform the duties of the priesthood in all matters pertaining to the altar and of the service within the veil and shall render this service. We have here doubtless a comprehensive law for the entire priestly order, so that from this alone it cannot be determined that the service within the veil, by which reference is made to the ceremony of the Day of Atonement, has been reserved for the high priest alone, just as in De 10:8; 33:8 ff, everything that pertains to the whole tribe of Levi is found combined, without thereby the division into high priest, priests and Levites, being regarded as excluded (compare EZEKIEL, II, 2, (1), c).

Nu 29:7-11 contains in connection with the laws treating of sacrifices also the enactment, that on the 10th day of the 7th month there shall take place a holy convocation at the sanctuary, fasting and rest from labor. In addition to the sin offering, which is brought for the purpose of atonement for sin, and in addition to the regular burnt offerings and the accompanying meal offerings and drink offerings, burnt offerings also are to be brought, namely, one young bullock, one young ram, seven lambs of the first year (all without blemish); then meal offerings, namely, three-tenths (compare Nu 28:12-14) of fine flour mingled with oil for each bullock; two-tenths for each ram; one-tenth for each lamb; then a sin offering, namely, one he-goat. Ezekiel in his vision of the new temple, of the holy city and the holy country (chapters 40-48), in 45:18 ff, gives a series of enactments for the festivals and the sacrifices. According to these, on the 1st day of the 1st month and on the 7th day of the 1st month (on the 1st day of the 7th month according to the Septuagint), the sanctuary is to be cleansed through a young bullock without blemish, the priest taking some of the blood of the sin offering and putting it on the posts of the temple, on the four corners of the altar and on the posts of the gate of the inner court; and this is to be done for the sake of those who perhaps have sinned through error or ignorance. Further, that sacrifice which is to be brought on the Passover by the princes for themselves and all the people of the land (compare 45:22) appears to present a clear analogy to Le 16. As for the rest, Eze 40-48 cannot without further consideration be put on the same level with the other legal enactments, but are to be regarded as an ideal scheme, the realization of which is conditioned on the entrance of the wonderful future (compare EZEKIEL).

2. Leviticus 16:

(1) Contents, Structure and Position.

Le 16:1-28 contains instructions given by Yahweh to Moses for his brother Aaron (16:1,2).

(a) Leviticus 16:1-10.

Leviticus 16:1-10 contain presuppositions, preparations and summary statements of the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement. According to 16:1,2, Aaron is not allowed to enter the holy place at any time whatever, lest he may die as did his sons with their unseemly fire offering (compare Le 10:1 ff); 16:3-5 tell what is necessary for the ceremony: For himself four things: a young bullock as a sin offering (compare 16:6,11,14,15,27); a ram for burnt offering (compare 16:24); sacred garments, namely, a linen coat, linen breeches, linen girdle, linen mitre (compare 16:23,32); a bath. For the congregation: two he-goats as a sin offering (compare 16:7 ff,15-22,25,27,28,32,33), a ram as a burnt offering (compare 16:24). The passages in parentheses show how closely the succeeding parts of this account are connected with this introductory part, 16:1-10. In other parts of Le also it is often found that the materials used for the sacrifices are mentioned first, before anything is said in detail of what is to be done with this material. Compare 8:1,2 with 8:6,7 ff,10,14,18,22,26 and 9:2-4 with 9:7,8 ff,12 ff,15-18. In 16:6 Aaron’s sin- offering bullock is to be used as an atonement for himself; 16:7-10 refer to the two goats: they are to be placed at the door of the tent of meeting (16:7); lots are to be cast upon them for Yahweh and Azazel (16:8); the first to be prepared as a sin offering for Yahweh (16:9); the second, in accordance with the law, to be sent into the desert (16:10).

(b) Leviticus 16:11-24.

Leviticus 16:11-24 describe the ceremony itself and give fuller directions as to how the different sacrificial materials mentioned under (a) are to be used by Aaron: 16:11-14 speak of the atonement for Aaron and his house; 16:11, of his sin-offering bullock to be killed; 16:12, of burning coal from the altar and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small to be placed behind the veil; 16:13, of the cloud of incense to be made in the Holy of Holies, so that the top covering is hidden and Aaron is protected from the danger of death; 16:14, of some of the blood to be sprinkled once on the front of the top covering and seven times in front of it. Le 16:15-19 prescribe the ceremony with the first sin-offering goat for the congregation: in 16:15,16, the ceremony described in 16:14 is directed also to be carried out with the goat, as an atonement for the inner sanctuary, cleansing it from blemishes; in 16:16b the same thing is directed to be done in regard to the tabernacle of revelation, i. e. the holy place, in 16:17, no one is permitted to be present even in the holy place when these ceremonies take place; in 16:18,19, the altar too is directed to be cleansed by an atonement, some of the blood of both sin-offering animals being smeared on the horns and sprinkled seven times on the ground.

Le 16:20-22 prescribes the ceremony with the second sin-offering goat for the congregation: 16:20 directs it to be brought there; in 16:21 there takes place the transfer of guilt; Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the goat; shal l confess all guilt over him; shall lay them upon the head of the goat; shall through a man send him into the desert; in 16:22a, the goat carries the guilt into an uninhabited land; in 16:22b, he is not to be let go until he is in the desert.

Le 16:23,24, the concluding act: in 16:23a, Aaron takes off his linen garments in the tent of meeting, and in 16:23b puts them down there; in 16:24a, he bathes in the holy place and again puts on his usual clothing; in 16:24b he brings the burnt offering for himself and his people. (The statement `for himself and his people’ at this place concludes the ritual as such.)

(c) Leviticus 16:25-28.

Leviticus 16:25-28 are explanatory, with three additional directions. In 16:25, the fat of the sin offering is directed to be consumed into smoke on the altar; 16:26, he who has taken away the second goat must wash his clothes and bathe himself, and only then is he permitted to enter the camp; 16:27, the fat, flesh and dung of the sin-offering animal, and then the blood that was brought into the (inner) sanctuary, are to be burned outside of the camp; 16:28, he who has burned these must wash his clothes, and must bathe, and only after this can he enter the camp. (In this case 16:25 and 27 correspond, and also 16:26 and 28; and in addition 16:26,27,28 are united by their reference to the camp.)

(d) Leviticus 16:29-34.

Leviticus 16:29-34: Over against these sections (a)--(c) (16:1-28), which contain the instructions for the high priest, we have a fourth (16:29-34), which already through the address in the second person plural and also by its contents is intended for the congregation. In 16:29-31, the demand is made of the congregation. As in Le 23:26 ff; Nu 29:7 ff, a fast and absolute rest are prescribed for the 10th day of the 7th month as the Day of Atonement; in Le 16:32-34, a number of directions are given in a summary to the congregation on the basis of 16:1 ff, namely, 16:32, how the atonement is to take place: the priest who is anointed; he shall be consecrated; that he perform the service in his father’s place; in his linen garments; 16:33 prescribes when and for whom the atonement is to take place: for the holy of holies; for the holy place; for the altar; for the order of priests and all the people; in 16:34, the one Day of Atonement in the year for all sins is declared to be an everlasting statute. The statement that Aaron (16:2), according to Yahweh’s command, did as Moses directed aptly closes the whole chapter.

Use of Number Four

The number four appears to occupy a predominating place in this chapter, as the bird’s-eye view above already shows, and as this can be traced still further in the details of the accounts. But even if this significance of the number four in the division of the chapter is accidental, although this number appears almost as a matter of course, and in Ex 35:4-40:38, in Ge 12-25, in the story of Abraham, Le 11-15, and De 12-26 naturally fall into four pericopes with four subdivisions, yet this chapter is, as far as contents are concerned, so closely connected, and so well organized as a whole, that all attempts to ascribe it to different sources, concerning which we shall speak immediately, must come to naught in view of this fact.

Place in Leviticus

At this point we first of all draw attention to the fact that Le 16 has its well-established place in the whole of the Book of Le (compare LEVITICUS). The whole book has as its purpose to regulate the dealings of the Israelites with their God, and it does this in such a way that the first part (Le 1-17) removes the hindrances that have been caused by sin. In this the ordinances with reference to the Day of Atonement (Le 16), and with reference to the significance of the blood (Le 17), constitute a natural acme and excellent conclusion, while this prepares for the positive sanctification, which is discussed in Le 18 ff. In 15:31 we find in addition a clear transition to the thoughts of Le 16, for in this passage mention is made of the uncleanness of the Israelites, which contaminates the dwelling-place of Yahweh that is in their midst.

(2) Modern Attempts to Disprove Unity of Chapter.

A large number of attempts have been made to destroy the unity of this chapter, which has been demonstrated in division (1) above. Thus Stade separates Le 16:3-10 as the original kernel from the explanatory and changing details that were added in 16:11-28. But we have already seen that 16:3-10 are the preparation for all that follows, so that these verses demand 16:11 ff as a necessary complement. Again Oort separates 16:1-4,1 1b, 14, 16, 18a, 19, 23, 24a, 25a, 29a from the rest, by using the purification of the sanctuary and the atonement of the people as the measure for this separation; but above all it is proved by Eze 45:18-20 that just these two thoughts are inseparably united. In recent times it has become the custom, following the leadership of Benzinger, to divide the text into three parts. Baentsch divides as follows:

(a) Le 16:1-4,6,12 f,34b contain a single pericope, which on the basis of the fate of the sons of Aaron, described in Le 10, determines under what circumstances Aaron alone is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies;

(b) Le 16:29-34 a contain "an older, relatively simpler law in reference to the yearly day of penitence and atonement";

(c) 16:5,7-10,11,14-28 are a "later enlargement of this ritual, with a more complicated blood rite," and above all with "the rite of the sin goat." Of these three pieces only (a) is thought to belong to the original Priest Codex, as proved especially by its reference back to Le 10; (b) is regarded as belonging to the secondary parts, because the day of repentance is not yet mentioned in Ne 8 ff; compare III, 1; at any rate the anointing of all the priests is there not yet presupposed (compare LEVITICUS); (c), however, is declared to be very late and its separate parts are regarded as having originated only after the others (thus recently also Bertholet).

It is impossible here to enter into all the minor parts eliminated by the exegetes; and in the same way we do not intend in our examination to enter into all the incorrect views found in these criticisms. We confine ourselves to the chief matter. The very foundation of the criticism is wrong. What Aaron’s sons experienced according to Le 10 could very easily have furnished a connecting link for that ritual which is introduced in Le 16:2 ff, but could never have furnished the occasion for the composition of the pericope described above (a); for Nadab and Abihu had not entered into the Holy of Holies at all. Just as little justifiable is the conclusion drawn from chapter 10, that chapter 16 originally followed immediately on chapter 10. For who could possibly have conceived the thought of inserting chapters 11-15 in an altogether unsuitable place between chapters 10 and 16 and thus have split asunder a connection so transparent? In general, the different attempts to break the unity of this chapter show how subjective and arbitrary these attempts are. They are a characteristic example of the manner in which the Priest Codex is now being further divided (compare LEVITICUS). In general, sufficient material for the positive refutation of such attempts has been given above.

II. The Significance of the Day of Atonement. 1. The Significance for Israel:



2. Significance from a Christian Standpoint:

"The Day of Atonement, the good Friday of the Old Testament"--these words express not only the highest significance of the day but also its limitations. As the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, the entire law, thus too the Day of Atonement in particular contained only the shadow of future good things, but not these things themselves (Heb 10:1), and is "like in pattern to the true" (Heb 9:24). Christ Himself entered into the holy place, which was not made with hands, namely, into heaven itself, and has now appeared before God, by once for all giving Himself as a sacrifice for the removal of sin (Heb 9:23 ff). By this act the purpose of the Old Testament sacrificial cult and its highest development, namely, the Day of Atonement, understood in its typical significance, has been fulfilled, and at the same time surpassed and thereby abrogated (compare LEVITICUS). Accordingly, our hope, too, like an anchor--(Heb 6:19), penetrates to the inner part of the veil in the higher sense of the term, i. e. to heaven.

III. On the History of the Day of Atonement. 1. The Long Silence of History:

(1) The Facts and the False Conclusions.

The Day of Atonement is stated to have been instituted in the times of Moses (Le 16:1); the ceremony takes place in the tabernacle (tent of meeting); the people are presupposed to be in the camp (Le 16:26 ff); Aaron is still the high priest. Very remarkably there is but little evidence of the observance of this prominent day in the later history of Israel. Down to the time of the Exile there is found a deep silence on this subject.



(2) The Historicity of the Day of Atonement.

Since Le 16 constitutes only one part of the Levitical legislation, the question as to the original and historical character of the day cannot be fully discussed at this place (see Leviticus). At so late a period, naturally all the data that would lead to an explanation of the origin of such a fundamental institution as the Day of Atonement are lacking. It is all the more impossible to separate Le 16 from the other priestly ordinances, because the name of the lid of the ark of covenant hakapporeth: (Ex 25:17 ff; 26:34) stands in the clearest relation to the ceremony that takes place with this ark on the Day of Atonement. The impossibility of splitting up Le 16 as is the manner of critics, or even as much as separating it from Le 11-15, has been sufficiently demonstrated above (compare under I). Against the view which forces the Priest Codex down at least to the Exile and to claim the tabernacle as the product of imagination and as a copy of the temple of Solomon (see Exodus), we have still the following to add:


2. Further Development:

The Day of Atonement, in accordance with its purpose in later times, came more and more into the foreground and was called "the great fast" or "the great day," or merely "the day." Its ritual was further enlarged and the special parts mentioned in the law were fully explained, fixed and specialized. Compare especially the tract "Yoma" in the Mish; and for the further elaborations and stories in poetry and prose on the basis of the Talmud, see, e. g. Delitzsch’s translation from Maim, Ha-yadh ha-chazaqah, in the supplement to his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1857. According to these accounts, e. g. the high priest had to be a married man. Already seven days before the beginning of the Day of Atonement he was ordered to leave his house and had to submit to a series of purifications and had to practice for the performance of the different purification ceremonies, some of which were difficult. The last night he was not allowed to sleep and had to spend his time in studying the sacred writings.

On the Day of Atonement he took five baths and ten washings. Four times he enters the Holy of Holies (with the incense), with the blood of both sin offerings, and when he brings out the utensils used with the incense he makes three confessions of sins (for himself, for himself and his house, for Israel); 10 times in all he utters the name of Yahweh; 43 times he sprinkles; in addition he must read certain sections of the Scriptures or repeat them from memory (compare also AZAZEL). When he returns home he celebrates a festival of rejoicing, because he has without harm been able to leave the sanctuary. In addition, he had performed severe physical work, and especially difficult was the manipulation of the incense. The modern estimate put on the Day of Atonement appears from the following citation of Wellhausen: "The rite and the sacrifice through the unfavorable circumstances of the times have disappeared; but it has retained the same sacred character. He who has not yet entirely broken with Judaism observes this day, no matter how indifferent he may be otherwise to old customs and festivals."