The Day of Atonement.
Leviticus 15-16, Luke 9
Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. – Leviticus 15:31 ESV
Once again, we have an entire chapter dedicated to a fairly disgusting topic: bodily discharges. The level of detail given in this chapter gets a bit embarrassing at times. But the point remains the same. Uncleanness among the people of God was to be taken seriously. Many of the conditions described were abnormal and unsanitary. There are some commentators that believe some of these conditions describe a form of a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea. Yet others describe normal bodily functions such as a woman’s menstrual cycle. But we can’t lose sight of the focus of this chapter. The real point is that these conditions, whether normal or abnormal, made those who had them unclean before God. And God could not and would not allow those who were unclean to enter into His presence. Their state of uncleanness would prevent them from entering into the Tabernacle, lest they defile it with their presence. Uncleanness disqualified the individual from participating in public worship as part of the nation of Israel.
The Israelites were not the only people who suffered from these conditions. They were common among all people groups. But remember that God had set apart the people of Israel for Himself. They were to be different and distinct. They were required to live up to a higher standard. And by providing the people with rules and regulations regarding this various diseases and disorders, God was reminding them that their own humanity was a barrier to His presence. Just by living life on this planet, they were going to come into contact with someone or something unclean. Given enough time, they would contract some kind of disease or disorder. Living on a fallen, sin-racked planet was going to expose them to impurity and uncleanness. And yet their God had called them to a life of holiness, purity and righteousness.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Surrounded by sin and constantly susceptible to sickness and disease, the people of Israel were in a difficult spot. No one could remain pure all the time. Nobody could keep themselves from committing sin or breaking God’s law. Eventually, everyone would find themselves guilty of sin, unclean because of some sickness, and unable to come into God’s presence. So God provided a means by which His people could atone for their sins and their sickness. When they found themselves infected or sick, He gave them rules to follow that would keep them from defiling His Tabernacle. And because God knew that they were going to sin and would inevitably have sickness in their midst, He provided a yearly day of sacrifice that would cleanse all the sins and impurities that might have gone unconfessed and unaccounted for throughout the rest of the year. The Day of Atonement was a once-a-year, once-and-for-all opportunity for the people of Israel to have their sins and sicknesses atoned for. Chapter 16 of Leviticus outlines the exact order of the events required for atonement to take place. The sequence and details were non-optional and non-negotiable. It had to be done God’s way. In order to come into God’s presence on behalf of the people, Aaron, as the high priest, had to atone for his own sins first. He had to make atonement for the sins of the people. He had to cleanse and consecrate the altar from the sins of the people of Israel. God required the Aaron, “make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins” (Leviticus 16:33-34 ESV). The amazing thing about this day is that it provided cleansing and forgiveness for the people for all the sins they had committed, both intentionally and unintentionally (Hebrews 9:7) that entire year. And it was done on their behalf. They didn’t bring the sacrifice. It was provided for them.
What does this passage reveal about man?
No matter how hard we try, we can’t keep from sinning. Now matter how much we try to keep from getting sick, it inevitably happens. Disobedience and disease have been a part of the human condition ever since the Fall. And just as in the days of Moses and the people of Israel, no one can ever stand in God’s presence totally pure and completely whole, physically or spiritually. It’s impossible. So in the Old Testament, God provided the Day of Atonement. And one of the unique features of that day was the scapegoat. This was one of two goats that were used in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. One goat was presented was slaughtered and presented as a sin offering. But the second goat was not killed. Instead, Aaron would “lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:21 ESV). Then that goat was led away into the wilderness where it was left alone to die. The goat that was killed was a visual reminder to the Israelites that for atonement to take place, there had to be judgment on their sin that resulted in death. The goat that was released or “escaped” into the wilderness carrying the guilt of their sins was to be a reminder that their guilt had been removed from their midst. It reminds me of the words of Psalm 103: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12 ESV). Their sins had been paid for and their guilt removed. And God did it for them.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Over in the book of Luke, we read the words of Jesus as He tries to tell His disciples what is going to happen to Him once He gets to Jerusalem. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22 ESV). He is attempting to prepare them for the inevitable and unavoidable reality of His death. What they don’t realize is that the death of Jesus was the plan of God – from the beginning. He was to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of man. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:26-28 ESV). Jesus had to die. He had to be the one to take on our sin and bear our guilt. He became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of man. He did for me what I could never have done for myself. He paid for sins I have committed willingly, knowingly and rebelliously. But He also paid for sins I have committed unwittingly and ignorantly.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim,
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
Father, You provided a way to atone for my sin and sickness. You made it possible for me to be restored to a right relationship with You, not because of me, but in spite of me. You gave Your Son to die in my place. You have forgiven my sin and removed my guilt – as far as the east is from the west. Let me live in the joy of that reality. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men