by Pastor David Groendyk
This is the most central chapter in the book of Leviticus. It describes the Day of Atonement. Once a year, the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and then offer a few sacrifices that would make atonement for all of Israel’s sin over the course of that year (v. 34).
The crux of this yearly ritual is the two goats (v. 8), each of which symbolizes a different aspect of atonement. The first goat is a sin offering offered on behalf of the nation (vv. 15–19). This is the same kind of offering that we read about in chapter 4. God receives this sacrifice, and his wrath and justice are satisfied in the death of the animal. The people of Israel are forgiven, cleansed, and consecrated through this sacrifice. The second goat is cast out alive into the wilderness after the high priest lays his hands on it (vv. 20–22). That symbolic act transferred all the guilt of the people onto the goat. It was quite literally a scapegoat; it took the blame for the people. Unlike the first goat that paid the penalty of the sin, this second goat symbolically took away the sin of the people with it when it wandered off into the wilderness. The guilt of the sin of the people was removed from their midst. Through both of these goats, the people were both forgiven of their sin (first goat) and had their sin taken away (second goat). What a glorious promise for Israel, especially after having seen what God’s justice does to rebel sinners (v. 1)!
As great a promise as that was, it was always meant to point forward to something else. Hebrews 9:7–14 describes this Day of Atonement and how imperfect and ineffectual it was. Although God was gracious in forgiving the people of their sin, the bulls and goats that were used were nothing more than pictures. They were only animals! How could they actually take away the people’s sins? But when Christ came, he offered himself as a sacrifice and sprinkled his own perfect, sanctifying blood on us. He entered not into a manmade building but into heaven itself to stand in God’s presence and plead on our behalf (Heb. 9:24). Christ’s blood is so much more of a greater sacrifice than whatever Aaron did! More than that, Christ himself was so much more of a greater high priest than Aaron, because Christ didn’t have offer a sacrifice to first cleanse himself (Heb. 9:25; Lev. 16:11). His perfection meant that his sacrifice was completely effectual to take away our sin and grant us forgiveness. Any human attempts at taking away sin are worthless. A perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice are the only hope of true forgiveness. Have you understood your need to have a perfect, divine sacrifice made in your place to take away your sin? Are there ways in which you still believe you can make up your sin to God? Any attempt to atone for yourself negates all the work that Christ did for you. Rest fully in the work of your perfect Savior! There is nothing left for you to do but to place your trust in him.