“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:29-30).
We who seek to follow God desire His presence to be with us at all times. We want to be able to say as did David, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). However, how can God, who is perfect and holy, dwell among people who are not and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23)?
The Old Testament feast of the Day of Atonement reminds us of how God made this possible. The word “atonement” is from a Hebrew word which means, “to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation”. On this Day of Atonement God showed how His people’s sins could be covered or purged so that they could be reconciled to God and He could dwell and be “At-One” with them.
In ancient Israel, God’s presence among the Israelites was represented by the Tabernacle which dwelt in the midst of their camp (Exodus 40:33-38). This Tabernacle contained 2 parts, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place dwelt the Ark of the Covenant above which was the Mercy Seat where God said “there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you…” (Exodus 25:22). Thus, God’s presence would be in Israel’s midst. But how could God who was perfect and holy dwell among this nation who struggled so much with sin?
As the opening verses above indicate (Leviticus 16:29-30), once a year, on the 10th day of the 7th month, a special Day of Atonement was observed. On this day, the High Priest sacrificed a bull as a sin offering for his own sins. After this, he took 2 goats and presented them at the door of the Tabernacle with a view of dealing with the sins of God’s people as a whole. One goat would be slain as a sin offering for the people and its blood brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the sins of Israel (Leviticus 16:15-19). The other goat, the scapegoat, was then presented before God at the tabernacle of meeting. The High Priest would confess over this goat the sins of the children of Israel. This goat would then be sent far away and released in the wilderness, thus to bear the sins of Israel far from the presence of God (Leviticus 16:20-22). Thus God’s presence could be among the Israelites because their sins had been atoned for by the blood of the one goat and their sins removed far away from God’s presence by being borne by the scapegoat in the wilderness!
As I read this, I marvel at the mercy, grace, and justice of God. He made these provisions for Israel looking forward to the time when Christ would come and be sacrificed for the sins of all mankind to satisfy the justice of God. Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). He both bore our iniquities and atoned for our sins by His one sacrifice of Himself. Today, I rejoice that God has provided a way for me to have my sins atoned for by the sacrifice of His Son so that I might be reconciled to Him and enjoy His presence in my life!
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).