Chapter 17.

THE GREAT DAY OF ATONEMENT
Lev. 16
The opening verse of this chapter carries us back to the history in chapter x., where we learn the sin of the two sons of Aaron, for which they died. They had been appointed priests, and part of their official duty was to burn incense. It was the taking of "strange fire" for this purpose, which constituted their sin. God's work must be done in God's way; not by other means than He directs, however suitable such might seem to us. What a lesson this should be to the workers of to-day. Aaron's sons disregarded God's distinction of fires; and it seems that chapters 11-15 are inserted to teach many more distinctions, even all through creation—for why? God's lessons must be learned. What sorrow and loss we should save ourselves by simple obedience.
The story is resumed in Lev. 16, by a clear prohibition laid on Aaron and his sons, not to enter "the holy within the veil," save once a year with the ceremonies the chapter describes.
Note that, having in verse 2 spoken of the most holy as "the holy within the veil," it is called through the rest of the chapter "the holy;" save in verse 33, where it is called "the holy sanctuary.”
The eastern division of the building usually called "the holy" is in this chapter called "the tabernacle of the congregation." The court is once named in verse 24 as "holy place," though it may perhaps be considered that "the altar" stands for the third part of the holy precincts.
It is the 29th and 34th verses which make the day a yearly one. On the tenth day of the seventh month Jehovah would "appear in the cloud on the mercy seat.”
Lev. 16:33Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. (Leviticus 16:3) appoints sacrifice; verse 4 the dress of the high priest. The precedence suggests the "Lamb foreordained," prior to His manifestation on earth, as dressed. The dress itself is not that of the garments of glory and beauty, but one of plain linen. He is to deal with sins before God, and suitably too, to God's glory, but His own work must be undertaken in a way and dress corresponding to His position, that of humility and of purity, not that of honor and display.
Two sets of sacrifices are brought, one for the whole priestly family, and one for the congregation at large. The priestly family is usually a figure of the church, and for these, the heavenly people, animals of the fullest energy are taken, a bullock and a ram. For the nation, an earthly people, two kids of the goats are the sin offering (and these are separated by lot, one for Jehovah, and the other to be scapegoat), with a ram for a burnt offering.
When these preliminaries are completed, the first great act of the day, verse 11, is the killing of the bullock, the priestly sin offering. This is the public expression, in the open view of those assembled, of the need of death before Aaron, a man, can be admitted to the immediate presence of God. The propitiation of blood-shedding must precede, and be the real ground of entrance within the veil. There is no need to repeat here the details of a sacrifice for sin, but the necessity for death, as the only basis of blessing, cannot be too strongly insisted upon.
Aaron, however, does not at once carry the blood of the victim inside; apart from it he could not enter, Heb. 9:77But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: (Hebrews 9:7); it must of necessity be shed first; but, verses 12, 13, he is next to take a censer of coals of fire and sweet incense beaten small, and carry them within the veil. We have already seen the meaning of these: Christ in the graces of His person, and the fire, the judgment of God. When within the veil, the incense is to be put upon the fire, "that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat, that he die not.”
Now Jehovah appears, verse 2, "in the cloud;" the expression of His divine glory, as we have previously seen. Sin both offends righteousness and excludes glory. But the Creator made man upright, and also formed him a vessel for His own glory. If atonement, propitiation, repair, is to be made, it must not only satisfy the throne in righteousness, i.e., meet the cherubim between which Jehovah appears, but a glory also must be brought to the Divine Majesty. Indeed, this latter must be the primary work; it is the higher question; a cloud must be found to meet God's cloud. Nothing lower than a cloud will do. Glory alone responds to glory. The most accurate justice is altogether short of a cloud. "When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do," Luke 17:1010So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:10). Righteousness accomplished settles claims arising from unrighteousness. But glory—the cloud—is beyond that sphere. It takes a cloud to meet a cloud, and nothing but cloud is enough.
Who can furnish this? Can the creation any way supply it to meet our default of it? No. All the rest of creation together can, at best, but fill up the measure of its own responsibility to God. It can have no surplus. How shall the void be filled—the lack supplied? Incense, the excellence of the incarnate Son of God, the unmeasured sweetness of His worth; this alone, burnt, bowed under judgment in death vicariously, can produce the needed cloud.
Our Lord Jesus sought the glory of Him that sent Him, sought it in His life, and sought it in His death; God was glorified in Him upon the cross, just as in the figure of Lev. 16, the cloud of incense, out from fire, covered the mercy seat where Jehovah appeared in His cloud.
It is worth special notice that the words, "that he die not," are connected in verse 13, with the burning of the incense. They are not used in connection with the blood memorial, but only with the incense cloud. Clearly this assures us of the true value of the cloud; it can be nothing less than we have been seeing, for while it has no life itself, yet it secures the life of Aaron. It is not the ransom of life, but it is greater and includes the less.
The figure indeed goes deeper than that, for as the cloud covers the mercy seat and Aaron is standing on the other side of it, i.e., behind it as seen from the mercy seat, he is covered by the cloud before Jehovah, seen in it, and only so seen.
The next action by the high priest is to take of the bullock's blood, and sprinkle it on the front of the mercy seat, and seven times before the mercy seat.
This is both witness to, and memorial of, the death of the sacrifice. "Upon the mercy seat" first, that is, in the view of the cherubim, whose faces look towards the mercy seat, and also blood lies on gold.
Blood tells of life surrendered, death. Gold tells of the Divine in worthiness and excellency. Two more absolute opposites cannot be found. The extremist penalty known on earth, and the highest standard of value; these representing to us the death of the Lamb of God under judgment, recorded on the throne in the holiest; evidence laid up under God's eye of accomplished atonement, by blood once sprinkled on the symbol of God's own nature, and that in the holy of holies.
What a fact. It is real in Christ.
The Blood Is on the Gold
Sprinkled once, is enough for God; no repetition is wanted for Him, but before the mercy seat, it would seem on the ground, there is a sevenfold sprinkling. Towards man, as on his behalf and for his undoubting satisfaction, repeat the sprinkling seven times. Let man know and be assured that as the truth of his guilt is indisputable, so is the mercy of the God he offended; as righteousness was satisfied at the cross, so peace is declared (not a war cry), for these have kissed each other, Psa. 85:1010Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10). Because the blood is on the gold testifying God satisfied, blood is thereafter on the ground, and earth is to have the knowledge and blessing of Christ's one obedience unto death. The atonement made to God should produce the reconciling of the world.
The Blood Is on the Gold
and angels, and living ones, and elders, in their innumerable hosts, cry "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
The Blood Is on the Earth
With what response, let each say.
Has the atonement produced its blessed fruit, the reconciliation? If not, why not?
Aaron then kills the nation's in offering, the goat chosen by lot for Jehovah, and deals similarly with its blood.
Some difficulty has been raised about verse 16, "And he shall make an atonement for the holy, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins, and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness." Why "uncleanness"? All evil is unclean and defiling. Whatever deals with it is unclean by contact, as Lev. 15:4-124Every bed, whereon he lieth that hath the issue, is unclean: and every thing, whereon he sitteth, shall be unclean. 5And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 6And he that sitteth on any thing whereon he sat that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 7And he that toucheth the flesh of him that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 8And if he that hath the issue spit upon him that is clean; then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 9And what saddle soever he rideth upon that hath the issue shall be unclean. 10And whosoever toucheth any thing that was under him shall be unclean until the even: and he that beareth any of those things shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 11And whomsoever he toucheth that hath the issue, and hath not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. 12And the vessel of earth, that he toucheth which hath the issue, shall be broken: and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water. (Leviticus 15:4‑12), Num. 19:7, 8, 107Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even. 8And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even. (Numbers 19:7‑8)
10And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever. (Numbers 19:10)
, etc. show. And uncleanness needs both cleansing and atonement. The building could not be guilty, but it did get unclean, by reason of "their transgressions in all their sins," for unclean Israel frequented the tabernacle, and the very dealing with their uncleanness defiled' that which was holy. Atonement was needed because uncleanness had been suffered.
Verse 17, Aaron must be alone for this service.
"Alone He bare the cross,
Alone its grief sustained.”
Even His disciples forsook Him and fled; while, deeper far, none could share the burden of atoning work, no one was competent to assist in that, it was His exclusively.
The altar named in verse 18 appears to be the brazen altar, for there the uncleanness of the children of Israel would require a cleansing and an atonement which would not otherwise be provided for. Some have thought it to refer to the golden altar, because in Ex. 30:1010And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord. (Exodus 30:10) we learn that the "blood of the sin offering of atonements" was to be put on the horns of that altar yearly. This appointment is not named in Lev. 16 though doubtless it was carried out; the latter half of verse 16 would seem to include it, as the golden altar stood there. There is an additional item in verse 19, the sprinkling of the blood on the altar itself.
Thus there would be seven distinct actions with the blood of the sin offering that day.
1. On the mercy seat, verse 14.
2. Before the mercy seat, verse 14.
5. On the horns of the brazen altar, verse 18.
6. On the brazen altar itself, verse 19.
The guilt of sin and the defilement of sin for the year are thus fully dealt with by blood in all the spheres of priestly action, as well as in the holiest of all.
Read verse 20, "And when he hath made an end of making atonement for the holy," etc.
God has been now glorified according to His nature, and been justified in government by incense and by blood. The claims of righteousness and of purity are all settled.
Then let the nation know it.
Aaron is now to "lay both his hands on the head of the live goat," which is part of the national sin offering, "and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”
What a demonstration to all the people. Gathered as they would be in the center of the camp, they see the fit man lead out the goat from "holy place," and going through the thick of them with their sins on its head, for all are acquainted with the ceremony, the goat and sins together are taken off never to return.
We read in Heb. 10:33But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. (Hebrews 10:3) "But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins every year." For the sins which had been committed, and sacrifices offered for them through the past 12 months, were remembered on the Day of Atonement and confessed on the goat's head. Only on that day was blood carried in to the mercy seat, and only on that day was a scapegoat led out into the wilderness.
For us, all is in entire contrast to this; "once purged," the worshipper has "no more conscience of sins." There is no recall of them to mind, but he knows them absolutely gone, gone forever, as surely as Israel knew their 12 months' pardon.
In the figure God had been fully met, and His immediate response was: Let the nation know.
In the cross of Christ we have the absolute reality of perfect sacrifice, perfect atonement, perfect glory to God, all attested to us by His Holy Spirit, and yet how many there are who think it presumptuous to speak of a present knowledge of forgiveness. Israel knew by a goat; shall we not know by the Lord Jesus Christ?
The whole question of guilt being thus cleared, Aaron puts off his garments, bathes himself, puts on his proper garments of glory and beauty as usual, and offers his and the people's burnt offerings.
This was the worship offering so far as sacrifices could go; its smell of delight was rendered to God, as the response of their hearts to His pardoning mercy. The fat of' the sin offering was added to it.
The carcasses of the two sin offerings were next burnt outside the camp, for the worshippers, in their joy, will be but too glad to see the judgment of sin in the flesh completed.
Observe, too, that the high priest bathed when he had finished with sins, for dealing with them, however right the dealing, defiled him. The "fit man" who had led out the scapegoat, washed his clothes and bathed his person, for he had become defiled, though his work was in itself right. He that burned the sin offering carcasses was also to wash his clothes and bathe his flesh in water, for he had been in contact with the evil thing, though only doing his duty therein.
What a triple lesson for us. How distinct the difference between guilt and defilement. Yet neither can be allowed to go on un-judged and un-removed.
It has often been asked, why was there no scape-bullock? Surely priests, instructed men in God's mind, ought not to need such an assurance of the effect of their sin offering; and as figures of God's heavenly people, they are treated as becomes faith. The nation is treated as an earthly people, and has a material witness before its eyes.