The Day of Atonement

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
"And the Lord spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the Lord, and died; "And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy-seat, which is upon the ark, that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
THE book of Leviticus seems to change its character and mode of teaching, after the 10th chapter. The sacrifices and consecration of the priesthood, which we have been considering occupy the first nine chapters. But when, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, the priesthood had proved itself an utter failure, another course of instruction is pursued by the Lord, and we have first, descriptions of unclean animals, and next, chapter upon chapter detailing various uncleannesses-leprosy, issues, and the like. It is as if the higher mode of instruction had been first adopted by God, namely, to teach His holiness and hatred to sin, through the purity, and preciousness, and value of the sacrifices; and the priests having failed thus to learn that they had to deal with a Holy God, a lower course of instruction is adopted, teaching what man is, and what the world is; filled with iniquity and uncleanness. Then follows this grand chapter of the book.
In each of the first four books of the Word of God, there occurs one striking chapter to which we instinctively turn for typical instruction, respecting the great truths of salvation. The 22 chapter of Genesis, Abraham offering up "his only begotten son," directs our thoughts to the Lamb of God. God's blessed Son, revealed to us in the Gospel by John.
The 12th of Exodus, is a foundation chapter from whence we gather the great truth of redemption by the blood, there for the first time prefigured.
This 16th of Leviticus which we are about to consider is the great chapter depicting atonement and its results. It is frequently referred to in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Whilst in the book of Numbers we have the ashes of the red heifer and the water of purification in the 19th chapter, which affords us deep lessons respecting the constant defilements we incur, and the constant need of the blood of cleansing.
God gave the directions contained in this chapter of Lev. respecting the day of atonement, after the death of Nadab and Abihu. On the very day of their consecration (elated perhaps by the high position into which they had been brought) they " took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord." chap. 10:1.
Fire had come out from before the Lord and had consumed the sacrifices upon the altar. These two eldest sons of Aaron should have taken coals of burning fire from off that altar fire which had come from the Lord. But instead of this, they put fire in their censers which was common to them, but strange to the Lord. May we not regard this as another form of Cain worship? Another warning against the unitarianism, or socinianism of the day? Cain offered an offering without the shedding of blood. His was a religion of works, though the name of the Lord was in it. His was not the worship of a false God-but it was false worship of the true God, worship which was not preceded by salvation.
Nadab and Abihu were quite correct as to censer, incense, and the holy place: but they did not recognize that it was the fire from God which had fed upon the sacrifices, and that no fragrance could come up to God from the hands even of His priests, unless through the sacrifice consumed in judgment on the altar. Christ may be owned as a true Christ. He may even be confessed with the lip as the Son of God. Prayer and worship may be conducted in His name-but unless His death be acknowledged and trusted in, as a death in the way of atonement, a death not meritorious only because of His fortitude and meekness and grace, but of unspeakable value because God laid iniquity upon Him, and he suffered at the hands of God who made His soul an offering for sin-unless this be owned, the worshipper whoever he be is offering strange fire, mingled though it be with the name of Christ.
" Our God is a consuming fire." Heb. 12:2929For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29). Some believers are wont to say that " God out of Christ is a consuming fire"-but the word says, "our God." God known in Christ is a consuming fire. We read the consuming fire of His holiness nowhere so plainly and forcibly as in the death of His own Son upon the cross. We reverence Him and serve Him with godly fear because we know His solemn judgment of sin and of ourselves as sinners, in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God upon the tree. Nadab and Abihu were devoured by the fire from the Lord, and died before the Lord, instead of living before Him, because they had neglected to observe and use the fire from before the Lord which had consumed the victim on the altar. The judgment of God must be seen poured out upon Christ as the sinner's substitute in death; or, the sinner himself will have to know and realize the fearfulness of it throughout eternity.
The words " before the Lord,'' often repeated in the chapters we have been considering, and in this 16th chapter, are solemn words. Solemn and blessed if we have everlasting life, and live and serve before Him now and forever. Solemn and terrible if we look at the judgment upon the sinner who has neglected or misused the great salvation presented in Christ, and who will receive his judgment from " before the Lord," and will be " punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power." 2 Thess. 1:8, 98In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; (2 Thessalonians 1:8‑9).
" Speak unto Aaron thy brother." This is the only occasion on which Moses was directed to speak to Aaron his brother. The Lord does not say, Aaron the high priest: indeed throughout the whole ceremony of the day of atonement the word priest does not occur. It is only mentioned at the close of the chapter, ver. 32, 33. The death of Nadab and Abihu had made manifest the insufficiency of the whole family of Levi to perpetuate any real lasting blessing. This day of atonement was the establishment of an entirely new ritual, both as regarded Aaron and his house, and the people Israel. Aaron sinks back to the mere brother of Moses. God had before spoken of him in the same way when giving directions for separating him and his sons off for the priests' office; and also for making the garments for glory and beauty in which they were to be consecrated. Ex. 28 I, 2, 4. Subsequently to this day of atonement the same expression is significantly used by the Lord when He directed Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock, (Num. 20:88Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. (Numbers 20:8);) and when by their joint failure, they proved indeed that they were brethren. Also God calls Aaron the brother of Moses, when He tells Moses that he shall die. Num. 27:1313And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. (Numbers 27:13); Dent'. 32:50. It was altogether a failing family. Like the law itself, those who had to carry it out were weak and unprofitable. Heb. 7:1818For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. (Hebrews 7:18). And this very addition to the law of another day, only the more evidenced the necessity that another priest should rise after another order, and not after the order of Aaron. Heb. 7:1111If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11).
" That he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail, before the mercy-seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat." Before this, it would appear that Aaron as the high priest was to have unrestricted access into the holy of holies. But from henceforth he could not enter there except " once every year, and then not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people." This we are told in 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), is an intimation by the Holy Ghost that the way into the holiest was not made manifest. No one had access there save the high priest, and he was forbidden to enter, save once a year; and even then his service there was of a very limited character. He could have no constant intercourse with God concerning his own necessities or those of others.
" Within the vail," (an expression thrice repeated in this chapter, is a sentence which raises in our hearts thoughts of blessed nearness, and happy confidence and fellowship with God our Father. To the high priest of those days, "within the vail," must have sounded somewhat fearfully upon the ear, since " that he die not" is twice connected with them, (ver. 2, 12, 13.)
Aaron is next directed to come into the holy place with a bullock for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt-offering. A dress also worn only on this occasion is for the first time mentioned.