It may sound strange, and yet it is true, that the clearest testimony to 'the weakness
and unprofitableness' 'of the commandment' is that given by 'the commandment' itself. The
Levitical arrangements for the removal of sin bear on their forefront, as it were, this
inscription: 'The law made nothing perfect'— neither a perfect mediatorship in the
priesthood, nor a perfect 'atonement' in the sacrifices, nor yet a perfect forgiveness as
the result of both. 'For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very
image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year
continually make the comers thereunto perfect' (Heb 10:1). And this appears, first,
from the continual recurrence and the multiplicity of these sacrifices, which are intended
the one to supplement the other, and yet always leave something to be still supplemented;
and, secondly, from the broad fact that, in general, 'it is not possible that the
blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins' (Heb 10:4). It is therefore evident
that the Levitical dispensation, being stamped with imperfectness alike in the means which
it employed for the 'taking away' of sin, and in the results which it obtained by these
means, declared itself, like John the Baptist, only a 'forerunner,' the breaker up and
preparer of the way— the satisfying, but, on the contrary, the calling forth and 'the
bringing in of a better hope' (Heb 7:19; see marginal rendering).
The Day of Atonement
As might have been expected, this 'weakness and unprofitableness of the commandment'
became most apparent in the services of the day in which the Old Testament provision for
pardon and acceptance attained, so to speak, its climax. On the Day of Atonement,
not ordinary priests, but the high-priest alone officiated, and that not in his
ordinary dress, nor yet in that of the ordinary priesthood, but in one peculiar to the
day, and peculiarly expressive of purity. The worshippers also appeared in circumstances
different from those on any other occasion, since they were to fast and to 'afflict their
souls'; the day itself was to be 'a Sabbath of Sabbatism' (rendered 'Sabbath of rest' in
Authorised Version), while its central services consisted of a series of grand expiatory
sacrifices, unique in their character, purpose, and results, as described in these words:
'He shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the
tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the
priests, and for all the people of the congregation' (Lev 16:33). But even the need of
such a Day of Atonement, after the daily offerings, the various festive sacrifices, and
the private and public sin-offerings all the year round, showed the insufficiency of all
such sacrifices, while the very offerings of the Day of Atonement proclaimed themselves to
be only temporary and provisional, 'imposed until the time of reformation.' We specially
allude here to the mysterious appearance of the so-called 'scape-goat,' of which we shall,
in the sequel, have to give an account differing from that of previous writers.
The names 'Day of Atonement,' or in the Talmud, which devotes to it a special tractate,
simply 'the day' (perhaps also in Hebrews 7:27 *), and in the Book of Acts 'the
fast' (Acts 27:9), sufficiently designate its general object.
* In that case we should translate Hebrews 7:27, 'Who needeth not on
each day (viz. of atonement), as those high-priests, to offer up his sacrifices,' etc.
It took place on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri), that is,
symbolically, when the sacred or Sabbath of months had just attained its completeness. Nor
must we overlook the position of that day relatively to the other festivals. The seventh
or sabbatical month closed the festive cycle, the Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th of that
month being the last in the year. But, as already stated, before that grand festival of
harvesting and thanksgiving Israel must, as a nation, be reconciled unto God, for only a
people at peace with God might rejoice before Him in the blessing with which He had
crowned the year. And the import of the Day of Atonement, as preceding the Feast of
Tabernacles, becomes only more striking, when we remember how that feast of harvesting
prefigured the final ingathering of all nations. In connection with this point it may also
be well to remember that the Jubilee Year was always proclaimed on the Day of Atonement
(Lev 25:9). *
* According to the Jewish view, it was also the day on which Adam had
both sinned and repented; that on which Abraham was circumcised; and that on which Moses
returned from the mount and made atonement for the sin of the golden calf.
The Teaching of Scripture about the Day
In briefly reviewing the Divine ordinances about this day (Lev 16; 23:26-32; Num
29:11), we find that only on that one day in every year the high-priest was allowed to go
into the Most Holy Place, and then arrayed in a peculiar white dress, which differed from
that of the ordinary priests, in that its girdle also was white, and not of the Temple
colours, while 'the bonnet' was of the same shape, though not the same material as 'the
mitre,' which the high-priest ordinarily wore. The simple white of his array, in
distinction to the 'golden garments' which he otherwise wore, pointed to the fact that on
that day the high-priest appeared, not 'as the bridegroom of Jehovah,' but as bearing in
his official capacity the emblem of that perfect purity which was sought by the expiations
of that day. Thus in the prophecies of Zechariah the removal of Joshua's 'filthy garments'
and the clothing him with 'change of raiment,' symbolically denoted—'I have caused thine
iniquity to pass from thee' (Zech 3:3,4). Similarly those who stand nearest to God are
always described as arrayed 'in white' (see Eze 9:2, etc.; Dan 10:5; 12:6). And because
these were emphatically 'the holy garments,' 'therefore' the high-priest had to 'wash his
flesh in water, and so put them on' (Lev 16:4), that is, he was not merely to wash his
hands and feet, as before ordinary ministrations, but to bathe his whole body.
From Numbers 29:7-11 it appears that the offerings on the Day of Atonement were really
of a threefold kind—'the continual burnt-offering,' that is, the daily morning and
evening sacrifices, with their meat- and drink-offerings; the festive sacrifices of the
day, consisting for the high-priest and the priesthood, of 'a ram for a burnt-offering'
(Lev 16:3), and for the people of one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first
year (with their meat-offerings) for a burnt-sacrifice, and one kid of the goats for a
sin-offering; and, thirdly, and chiefly, the peculiar expiatory sacrifices of the day,
which were a young bullock as a sin-offering for the high-priest, his house, and
the sons of Aaron, and another sin-offering for the people, consisting of two
goats, one of which was to be killed and its blood sprinkled, as directed, while the other
was to be sent away into the wilderness, bearing 'all the iniquities of the children of
Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins' which had been confessed 'over
him,' and laid upon him by the high-priest. Before proceeding further, we note the
following as the order of these sacrifices—, the ordinary morning sacrifice;
next the expiatory sacrifices for the high-priest, the priesthood, and the people (one
bullock, and one of the two goats, the other being the so-called scape-goat); then the
festive burnt-offerings of the priests and the people (Num 29:7-11), and with them another
sin-offering; and, lastly, the ordinary evening sacrifice, being, as Maimonides observes,
in all fifteen sacrificial animals. According to Jewish tradition, the whole of the
services of that day were performed by the high-priest himself, of course with the
assistance of others, for which purpose more than 500 priests were said to have been
employed. Of course, if the Day of Atonement fell on a Sabbath, besides all these, the
ordinary Sabbath sacrifices were also offered. On a principle previously explained, the
high-priest purchased from his own funds the sacrifices brought for himself and his house,
the priesthood, however, contributing, in order to make them sharers in the offering,
while the public sacrifices for the whole people were paid for from the Temple treasury.
Only while officiating in the distinctly expiatory services of the day did the high-priest
wear his 'linen garments'; in all the others he was arrayed in his 'golden vestments.'
This necessitated a frequent change of dress, and before each he bathed his whole body.
All this will be best understood by a more detailed account of the order of service, as
given in the Scriptures and by tradition.
The Duties of the High-priest
Seven days before the Day of Atonement the high-priest left his own house in Jerusalem,
and took up his abode in his chambers in the Temple. A substitute was appointed for him,
in case he should die or become Levitically unfit for his duties. Rabbinical
punctiliousness went so far as to have him twice sprinkled with the ashes of the red
heifer— the 3rd and the 7th day of his week of separation— case he had unwittingly
to himself, been defiled by a dead body (Num 19:13). *
* May not the 'sprinkling of the ashes of an heifer' in Hebrews 9:13
refer to this? The whole section bears on the Day of Atonement.
During the whole of that week, also, he had to practise the various priestly rites,
such as sprinkling the blood, burning the incense, lighting the lamp, offering the daily
sacrifice, etc. For, as already stated, every part of that day's services devolved on the
high-priest, and he must not commit any mistake. Some of the elders of the Sanhedrim were
appointed to see to it, that the high-priest fully understood, and knew the meaning of the
service, otherwise they were to instruct him in it. On the eve of the Day of Atonement the
various sacrifices were brought before him, that there might be nothing strange about the
services of the morrow. Finally, they bound him by a solemn oath not to change anything in
the rites of the day. This was chiefly for fear of the Sadducean notion, that the incense
should be lighted before the high-priest actually entered into the Most Holy Place;
while the Pharisees held that this was to be done only within the Most Holy Place itself.
* The only interesting point here is the Scriptural argument on which
the Sadducees based their view. They appealed to Leviticus 16:2, and explained the
expression, 'I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat,' in a rationalistic sense as
applying to the cloud of incense, not to that of the Divine Presence, while the Pharisees
appealed to verse 13.
The evening meal of the high-priest before the great day was to be scanty. All night
long he was to be hearing and expounding the Holy Scriptures, or otherwise kept employed,
so that he might not fall asleep (for special Levitical reasons). At midnight the lot was
cast for removing the ashes and preparing the altar; and to distinguish the Day of
Atonement from all others, four, instead of the usual three, fires were arranged on
the great altar of burnt-offering.
The Morning Service
The services of the day began with the first streak of morning light. Already the
people had been admitted into the sanctuary. So jealous were they of any innovation or
alteration, that only a linen cloth excluded the high-priest from public view, when, each
time before changing his garments, he bathed— in the ordinary place of the priests,
but in one specially set apart for his use. Altogether he changed his raiments and washed
his whole body five times on that day, * and his hands and feet ten times.
* In case of age or infirmity, the bath was allowed to be heated, either
by adding warm water, or by putting hot irons into it.
** The high-priest did not on that day wash in the ordinary laver, but in a golden
vessel specially provided for the purpose.
When the first dawn of morning was announced in the usual manner, the high-priest put
off his ordinary (layman's) dress, bathed, put on his golden vestments, washed his hands
and feet, and proceeded to perform all the principal parts of the ordinary morning
service. Tradition has it, that immediately after that, he offered certain parts of the
burnt-sacrifices for the day, viz. the bullock and the seven lambs, reserving his own ram
and that of the people, as well as the sin-offering of a kid of the goats (Num 29:8-11),
till after the special expiatory sacrifices of the day had been brought. But the text of
Leviticus 16:24 is entirely against this view, and shows that the whole of the
burnt-offerings and the festive sin-offering were brought after the expiatory
services. Considering the relation between these services and sacrifices, this might, at
any rate, have been expected, since a burnt-offering could only be acceptable after,
not before, expiation.
The morning service finished, the high-priest washed his hands and feet, put off his
golden vestments, bathed, put on his 'linen garments,' again washed his hands and feet,
and proceeded to the peculiar part of the day's services. The bullock for his sin-offering
stood between the Temple-porch and the altar. It was placed towards the south, but the
high-priest, who stood facing the east (that is, the worshippers), turned the head of the
sacrifice towards the west (that is, to face the sanctuary). He then laid both his hands
upon the head of the bullock, and confessed as follows:—'Ah, JEHOVAH! I have committed
iniquity; I have transgressed; I have sinned— and my house. Oh, then, JEHOVAH, I entreat
Thee, cover over (atone for, let there be atonement for) the iniquities, the
transgressions, and the sins which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before Thee,
I and my house— as it is written in the law of Moses, Thy servant: "For, on that
day will He cover over (atone) for you to make you clean; from all your transgressions
before JEHOVAH ye shall be cleansed."' It will be noticed that in this solemn
confession the name JEHOVAH occurred three times. Other three times was it pronounced in
the confession which the high-priest made over the same bullock for the priesthood; a
seventh time was it uttered when he cast the lot as to which of the two goats was to be
'for JEHOVAH'; and once again he spoke it three times in the confession over the so-called
'scape-goat' which bore the sins of the people. All these ten times the high-priest
pronounced the very name of JEHOVAH, and, as he spoke it, those who stood near cast
themselves with their faces on the ground, while the multitude responded: 'Blessed be the
Name; the glory of His kingdom is for ever and ever' (in support of this benediction,
reference is made to Deut 32:3). Formerly it had been the practice to pronounce the
so-called 'Ineffable Name' distinctly, but afterwards, when some attempted to make use of
it for magical purposes, it was spoken with bated breath, and, as one relates (Rabbi
Tryphon in the Jerus. Talm.) * who had stood among the priests in the Temple and
listened with rapt attention to catch the mysterious name, it was lost amidst the sound of
the priests' instruments, as they accompanied the benediction of the people.
* Possibly some readers may not know that the Jews never pronounce the
word Jehovah, but always substitute for it 'Lord' (printed in capitals in the
Authorised Version). Indeed, the right pronunciation of the word has been lost, and is
matter of dispute, all that we have in the Hebrew being the letters I. H. V. H.—
the so-called tetragrammaton, or 'four-lettered word.'
Choosing the Scape-goat
The first part of the expiatory service— for the priesthood— taken place close
to the Holy Place, between the porch and the altar. The next was performed close to the
worshipping people. In the eastern part of the Court of Priests, that is, close to the
worshippers, and on the north side of it, stood an urn, called Calpi, in which were
two lots of the same shape, size, and material— the second Temple they were of gold;
the one bearing the inscription 'la-JEHOVAH,' for Jehovah, the other 'la-Azazel,' for
Azazel, leaving the expression (Lev 16:8,10,26) (rendered 'scape-goat' in the Authorised
Version) for the present untranslated. These two goats had been placed with their backs to
the people and their faces towards the sanctuary (westwards). The high-priest now faced
the people, as, standing between his substitute (at his right hand) and the head of the
course on ministry (on his left hand), he shook the urn, thrust his two hands into it, and
at the same time drew the two lots, laying one on the head of each goat. Popularly it was
deemed of good augury if the right-hand lot had fallen 'for Jehovah.' The two goats,
however, must be altogether alike in look, size, and value; indeed, so earnestly was it
sought to carry out the idea that these two formed parts of one and the same sacrifice,
that it was arranged they should, if possible, even be purchased at the same time. The
importance of this view will afterwards be explained.
The Goat Shown to the People
The lot having designated each of the two goats, the high-priest tied a tongue-shaped
piece of scarlet cloth to the horn of the goat for Azazel— so-called 'scape-goat'—
another round the throat of the goat for Jehovah, which was to be slain. The goat that was
to be sent forth was now turned round towards the people, and stood facing them, waiting,
as it were, till their sins should be laid on him, and he would carry them forth into 'a
land not inhabited.' Assuredly a more marked type of Christ could not be conceived, as He
was brought forth by Pilate and stood before the people, just as He was about to be led
forth, bearing the iniquity of the people. And, as if to add to the significance of the
rite, tradition has it that when the sacrifice was fully accepted the scarlet mark which
the scape-goat had borne became white, to symbolise the gracious promise in Isaiah 1:18;
but it adds that this miracle did not take place for forty years before the destruction of
The Confession of Sin and the Sacrifice
With this presentation of the scape-goat before the people commenced the third and most
solemn part of the expiatory services of the day. The high-priest now once more returned
towards the sanctuary, and a second time laid his two hands on the bullock, which still
stood between the porch and the altar, to confess over him, not only as before, his own
and his household's sins, but also those of the priesthood. The formula used was precisely
the same as before, with the addition of the words, 'the seed of Aaron, Thy holy people,'
both in the confession and in the petition for atonement. Then the high-priest killed the
bullock, caught up his blood in a vessel, and gave it to an attendant to keep it stirring,
lest it should coagulate. Advancing to the altar of burnt-offering, he next filled the
censer with burning coals, and then ranged a handful of frankincense in the dish destined
to hold it. Ordinarily, everything brought in actual ministry unto God must be carried in
the right hand— the incense in the right and the censer in the left. But on this
occasion, as the censer for the Day of Atonement was larger and heavier than usual, the
high-priest was allowed to reverse the common order. Every eye was strained towards the
sanctuary as, slowly bearing the censer and the incense, the figure of the white-robed
high-priest was seen to disappear within the Holy Place. After that nothing further could
be seen of his movements.
The curtain of the Most Holy Place was folded back, and the high-priest stood alone and
separated from all the people in the awful gloom of the Holiest of All, only lit up by the
red glow of the coals in the priest's censer. In the first Temple the ark of God had stood
there with the 'mercy-seat' over-shadowing it; above it, the visible presence of Jehovah
in the cloud of the Shechinah, and on either side the outspread wings of the
cherubim; and the high-priest had placed the censer between the staves of the ark. But in
the Temple of Herod there was neither Shechinah nor ark— was empty; and the
high-priest rested his censer on a large stone, called the 'foundation-stone.' He now most
carefully emptied the incense into his hand, and threw it on the coals of the censer, as
far from himself as possible, and so waited till the smoke had filled the Most Holy Place.
Then, retreating backwards, he prayed outside the veil as follows: * 'May it please Thee,
O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that neither this day nor during this year any
captivity come upon us. Yet, if captivity befall us this day or this year, let it be to a
place where the law is cultivated. May it please Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our
fathers, that want come not upon us, either this day or this year. But if want visit us
this day or this year, let it be due to the liberality of our charitable deeds. May it
please Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that this year may be a year of
cheapness, of fulness, of intercourse and trade; a year with abundance of rain, of
sunshine, and of dew; one in which Thy people Israel shall not require assistance one from
another. And listen not to the prayers of those who are about to set out on a journey. **
And as to Thy people Israel, may no enemy exalt himself against them. May it please Thee,
O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that the houses of the men of Saron may not
become their graves.' *** The high-priest was not to prolong this prayer, lest his
protracted absence might fill the people with fears for his safety.
* We give the prayer in its simplest form from the Talmud. But we cannot
help feeling that its form savours of later than Temple-times. Probably only its
substance dates from those days, and each high-priest may have been at liberty to
formulate it according to his own views.
** Who might pray against the fall of rain. It must be remembered that the autumn
rains, on which the fruitfulness of the land depended, were just due.
*** This on account of the situation of that valley, which was threatened either by
sudden floods or by dangerous landslips.
The Sprinkling of the Blood
While the incense was offering in the Most Holy Place the people withdrew from
proximity to it, and worshipped in silence. At last the people saw the high-priest
emerging from the sanctuary, and they knew that the service had been accepted. Rapidly he
took from the attendant, who had kept it stirring, the blood of the bullock. Once more he
entered into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkled with his finger once upwards, towards
where the mercy-seat had been, and seven times downwards, counting as he did so : 'Once'
(upwards), 'once and once' (downwards), 'once and twice' and so on to 'once and seven
times,' always repeating the word 'once,' which referred to the upwards sprinkling, so as
to prevent any mistake. Coming out from the Most Holy Place, the high-priest now deposited
the bowl with the blood before the veil. Then he killed the goat set apart for Jehovah,
and, entering the Most Holy Place a third time, sprinkled as before, once upwards and
seven times downwards, and again deposited the bowl with the blood of the goat on a second
golden stand before the veil. Taking up the bowl with the bullock's blood, he next
sprinkled once upwards and seven times downwards towards the veil, outside the Most Holy
Place, and then did the same with the blood of the goat. Finally, pouring the blood of the
bullock into the bowl which contained that of the goat, and again the mixture of the two
into that which had held the blood of the bullock, so as thoroughly to commingle the two,
he sprinkled each of the horns of the altar of incense, and then, making a clear place on
the altar, seven times the top of the altar of incense. Thus he had sprinkled forty-three
times with the expiatory blood, taking care that his own dress should never be spotted
with the sin-laden blood. What was left of the blood the high-priest poured out on the
west side of the base of the altar of burnt-offering.
The Cleansing Completed
By these expiatory sprinklings the high-priest had cleansed the sanctuary in all its
parts from the defilement of the priesthood and the worshippers. The Most Holy Place, the
veil, the Holy Place, the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering were now clean
alike, so far as the priesthood and as the people were concerned; and in their
relationship to the sanctuary both priests and worshippers were atoned for. So far as the
law could give it, there was now again free access for all; or, to put it otherwise, the
continuance of typical sacrificial communion with God was once more restored and secured.
Had it not been for these services, it would have become impossible for priests and people
to offer sacrifices, and so to obtain the forgiveness of sins, or to have fellowship with
God. But the consciences were not yet free from a sense of personal guilt and sin.
That remained to be done through the 'scape-goat.' All this seems clearly implied in the
distinctions made in Leviticus 16:33: 'And he shall make an atonement for the holy
sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for
the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the
Most solemn as the services had hitherto been, the worshippers would chiefly think with
awe of the high-priest going into the immediate presence of God, coming out thence alive,
and securing for them by the blood the continuance of the Old Testament privileges of
sacrifices and of access unto God through them. What now took place concerned them, if
possible, even more nearly. Their own personal guilt and sins were now to be removed from
them, and that in a symbolical rite, at one and the same time the most mysterious and the
most significant of all. All this while the 'scape-goat,' with the 'scarlet-tongue,'
telling of the guilt it was to bear, had stood looking eastwards, confronting the people,
and waiting for the terrible load which it was to carry away 'unto a land not inhabited.'
Laying both his hands on the head of this goat, the high-priest now confessed and pleaded:
'Ah, JEHOVAH! they have committed iniquity; they have transgressed; they have sinned—
people, the house of Israel. Oh, then, JEHOVAH! cover over (atone for), I entreat Thee,
upon their iniquities, their transgressions, and their sins, which they have wickedly
committed, transgressed, and sinned before Thee— people, the house of Israel. As it is
written in the law of Moses, Thy servant, saying: "For on that day shall it be
covered over (atoned) for you, to make you clean from all your sins before JEHOVAH ye
shall be cleansed."' And while the prostrate multitude worshipped at the name of
Jehovah, the high-priest turned his face towards them as he uttered the last words, 'Ye
shall be cleansed!' as if to declare to them the absolution and remission of their
The Goat Sent into the Wilderness
Then a strange scene would be witnessed. The priests led the sin-burdened goat out
through 'Solomon's Porch,' and, as tradition has it, through the eastern gate, which
opened upon the Mount of Olives. *
* The Talmud has it, that the foreign Jews present used to burst into
words and deeds of impatience, that the 'sin-bearer' might be gone.
Here an arched bridge spanned the intervening valley, and over it they brought the goat
to the Mount of Olives, where one, specially appointed for the purpose, took him in
charge. Tradition enjoins that he should be a stranger, a non-Israelite, as if to make
still more striking the type of Him who was delivered over by Israel unto the Gentiles!
Scripture tells us no more of the destiny of the goat that bore upon him all the
iniquities of the children of Israel, than that they 'shall send him away by the hand of a
fit man into the wilderness,' and that 'he shall let go the goat in the wilderness' (Lev
16:22). But tradition supplements this information. The distance between Jerusalem and the
beginning of 'the wilderness' is computed at ninety stadia, making precisely ten
intervals, each half a Sabbath-day's journey from the other. At the end of each of these
intervals there was a station, occupied by one or more persons, detailed for the purpose,
who offered refreshment to the man leading the goat, and then accompanied him to the next
station. By this arrangement two results were secured: some trusted persons accompanied
the goat all along his journey, and yet none of them walked more than a Sabbath-day's
journey— is, half a journey going and the other half returning. At last they reached
the edge of the wilderness. Here they halted, viewing afar off, while the man led forward
the goat, tore off half the 'scarlet-tongue,' and stuck it on a projecting cliff; then,
leading the animal backwards, he pushed it over the projecting ledge of rock. There was a
moment's pause, and the man, now defiled by contact with the sin-bearer, retraced his
steps to the last of the ten stations, where he spent the rest of the day and the night.
But the arrival of the goat in the wilderness was immediately telegraphed, by the waving
of flags, from station to station, till, a few minutes after its occurrence, it was known
in the Temple, and whispered from ear to ear, that 'the goat had borne upon him all their
iniquities into a land not inhabited.'
The Meaning of the Rite
What then was the meaning of a rite on which such momentous issue depended? Everything
about it seems strange and mysterious— lot that designated it, and that 'to Azazel';
the fact, that though the highest of all sin-offerings, it was neither sacrificed nor its
blood sprinkled in the Temple; and the circumstance that it really was only part of
a sacrifice— two goats together forming one sacrifice, one of them being killed, and
the other 'let go,' there being no other analogous case of the kind except at the
purification of a leper, when one bird was killed and the other dipped in its blood, and
let go free. Thus these two sacrifices— in the removal of what symbolically
represented indwelling sin, the other contracted guilt— in requiring two animals,
of whom one was killed, the other 'let go.' This is not the place to discuss the various
views entertained of the import of the scape-goat. But it is destructive of one and all of
the received interpretations, that the sins of the people were confessed not on the goat
which was killed, but on that which was 'let go in the wilderness,' and that it was this
goat— the other— 'bore upon him all the iniquities' of the people. So far as the
conscience was concerned, this goat was the real and the only sin-offering 'for all the
iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,' for
upon it the high-priest laid the sins of the people, after he had by the blood of the
bullock and of the other goat 'made an end of reconciling the Holy Place, and the
tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar' (Lev 16:20). The blood sprinkled had
effected this; but it had done no more, and it could do no more, for it 'could not make
him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience' (Heb 9:9). The
symbolical representation of this perfecting was by the live goat, which, laden
with the confessed sins of the people, carried them away into 'the wilderness' to 'a land
not inhabited.' The only meaning of which this seems really capable, is that though
confessed guilt was removed from the people to the head of the goat, as the symbolical
substitute, yet as the goat was not killed, only sent far away, into 'a land not
inhabited,' so, under the Old Covenant, sin was not really blotted out, only put away from
the people, and put aside till Christ came, not only to take upon Himself the burden of
transgression, but to blot it out and to purge it away. *
* May there be here also a reference to the doctrine of Christ's descent
The Teaching of Scripture
Thus viewed, not only the text of Leviticus 16, but the language of Hebrews 9 and 10,
which chiefly refer to the Day of Atonement, becomes plain. The 'blood,' both of the
bullock and of the goat which the high-priest carried 'once a year' within 'the sacred
veil,' was 'offered for himself (including the priesthood) and for the errors (or rather
ignorances) of the people.' In the language of Leviticus 16:20, it reconciled 'the Holy
Place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar,' that is, as already
explained, it rendered on the part of priests and people the continuance of sacrificial
worship possible. But this live scape-goat 'let go' in the wilderness, over which, in the
exhaustive language of Leviticus 16:21, the high-priest had confessed and on which he had
laid 'all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their
transgressions in all their sins,' meant something quite different. It meant the
inherent 'weakness and unprofitableness of the commandment'; it meant, that 'the law made
nothing perfect, but was the bringing in of a better hope'; that in the covenant mercy of
God guilt and sin were indeed removed from the people, that they were 'covered up,' and in
that sense atoned for, or rather that they were both 'covered up' and removed, but that
they were not really taken away and destroyed till Christ came; that they were only
taken into a land not inhabited, till He should blot it out by His own blood; that the
provision which the Old Testament made was only preparatory and temporary, until the 'time
of the reformation'; and that hence real and true forgiveness of sins, and with it the
spirit of adoption, could only be finally obtained after the death and resurrection of
'the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.' Thus in the fullest sense it was
true of the 'fathers,' that 'these all...received not the promise: God having
provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.' For
'the law having a shadow of the good things to come,' could not 'make the comers thereunto
perfect'; nor yet was it possible 'that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away
sins.' The live goat 'let go' was every year a remover of sins which yet were never really
removed in the sense of being blotted out— deposited, as it were, and reserved till
He came 'whom God hath set forth as a propitiation...because of the passing over of the
former sins, in the forbearance of God' (Rom 3:25). *
* We have generally adopted the rendering of Dean Alford, where the
reader will perceive any divergence from the Authorised Version.
'And for this cause He is the mediatory of a new covenant, in order that, death having
taken place for the propitiation of the transgressions under the first covenant, they
which have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance' (Heb 9:15).
This is not the place for following the argument further. Once understood, many
passages will recur which manifest how the Old Testament removal of sin was shown in the
law itself to have been complete indeed, so far as the individual was concerned, but not
really and in reference to God, till He came to Whom as the reality these types pointed,
and Who 'now once at the end of the world hath been manifested to put away sin by the
sacrifice of Himself' (Heb 9:26). And thus did the types themselves prove their own
inadequacy and insufficiency, showing that they had only 'a shadow of the good things to
come, and not the very image of the things themselves' (Heb 10:1). With this also agree
the terms by which in the Old Testament atonement is designated as a 'covering up' by a
substitute, and the mercy-seat as 'the place of covering over.'
The Term 'la-Azazel'
After this it is comparatively of secondary importance to discuss, so far as we can in
these pages, the question of the meaning of the term 'la-Azazel' (Lev 16:8,10,26). Both
the interpretation which makes it a designation of the goat itself (as 'scape-goat' in our
Authorised Version), and that which would refer it to a certain locality in the
wilderness, being, on many grounds, wholly untenable, two other views remain, one of which
regards Azazel as a person, and denoting Satan; while the other would render
the term by 'complete removal.' The insurmountable difficulties connected with the first
of these notions lie on the surface. In reference to the second, it may be said that it
not only does violence to Hebrew grammar, but implies that the goat which was to be for
'complete removal' was not even to be sacrificed, but actually 'let go!' Besides, what in
that case could be the object of the first goat which was killed, and whose blood
was sprinkled in the Most Holy Place? We may here at once state, that the later Jewish
practice of pushing the goat over a rocky precipice was undoubtedly on innovation,
in no wise sanctioned by the law of Moses, and not even introduced at the time the
Septuagint translation was made, as its rendering of Leviticus 16:26 shows. The law
simply ordained that the goat, once arrived in 'the land not inhabited,' was to be 'let
go' free, and the Jewish ordinance of having it pushed over the rocks is signally
characteristic of the Rabbinical perversion of its spiritual type. The word Azazel,
which only occurs in Leviticus 16, is by universal consent derived from a root which means
'wholly to put aside,' or, 'wholly to go away.' Whether, therefore, we render 'la-Azazel'
by 'for him who is wholly put aside,' that is, the sin-bearing Christ, or 'for being
wholly separated,' or 'put wholly aside or away,' the truth is still the same, as pointing
through the temporary and provisional removal of sin by the goat 'let go' in 'the land not
inhabited,' to the final, real, and complete removal of sin by the Lord Jesus Christ, as
we read it in Isaiah 53:6: 'Jehovah hath made the iniquities of us all to meet on Him.'
The Carcasses Burnt 'Outside the City'
While the scape-goat was being led into the wilderness, the high-priest proceeded to
cut up the bullock and the goat with whose blood he had previously 'made atonement,' put
the 'inwards' in a vessel which he committed to an attendant, and sent the carcasses to be
burnt 'outside the city,' in the place where the Temple ashes were usually deposited.
Then, according to tradition, the high-priest, still wearing the linen garments, * went
into the 'Court of the Women,' and read the passages of Scripture bearing on the Day of
Atonement, viz. Leviticus 16; 23:27-32; also repeating by heart Numbers 29:7-11.
* But this was not strictly necessary; he might in this part of the
service have even officiated in his ordinary layman's dress.
A series of prayers accompanied this reading of the Scriptures. The most interesting of
these supplications may be thus summed up:— of sin with prayer for forgiveness,
closing with the words, 'Praise be to Thee, O Lord, Who in Thy mercy forgivest the sins
of Thy people Israel'; prayer for the permanence of the Temple, and that the Divine
Majesty might shine in it, closing with—'Praise be to Thee, O Lord, Who inhabitest
Zion'; prayer for the establishment and safety of Israel, and the continuance of a
king among them, closing—'Thanks be to Thee, O Lord, Who hast chosen Israel';
prayer for the priesthood, that all their doings, but especially their sacred services,
might be acceptable unto God, and He be gracious unto them, closing with—'Thanks be to
Thee, O Lord, Who hast sanctified the priesthood'; and, finally (in the language of
Maimonides), prayers, entreaties, hymns, and petitions of the high-priest's own, closing
with the words: 'Give help, O Lord, to Thy people Israel, for Thy people needeth help;
thanks be unto Thee, O Lord, Who hearest prayer.'
The High-priest in Golden Garments
These prayers ended, the high-priest washed his hands and feet, put off his 'linen,'
and put on his 'golden vestments,' and once more washed hands and feet before proceeding
to the next ministry. He now appeared again before the people as the Lord's anointed in
the golden garments of the bride-chamber. Before he offered the festive burnt-offerings of
the day, he sacrificed 'one kid of the goats for a sin-offering' (Num 29:16), probably
with special reference to these festive services, which, like everything else, required
atoning blood for their acceptance. The flesh of this sin-offering was eaten at night by
the priests within the sanctuary. Next, he sacrificed the burnt-offerings for the people
and that for himself (one ram, Lev 16:3), and finally burned the 'inwards' of the
expiatory offerings, whose blood had formerly been sprinkled in the Most Holy Place. This,
properly speaking, finished the services of the day. But the high-priest had yet to offer
the ordinary evening sacrifice, after which he washed his hands and his feet, once more
put off his 'golden' and put on his 'linen garments,' and again washed his hands and feet.
This before entering the Most Holy Place a fourth time on that day, * to fetch from it the
censer and incense-dish which he had left there.
* Hebrews 9:7 states that the high-priest went 'once in every year,'
that is, on one day in every year, not on one occasion during that day.
On his return he washed once more hands and feet, put off his linen garments, which
were never to be used again, put on his golden vestments, washed hands and feet, burnt the
evening incense on the golden altar, lit the lamps on the candlestick for the night,
washed his hands and feet, put on his ordinary layman's dress, and was escorted by the
people in procession to his own house in Jerusalem. The evening closed with a feast.
If this ending of the Day of Atonement seems incongruous, the Mishnah records (Taan.
iv. 8) something yet more strange in connection with the day itself. It is said that on
the afternoon of the 15th of Ab, when the collection of wood for the sanctuary was
completed, and on that of the Day of Atonement, the maidens of Jerusalem went in white
garments, specially lent them for the purpose, so that rich and poor might be on an
equality, into the vineyards close to the city, where they danced and sung. The following
fragment of one of their songs has been preserved: *
'Around in circle gay, the Hebrew maidens see;
From them our happy youths their partners choose.
Remember! Beauty soon its charm must lose—
And seek to win a maid of fair degree.
When fading grace and beauty low are laid,
Then praise shall her who fears the Lord await;
God does bless her handiwork—, in the gate,
"Her works do follow her," it shall be said.'
* The Talmud repeatedly states the fact and gives the song. Nevertheless
we have some doubt on the subject, though the reporter in the Mishnah is said to be
none other than Rabbi Simeon, the son of Gamaliel, Paul's teacher.
The Day of Atonement in the Modern Synagogue
We will not here undertake the melancholy task of describing what the modern synagogue
has made the Day of Atonement, nor how it observes the occasion— in view of their
gloomy thoughts, that on that day man's fate for the year, if not his life or death, is
finally fixed. But even the Mishnah already contains similar perverted notions of
how the day should be kept, and what may be expected from its right observance (Mish.
Yoma, viii). Rigorous rest and rigorous fasting are enjoined from sundown of one day
to the appearance of the first stars on the next. Neither food nor drink of any kind may
be tasted; a man may not even wash, nor anoint himself, nor put on his sandals. *
* Only woollen socks are to be used— only exception is, where there
is fear of serpents or scorpions.
The sole exception made is in favour of the sick and of children, who are only bound to
the full fast— at the age of twelve years and one day, and boys at that of thirteen
years and one day, though it is recommended to train them earlier to it. *
* Kings and brides within thirty days of their wedding are allowed to
wash their faces; the use of a towel which has been dipped the previous day in
water is also conceded.
In return for all this 'affliction' Israel may expect that death along with the Day
of Atonement will finally blot out all sins! That is all— Day of Atonement and our
own death! Such are Israel's highest hopes of expiation! It is unspeakably saddening to
follow this subject further through the minutiae of rabbinical ingenuity— much
exactly the Day of Atonement will do for a man; what proportion of his sins it will remit,
and what merely suspend; how much is left over for after-chastisements, and how much for
final extinction at death. The law knows nothing of such miserable petty
misrepresentations of the free pardon of God. In the expiatory sacrifices of the Day of
Atonement every kind * of transgression, trespass, and sin is to be removed from the
people of God.
* For high-handed, purposed sins, the law provided no sacrifice (Heb
10:26), and it is even doubtful whether they are included in the declaration Leviticus
16:21, wide as it is. Thank God, we know that 'the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth
from all sin,' without exception.
Yet annually anew, and each time confessedly only provisionally, not really and
finally, till the gracious promise (Jer 31:34) should be fulfilled: 'I will forgive their
iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.' Accordingly it is very marked, how in
the prophetic, or it may be symbolical, description of Ezekiel's Temple (Eze 40-46) all
mention of the Day of Atonement is omitted; for Christ has come 'an high-priest of good
things to come,' and 'entered in once into the Holy Place,' 'to put away sin by the
sacrifice of Himself' (Heb 9:11,12,26).