Chapter 5: The Lord’s Death in Leviticus Chapter 16

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by David E. West, England





Leviticus chapter 16 deals with the day of atonement that was one of the feasts of Jehovah. The word “feast” in this context means a fixed time or appointed season; it embodies the idea of fellowship.

These holy occasions are referred to in three ways; the change of emphasis is indicated by the prepositions used:

  • They are called the “feasts of Jehovah” Lev.23.2,4,37, telling us that the Lord (Jehovah) is the Author of these fixed seasons; they are therefore Divine appointments.
  • Then they are termed “feasts to Jehovah” Ex.12.14; Lev.23.34, implying that Jehovah Himself is a recipient from these special occasions marked out in Israel’s calendar.
  • Thirdly we find them spoken of as “feasts before Jehovah” Lev.16.7,10,30, which shows the gatherings took place in His presence and thus His people benefited as a result of the experience.

These feasts trace out for us the ways of God with man and indicate the ultimate aim to which those ways lead, the goal being God’s own rest. In view of this, the feasts have been termed “God’s Calendar”, because they form a schedule of God’s ways in relation to man down through the ages.

As we consider these feasts of Jehovah in this present age, some of the appointments, in their typical application, lie in the past and are now a matter of history; these feasts are therefore commemorative. There are some appointments which still await fulfilment and are therefore prophetic in character; thus these feasts are also anticipative.

We shall be concerned with the day of atonement as presented in Leviticus chapter 16; however, the Jewish calendar of the feasts is set out in Leviticus chapter 23. These feasts are not peculiar to Leviticus chapter 23; they are also spoken of, albeit with a different bearing in Exodus chapter 23, Numbers chapters 28 and 29 and Deuteronomy chapter 16. However, only in Leviticus 23 are they presented with what we might call a “dispensational” character.

There are at least two ways of dividing Leviticus chapter 23; we may note the recurrence of the phrase, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying”, giving us the following divisions: a) vv.1-8; b) vv.9-22; c) vv.23-25; d) vv.26-32; e) vv.33-44. Alternatively, we may divide the chapter by recognising that the seven annual feasts may be separated into two groups:

  • The four spring feasts, occurring in the early part of the year; these find their parallel in Christianity
  • The autumn feasts; after the spring feasts, there is a long interval until the seventh month when the remaining three feasts were celebrated; these have their application particularly to Israel, indeed they have to do with Israel’s regathering.
  • The four spring feasts may be subdivided into pairs of related feasts:
  • the passover and the feast of unleavened bread; the feast of firstfruits and the feast of Pentecost (otherwise known as the feast of weeks).

There is a sense in which the first feast in each pair sets before us Christ and His work, whilst the second in each couplet presents to us what we, as believers, have come into the good of as a consequence of Christ’s work. The one-day feasts may signify great, definitive acts of God occurring only once in history, e.g. the passover, “in that He died, He died unto sin once” Rom.6.10; the feast of firstfruits, “I am He that liveth, and was [or became] dead, and, behold I am alive for evermore” Rev.1.18; and the feast of Pentecost, “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body” 1Cor.12.13. Whereas, for example, the seven-day feast of unleavened bread portrays the far-reaching and continuing effects of these unique enactments of God.

It has already been stated that the three autumn feasts have their application particularly to Israel, indeed they have to do with Israel’s future regathering. The feast of trumpets typifies the recall and regathering of Israel; the day of atonement sets forth the repentance and restoration of Israel, whilst the feast of tabernacles reminds us of the rest of Israel to be enjoyed in the millennial reign of Christ.


The day of atonement was originally more of a fast than a feast indeed it is called in Acts chapter 27 “the fast”, “Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them” v.9; it was a day of peculiar solemnity in Israel’s religious calendar.

There are two special passages relating to this annual fast (or feast), namely, Leviticus chapter 16 (which will be our principal consideration) and Lev.23.26-32, but additional details are given to us in Num.29.7-11. Lev.16.3-10 describes the general ceremony, vv.11-34 give the details, the verses in Numbers delineate the victims, whilst Leviticus chapter 23 reveals how the people were to act.

We shall consider the day of atonement under the following headings:

  • The Comparisons
  • The Covering
  • The Typical Significance
  • The Prophetic Significance
  • References in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Comparisons

In the Jewish calendar there were two days in the year that stood out more prominently than all the rest. One was the passover and the other was the day of atonement. The one commemorated the redemption of Israel from Egypt by the blood of the lamb and by power; it was a joyous feast, but the other called to mind their sins of the past year in which they were to afflict their souls and, as we have seen, it was more in the nature of a fast.

The day of atonement was held on “the tenth day of this seventh month” Lev.23.27, a time element which brings it into relationship with the passover, for the Paschal Lamb was selected and segregated from the flock on the tenth day of the first month, “In the tenth day of this month [the first month of the year] they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house” Ex.12.3.

Besides the time link, there is another feature which associates the day of atonement with the passover, and that is the blood. Yet it is important to see that the application of the blood is quite different in each case. The blood of the passover lamb was applied to the lintel and the two side posts of the door, i.e. to the outside of the house, “And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it” Ex.12.7, and it sheltered those within from judgment. This speaks of the blood personally appropriated by faith.

However, on the day of atonement, the blood of the slain goat was carried inside and applied before God in the holiest of all to satisfy the righteous and holy claims of God’s throne. The value of the blood availed for the nation.

The Covering

In Lev.23.27 where we read “there shall be a day of atonement” (Heb. kippurim), the noun (only found in the plural) is used and is better translated “atonements” signifying the various aspects of atonement embraced on that day. However, in the majority of the 49 occasions where the word ‘atonement’, occurs in Leviticus, it is in its verbal form and is translated “make an atonement”. The Hebrew verb ‘kaphar’ simply means ‘cover’, hence atonement has the thought of covering.

‘Kaphar’ is translated in other ways in the Old Testament, e.g. to pitch; Noah was to make an ark of gopher wood and was to “pitch it within and without with pitch” Gen.6.14: or, to appease; Jacob says, “I will appease him with the present that goeth before me” Gen.32.20. Jacob sought to propitiate his brother Esau with a gift. The word is also translated ‘reconcile’, ‘purge’, ‘be merciful’, ‘forgive’, ‘pacify’, ‘cleansed’, ‘disannulled’, ‘put off’ and ‘pardon’.

Strictly speaking the word “atonement” does not occur in the New Testament. It should be noted that whereas the A.V. reading of Romans 5.11 is “by whom we have now received the atonement”, the word “atonement” should be rendered “reconciliation”. It is not man who receives the atonement, but God; man receives the result of the atonement, namely reconciliation; man is reconciled to God, and not God to man. In atonement, sins were covered and thus hidden from sight, but in propitiation and reconciliation, provision was made for sins to be cancelled, obliterated, removed forever, and pass out of existence.

Atonement needed to be repeated again and again; it was never complete. Indeed even the day of atonement was, literally, the day of atonements, in the plural.

There are two main thoughts in atonement, namely: propitiation: this has to do with the righteousness and holiness of God, and presents the Godward side of the matter; expiation: this concerns the sinful condition of man and sets forth the human side of the question.

The Typical Significance

The Preparation

We learn from Leviticus chapter 16 that Aaron the high priest, had to make careful preparations for entry into the presence of God on the day of atonement. Firstly, he had to wash himself completely with water, “therefore shall he wash his flesh in water” Lev.16.4, i.e. he had to bathe himself completely. Ceremonially this act represented that he made himself pure. Then Aaron had to clothe himself in the holy garments of fine linen, “He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre [the word “turban” would better describe the headgear] shall he be attired: these are holy garments … and so put them on” Lev.16.4.

Thus the high priest had first to make himself symbolically clean or holy and then appear outwardly as such. This furnishes us with an impressive type of Christ entering upon the work of propitiation. Christ did not need to do or to wear anything in order to be pure and spotless. He needed no pure water, no fine linen. He was and is intrinsically and practically “the Holy One of God” Mk.1.24.

Aaron’s Sacrifice

On that day, Aaron was to “come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering” Lev.16.3. Also he was to “take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids (the term “kids” should more correctly be rendered “males”) of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering” Lev.16.5. He was to “offer his bullock of the sin offering, which was for himself, and made an atonement for himself, and for his house” Lev.16.6. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that the high priest of old was “compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins” Heb.5.2,3; he goes on to add, “But 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” Heb.9.7. So we read further in our chapter, “And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself” Lev.16.11. Thus three times in this verse, it is stated that the sin offering and the atonement were for himself; before Aaron could intercede on behalf of others he had to attend to his own sinful condition. This is in marked contrast to Christ Himself, “Who needeth not … as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins” Heb.7.27.

Vv.12-14 of our chapter continue the description of Aaron’s responsibilities in relation to providing atonement for himself and his house. He was to “take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail” Lev.16.12. It is interesting to observe that in Heb.9.4, where the items found in the holiest of all are specified, no mention is made of the golden altar (that stood opposite the ark of the covenant but outside the vail in the holy place) but reference is made to the golden censer. It was this censer that Aaron was to fill with burning coals of fire taken from off the altar of burnt offering. The fire of the altar is a type of the holiness and justice of God.

The sweet incense beaten small is described in Exodus chapter 30, “and the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense; of each shall there be a like weight” v.34. All speak of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stacte means “to drop or distil”; we know that the gracious words of Christ distilled as the dew, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” Deut.32.2. Onycha means “lion” and this reminds us of the majesty of His Person. Galbanum means “fat” directing our thoughts to His inward excellence. Frankincense means “white” and tells us of His external purity.

The passage continues, “And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not” Lev.16.13. As the cloud of incense covered the mercy seat or propitiatory, which was upon the ark of the testimony, it would have protected Aaron from the intense glory of God that would otherwise have meant his death, “that he die not”. Aaron was then to “take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times” Lev.16.14. Aaron thus sprinkled the blood of atonement upon the mercy seat in line with the eye of Him Who dwelt between the cherubim and the worshipper in his approach, for the forefront of the tabernacle was towards the east. The blood sprinkled once upon the mercy seat was sufficient to satisfy God. The blood sprinkled seven times (the number of completion) before the mercy seat demonstrated complete atonement.

The Two Goats

The two goats for the sin offering for the congregation of Israel call for special attention. These two goats were taken by Aaron and presented before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle, “And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” Lev.16.7. Then he was to cast lots upon them, “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other for the scapegoat [Heb. azazel]” Lev.16.8. No doubt the Urim and Thummim were used in making the choice. Then Aaron was to “bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering” [lit. made him sin, Newberry marg.] Lev.16.9.

The Lord’s Goat

The goat of the sin offering for the people was then to be killed and Aaron was to do the same with this blood as he had done with the blood of the bullock, “Then shall he … bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat” Lev.16.15. It should be noted that Aaron, in so doing, would “make an atonement for the holy place, 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 [or dwelleth] among them in the midst of their uncleanness” Lev.16.16; it is evident that the sins, transgressions and the uncleanness of the people had had a defiling effect upon the sanctuary. The claims of God’s sanctuary had to be provided for; the courts of the Lord, as well as His throne, must bear witness to the value of the blood.

Only Aaron could enter into the sanctuary and that by virtue of the blood, “And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out” Lev.16.17, that is, when he had completed the work. This reminds us of the truth that when Christ accomplished the work of eternal redemption, He acted alone, “But Christ … by His own blood … entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” Heb.9.11,12.

We have seen that sins of the people had far-reaching effects, so the brasen altar which stood in the court of the tabernacle had to be cleansed by application of the blood, Lev.16.18,19. That the brasen altar is the one referred to is indicated by the expression, “he shall go out unto the altar”. Thus the atoning blood was sprinkled everywhere.

Therefore the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell typifies the death of Christ as that wherein God has been perfectly glorified with respect to sin in general. The death of Christ has completely vindicated the majesty, the holiness and the righteousness of God. It has Divinely met all the claims of His throne. The blood of Christ has dealt with the matter of sin; propitiation has been made.

The People’s Goat (The Scapegoat)

In the next section of the chapter, vv.20-22, our attention is once again directed to the scapegoat. However, there is a link with the preceding section, “when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar” Lev.16.20. It should be noted that the Hebrew word translated “reconciling” is the same as that rendered elsewhere “atonement”; as has been established, the word has the prominent thought of “covering”; thus the rendering “reconciliation” is somewhat misleading.

Aaron was to “lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat” Lev.16.21; the idea was that he was to lean upon it. It signified association or identification. This was no casual, inconsequential association; there was a definite and inseparable identification.

This was the only occasion upon which such a procedure was followed. When an individual Israelite offered a sin offering, he himself was to lay his hand upon its head, “And he [any one of the common people] shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering” Lev.4.29. Here, on the day of atonement, it was Aaron. In the former case, it was the individual sinner identifying himself with his substitute. Have we not sung?

My faith would lay her hand

On that dear head of Thine,

While like a penitent I stand,

And there confess my sin.

(Isaac Watts)

So Lev.16.21 continues, “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”; note the repeated use of the word “all”. The typical lesson here is well expressed in the words of Isa.53.5, “the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. Again, do we not sing?

All our sins were laid upon Him,

Jesus bore them on the tree;

God, Who knew them, laid them on Him,

And, believeing, we are free.

(J. Denham Smith)

The scapegoat was then sent “away by the hand of a fit man [a man of opportunity – marg.] into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited [a land of separation -marg.]: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness” Lev.16.21,22. The word rendered “fit” signifies someone suitable; it suggests the idea of being ready. The expression translated “not inhabited” is not used elsewhere in the Scriptures; J.N.D. renders this “apart from men”. This action typifies the truth of the remission (the sending away) of sins. John writes, “And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins [as the antitype of the scapegoat]; and in Him is no sin” 1Jn.3.5. Surely we can join with the Psalmist and say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” Ps.103.12.

It must be emphasised that the scapegoat does not represent Satan; there is not one iota of evidence to substantiate such an idea. The consistent teaching of the Scriptures is that Christ was the sin-bearer; Isa.53.6 has already been quoted and Peter speaks of “Christ … Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” 1Pet.2.21,24.

Prophetic Significance

The dispensational import of this sixth feast or Divine appointment should be noted. It follows the feast of trumpets which points forward prophetically to the recall and regathering of Israel to the land of their inheritance. Dispensationally, the day of atonement is the foreshadowing of the great day of mourning on the part of Israel when “they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” Zech.12.10.

Affliction of soul was a prominent feature of the day of atonement and is referred to three times in Leviticus chapter 23, “ye shall afflict your souls” vv.27,32, “whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day …” v.29. It was a day when every man was called upon to reflect mournfully and penitently on his sinful ways and transgressions; indeed, he who failed to do so was threatened with being “cut off from among his people” Lev.23.29.

In addition to affliction of soul, no work was to be done on the day of atonement; again in Leviticus chapter 23, three times work was forbidden, “ye shall do no work in that same day” v.28, “whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day …” v.30, ” Ye shall do no manner of work” v.31. It should be noted that affliction of soul is not in itself a meritorious work, but it is a confession of sins.

Zechariah says, “In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn” 12.11,12. What a mourning that will be when the Lord will “pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications” 12.10. Their bitterness and grief will surpass all description as they look upon the One Whom they have crucified and slain. The deep searchings of heart of Joseph’s brethren as they remembered their cruelty to him and the enormity of their sin in selling him to the Ishmaelites are but a faint illustration of the anguish of an awakened Israel in that day. Thus we read, “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” Gen.42.21.

Although the mourning and repentance of that day will be of a national character, it will also be individual. We read in Zech.12.12,13, “their wives apart”, that is nearest and dearest relationships will be set aside; “the family of the house of David apart … the family of the house of Nathan apart”, thus it will no longer be a question of the prophet rebuking the king for his sin, but each repenting of his own sin; “the family of the house of Levi apart … the family of Shimei (Simeon) apart”, Levi and Simeon were formerly united in cruelty, but then will be apart in repentance.

Then the nation will confess, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes [bruise] we are healed” Isa.53.6. At last they will realise the true meaning of the death of Christ for them, the nation. Like Thomas, they will no longer be marked by unbelief, but they will see and believe and therefore exclaim, “My Lord and my God” Jn.20.28.

God will save them, not on the ground of a new sacrifice, but on the basis of the death of Christ at Calvary, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” Zech.13.1. The fountain will not be re-opened, it was actually opened at Calvary, but the abiding efficacy of that one great sacrifice will be extended to the nation.

References in the Epistle to the Hebrews

The opening verses of Hebrews chapter 5 read “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins” vv.1-3. It is clear that high priestly ministry involved, among other responsibilities, offering for sins. However, the words, “he ought … also for himself to offer for sins”, have in view the day of atonement when the exercises of that day began with Aaron killing a bullock and offering it for a sin offering to make an atonement for himself and for his house.

The writer to the Hebrews later speaks of One “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins, and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself” 7.27. While there was no explicit command for a daily sin offering for the high priest, nevertheless, as we have seen, Aaron had to do so for himself on the day of atonement.

The opening verses of chapter 9 are concerned with the furniture of the tabernacle. Perhaps surprisingly, the writer speaks of “the golden censer” v.4, as being in the “holiest of all” v.3. J. M. Flanigan1 explains at length that the word for “censer” means literally a vessel for burning incense and therefore could be a direct reference to the golden altar. The golden altar itself was, in fact, sited in the holy place, but its fragrant ministry on the day of atonement belonged to the holiest of all. This seems to be a most plausible explanation.

1 Flanigan, J.M. “Hebrews – What the Bible Teaches.” John Ritchie Ltd, 1986.

There is no clearer reference to the day of atonement than what we read in v.7 of the chapter, “But into the second (the holiest of all) went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people”. Note the phrase “the high priest alone”, denotes that he only among the priests was privileged to go through “the second veil” Heb.9.3, and that only “once every year” on the day of atonement.

The words “Neither by the blood of goats and calves” Heb.9.12, are probably an allusion to the day of atonement; it was by Divine command that Aaron entered into the holiest with blood.

The chapter closes thus, “and unto them that look for Him [Christ] shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation”. It was a great moment for the nation of Israel when the high priest, having taken blood into the holiest of all on the day of atonement, reappeared; they had the assurance that the sins of another year were covered.

In the closing chapter of the epistle, we read, “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp” 13.11. This was the case with the sin offerings on the day of atonement, “And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place shall one carry forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung” Lev.16.27.


The distinction between atonement and propitiation has already been established. Propitiation was completed by the death and shedding of the precious blood of Christ at Calvary and sealed in His resurrection and ascension. He “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” Heb.1.3, having made purification for sins. It was “by [not “with”] His own blood He entered in once [for all] into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” Heb.9.12. “Once in the end of the world [age] He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Heb.9.26). “We [believers] are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” Heb.10.10. “This man … offered one sacrifice for sins for ever” Heb.10.12. Note the repeated use of “once” and “one”.

How thankful we are to lay hold upon these words, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” Heb.10.17,18.