The Day of Atonement and Israel's Forgiveness
By Timothy R. Test, Sr., Ph.D.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies
The Day of Atonement, which took place in the fall of the year, was the most sacred
and solemn of all the Israelite festivals. In it we most clearly see the typology or symbolism
of Christ's work for Israel. It was a day of national fasting and one that signified that the
sins of Israel had been atoned for and that the nation and its people were restored to a
state of fellowship with God. The feat included the following major items (see Leviticus 16
where the details are given):
- The high priest had to go through meticulous preparation to be worthy to act
as the officiator for the rest of the house of Israel. This included sacrifices
for himself and his house, as well as the washing and purification through the
sprinkling of sacrificial blood on various objects in the tabernacle.
- The high priest put off the official robes he normally wore and clothed himself
in simple, white linen garments. (See Revelation 19:8 for the significance of
white linen garments.)
- Two goats were chosen by lot. One was designated as the goat of the Lord,
and one was designated as the scapegoat, or in Hebrew, the goat of Azazel.
The goat of Jehovah was offered as a sin offering, and the high priest took
its blood into the holy of holies of the tabernacle and sprinkled it on the lid of
the ark of the covenant (called the 'mercy seat'), thus making atonement for
the sins of Israel.
- The other goat, Azazel, was brought before the high priest, who laid his
hands upon its head and symbolically transferred all of the sins of Israel to
it. Then it was taken out into the wilderness and released where it would
never be seen again. One commentator explained the significance of Azazel
by saying it represented 'the devil himself, the head of the fallen angels, who
was afterwards called Satan; for no subordinate evil spirit could have been
placed in antithesis to Jehovah as Azazel is here, but only the ruler or head
of the kingdom of demons.' (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the
Old Testament, bk. 1: The Pentateuch, "The third Book of Moses,' 10bks.
[Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.], p.
The apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews drew heavily on the typology of the
Day of Atonement to teach the mission of Christ. In that epistle he made the following
- Christ is the great high priest (Hebrews 3:1) who, unlike the high priest of
Aaronic Priesthood, was holy and without spot and did not need to make
atonement for his own sins before he could be worthy to officiate for Israel
and enter the holy of holies (Hebrews 7:26-27). His perfect life was the
ultimate fulfillment of the symbol of wearing white garments.
- The true tabernacle (or temple, or house of the Lord) is in heaven, and the
earthly tabernacle made by Moses was to serve as a shadow or type of the
heavenly one. (See Hebrews 8:2-5; 9:1-9.)
- Christ is the Lamb of Jehovah as well as the High Priest. Through the
shedding of his blood he became capable of entering the heavenly Holy of
Holies where he offered his own blood as payment for the sins of those who
would believe in him and obey his commandments. (See Hebrews 9:11-14,
Notwithstanding the symbolic significance of the ritual of this holy day, the
ritual did have the power to bring about a forgiveness of Israel's sins. The sacred writings
of ancient times, the inspired utterances of latter-day prophecies, the traditions of mankind,
the rites of sacrifice, and even the sacrileges of heathen idolatries, all involve the idea of
vicarious atonement. God has never refused to accept an offering made by one who is
authorized on behalf of those who are in many ways incapable of doing the required
service themselves. The scapegoat and the altar victim of ancient Israel, if offered with
repentance and contrition, were accepted by the Lord in mitigation of the sins of the
copyright 2000 Rev. Timothy R. Test, Sr., Ph.D.
Used by permission