The Day of Atonement

Lesson 11: Leviticus 16:1 - 34


The Day of Atonement came on the 10th day of the 7th month in the Jewish Calendar corresponding to our month of October. The numbers 10 and 7 are symbolic in Scripture of perfection and completeness, so it should come as no surprise that this was a very significant day for Israel. The key verse in our text, verse 30, says that this was a day when the high priest would make an atonement for the people of Israel, "that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD". The Day of Atonement involved so many parts of the Tabernacle and amplified many of the lessons we have learned thus far. Because it is in some way a culmination of the services of the Tabernacle, this great Day deserves a separate study and lesson of its own.

The Synopsis

Let us begin our study by becoming more familiar with the activities and service associated with the Day of Atonement. The high priest had a special attire worn only on this day. In the Holy Place, he washed himself with water and put on linen garments and a linen mitre (a hat). Then he took two goats taken from the people of Israel to the door of the Tabernacle where he cast lots upon them. One goat would be offered upon the Brazen Altar as a sin offering for the people and the other goat would become the "scapegoat". Next he killed a "bullock" to make an atonement for his sins and his family.

The high priest entered the Holy Place, took the censor from off of the Altar of Incense, and then passed beyond the Vail into the Most Holy Place for the first time. Within the Holy of Holies, he put sweet incense upon the burning coals in the censor so that a cloud of incense would cover the Mercy Seat (according to Scripture, this was done to prevent his death). He then left the Tabernacle to get the blood from his sin offering at the Brazen Altar. He took the blood and entered the Most Holy Place the second time and sprinkled the blood seven times upon the Mercy Seat. Again he exited the Tabernacle, this time to kill the goat which was chosen for a sin offering for the people. He then made his third trip into the Most Holy Place to sprinkle the blood seven times upon the Mercy Seat.

After leaving the Most Holy Place, the high priest had to make an atonement or reconciliation for the Tabernacle itself because it was in the midst of the "uncleanness of the children of Israel". This was done by applying the blood to the horns of both the Golden Altar and the Brazen Altar.

Finally, the high priest laid his hands upon the scapegoat confessing all the sins of the children of Israel, and this goat was led into the uninhabited wilderness never to be seen again. He entered the Holy Place, washed himself, and changed back into his customary garments for the service of the Tabernacle. He then offered a burnt offering for both himself and the people upon the Brazen Altar as well as burning the fat from the above sin offerings. The bullock and goat used for the sin offering were taken outside the camp and burned with fire.

The Significance

The Day of Atonement involved several trips to the Brazen Altar, perhaps 10 or more washings at the Laver, the use of the Altar of Incense, and the application of blood upon the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant. There are so many lessons and interesting details about this day, some of which we have already covered in previous lessons, but the most significant truths connect the atonement mentioned in the key verse of our text with the two goats. One goat which we might call Propitiation was necessary because God is Holy and Just, the other goat which we could name Remission was necessary because God is Merciful. Together these two goats brought satisfaction to the nature and character of God, and they show two of the significant aspects of salvation. Psalm 85 declares this wonderfully with the combination of verse 2, "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin" (see also Psalm 32:1; Romans 4:7) and verse 10, "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other". What a climax!


The Mercy Seat was not a lid to the Ark of the Covenant designed to cover or conceal its contents. It was a covering which can only be understood in connection with the propitiation that took place on the Day of Atonement. Within the Ark were the words of the Covenant between God and His people, but it was a covenant which they were continually breaking being unable to keep it. The Justice of God demanded a punishment for this - death! Yet the Mercy of God allowed for a substitute. The goat became the substitute whose blood was shed and sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat. Now when God looked down at the Ark which contained the Covenant, He saw the blood on the Mercy Seat and was satisfied that punishment had been justly dealt. Thus the blood was a covering or propitiation which means "to be satisfied" or "appeased".


Remission is a subtractive term meaning "to put away" or "send back" and is closely related to forgiveness. When the high priest laid his hands upon the scapegoat and confessed all the iniquities of Israel, the sins and their associated guilt were symbolically transferred to the goat. Thus the scapegoat too was a kind of substitute. However, this goat was presented alive and sent into the uninhabited wilderness. Thus Israel's sins were sent away into the wilderness and forgotten as if they never were. This showed the Mercy of God to forgive sins and remit them. Psalm 103:12 describes remission this way, "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (see also Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 50:20; Micah 7:19). When sin is pardoned, it is never charged again; the guilt of it can no more return than east can become west, or west become east (Stephen Charnock).

The Shadow

It is important that we keep in mind that the events of the Day of Atonement and the Tabernacle itself were only shadows of good things to come (Hebrews 8:5, 10:1). After Jesus was crucified and risen from the grave, He took His blood into the Most Holy Place in heaven to make an atonement for us (Hebrews 9:12). So, let us turn now from the shadow to the very image of the good things to come, that is Christ's Atonement, and see what is better about it.

How Christ's Atonement is Better

The Book of Hebrews lists several reasons upon which we may understand how His Atonement is Better.

Why Christ's Atonement is Better