Leviticus 16:1-34

Key Verse(s):

Leviticus 16:30 (HCSB)

30 Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.


This pericope is about Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. This is a single day, every year, where a series of offerings are made by the high priest that make atonement for himself, and the entire Israelite community.

We might initially wonder what the purpose of such a day is, especially considering all the details concerning the offerings previously laid out in Leviticus. With all those individual offerings and sacrifices, what purpose would a single, annual, day of atonement server? Although the individual sacrifices might satisfy the needs required for atonement for those that are repentant, and actually follow through with the sacrifice, we must assume there are those that fall into the categories of a) not knowing their sin, b) not being repentant of their sin, or c) simply do not follow God, whether due to their unbelief, or due maybe because they are a foreigner. Therefore, it would seem, there is a need for atonement at the nation level as sin has, over the course of a year, permeated the nation, as well as the surroundings of the tabernacle, within its walls, and even into the most holy place.

The process itself has some things to note as well. It is worth noting that the high priest performs the sacrifice to cleanse and make atonement for himself first. This would make sense, because he then has to perform the offering on behalf of the assembly, which we should expect him to be worthy of making such an offering. The other notable feature is of course the “scapegoat” (Leviticus 16:22). It is interesting that this goat is part of this ritual, rather than another sacrifice. Perhaps the difference in impact on sin is significant? A typical sacrifice would “cover” sin, the shedding of blood being the payment for sin. In the case of the goat released in the wilderness, it carries away the sin of the people, so rather than being covered, sin is removed, distanced from the offenders. I’m not sure if this is significant as some sort of representation of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel as a whole in this scenario, or simply a tradition borrowed from surrounding culture. I could see it being representative though, since, as mentioned, the atonement here is “for the Israelites” (Leviticus 16:34), with no qualifications stated, so perhaps it is a removal of sin by distance, rather than a covering and cleansing for one that is repentant and following God.


Lord, thank You for Your grace! It is a scary thought that our sin is so corrupting that even when You dwelt among us, a day of atonement was still necessary to even purify the holiest of holies. But Your grace, Your love, and Your forgiveness exceeds all! Thank You for loving us, and cleansing us. Amen.


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