Leviticus 16 Chapter 16 brings us the rituals involved with the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was a necessary ritual that would occur once per year in order to cleanse the sanctuary. Over the past chapters, we’ve looked at the preparations and requirements for the people, priests, and even homes to be ceremonially clean. However, inevitably, someone unwittingly breaks a law and comes to worship ceremonially unclean. Therefore, it is also necessary to atone for the sin of the people by cleansing the sanctuary. This is also to prevent Aaron from being killed by God in the event he enters the presence of God at the wrong time or way.
A fascinating part of this requirement was the dress of the High Priest. Aaron’s normal ceremonial garb was very elaborate and beautiful. This special set was quite plain. It included a shirt, shorts, sash, and turban, all made of standard linen. The exact purpose for the difference is unknown, but one theory is that on the Day of Atonement, the high priest enters the very presence of God where his station as high priest doesn’t matter. He is just a servant. Interestingly, we also see a similar dress from angels.
Another part of this chapter that really stands out is the scapegoat. The scapegoat is one of the two goats that are brought before the high priest. The high priest, by casting lots, determines which one will be sacrificed to God and which is chosen to bear the nation’s sins and cast out. We don’t know precisely what is referenced by Azazel here. Some explanations are a demon in the wilderness, a representation of complete destruction, or rocky wilderness. Regardless of what Azazel means, the point is still the same, the sins of the nation have to be cast out from Israel.
With all of that said. We can be thankful that we have Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross and the veil of the temple was torn, this allowed all believers to enter directly into the presence of God. We no longer need a Day of Atonement, nor do we have to wait for a high priest to enter into the presence of God. We can draw near to Him at any time. Jesus accomplished what we could never do.
If you’d like to study Christ’s atonement in more detail, I highly recommend reading the book of Hebrews chapters 7-10.