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This study examines the Day of Atonement rituals using  Leviticus chapter 16  as  a guide to show why  God  designed  the Day of Atonement and why he required the high priest to enter the Most Holy Place once a year to perform the  rituals of atonement.

Editor's Note:

There is some dispute among Bible scholars as to the  chronological order of the rituals during this day. Because of this dispute and the complexity of the rituals, this study does not attempt to place each  ritual in chronological order; instead, each ritual is analyzed  as an individual event.

It  is  also important to note that the scriptures  do  not  give exact details concerning how each ritual was to be  performed. It seems that God did not feel it was necessary to record  these details, because they are not essential to understanding  the major lessons of the Day of Atonement.

An Overview

Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:27-32 and Numbers 29:7-11 give an overview of what was required of the Israelites  concerning the formal worship of God on the Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 16:29-34

"And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the  seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls,  and do no work at all, whether it be one  of your own country, or a stranger among you" (v29 KJV).

God commanded the Israelites to keep a national fast on the Day of Atonement. This command was for anyone who  was considered part of national Israel, whether they were  an Israelite by birth or an Israelite by choice (i.e., a proselyte. See Ex.12:19; Deut.31:12). This day was a day of cessation from  all labor, including food preparation.

"For  on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you,  to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before  the Lord" (v30 KJV).

Notice  that  fasting  is connected with the  priest  making  the atonement  for  the people. This was a day when  all  sins  (physical  defilement and spiritual and moral sins) were purged  from national Israel.

In verse 30, the English words 'cleanse' and 'clean' are translated from  the Hebrew word 'tahor,' which is almost exclusively used to denote ritual and moral purity.

In  Zechariah's  prophetic vision (Zech.3:1-5),  the high priest Joshua  is pictured exchanging his filthy garments (unrighteousness)  for rich  apparel (righteousness), including a clean (tahor)  turban. The clean turban is symbolic of his new pure and sinless condition and the authority that he would have as a righteous and sinless representative of God.

"It shall be a Sabbath of rest to you, and you shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever" (v31 KJV).

This day was a day of cessation from all work and a day of fasting (not eating or drinking). On this day, the entire nation's  attention was supposed to be focused on  the  meaning  and purpose of this day's events.

"And  the priest whom he shall anoint, and whose hand  he shall consecrate  to act as a priest instead of his father, shall  make atonement, and  shall put on the linen garments, the  holy garments. And  he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, he  shall make atonement;  yes for the priest, and for the people of the congregation he shall make atonement" (vs.32-33 Para.).

These  specific rites of atonement had to be performed in order to cleanse the Most Holy Place within the tabernacle, the tabernacle as a whole, the two altars, the priesthood, and the nation.

This atonement process for the removal of sin was to be performed once  a  year as long as the nation of Israel existed  under  the sacrificial system:

"And this shall be to you a never-ending statute, to make  atonement for the sons of Israel, because of their sins, once  a  year" (v34 Para.).

Leviticus 23:27-32 KJV

The Day of Atonement is an extremely important festival, and those who refused to observe it were subject to the same punishment as those who refused to keep the Passover and eat unleavened bread on  the  Festival of Unleavened Bread. The Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and the Day of Atonement all had to do with the elimination of sin from God's  chosen people, and God will not dwell where sin is:

"Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of  atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you;  and  you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And you shall do no work in that same day: for it is  a day  of atonement, to make an atonement for you before  the  Lord your God. For  whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in  that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever  soul  it be that does any work in that same day,  the  same soul will I destroy from among his people" (vs.27-30).

The following scriptures show the festival, the command to assemble  together for the purpose of worship, and the requirement  to perform a national fast as a part of the day's worship are given:

"You  shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for  ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you  a Sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even,  shall  you celebrate your Sabbath;" (vs.31-32).

Numbers 29:7-11 KJV

"And  you  shall have on the tenth day of this seventh  month  an holy convocation; and you shall afflict your souls: you shall not do any work therein:" (v7).

Because  all of the animals noted in verses eight through eleven are to  be  offered  as burnt offerings as a sweet savor to the Lord, it is very unlikely that any of the eleven  animals, except one of the goats  mentioned  in verse eleven, were to be used in the  rituals concerning the Most Holy Place, the tabernacle, and the altars  of sacrifice and incense. If  this assumption is true, ten animals were  to be offered as a part of the Day of Atonement's formal worship  service,  in addition to the two lambs of the  daily  sacrifice (Num.29:1-8; Ex.29:38-45) and the special atonement rites that were to  be performed by the high priest (the bull and two goats):

"But  you  shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord for  a  sweet savor;  one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the  first year; they shall be to you without blemish: And their meat [meal] offering shall be of flour mingled with oil, three tenth deals to a  bullock, and two tenth deals to one ram, A several tenth  deal for one lamb, throughout the seven lambs: One kid of the goats for a sin offering; beside the sin offering of  atonement,  and the continual burnt offering,  and  the  meat offering of it, and their drink offerings" (vs.8-11).

Overall, God's instructions to keep  the  Day  of Atonement contain the following important aspects of this festival:



"The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who  were  killed  when they offered unholy  fire  to  the  Lord" (Lev.16:1 GNB).

In  the beginning of his instructions concerning how  to  perform the specific rites of atonement concerning the  Most Holy Place, the  tabernacle,  the altars, the priesthood, and the  nation  of Israel, God  inspired  Moses to mention the deaths of  Nadab  and Abihu that resulted from their failure to pay attention to the laws of purity.

Aaron's Two Sons   

The  two  sons of Aaron disregarded the  instruction that God gave concerning keeping all physical contamination out of  his presence. By bringing unholy fire within the confines  of the tabernacle, they had committed a serious violation of the law concerning purity and the tabernacle. By placing the impure fire in their censers, they defiled themselves as well as their censers, which made them impure and unfit to minister before God.

This  blatant  violation of God's law brought a swift  and  fatal response from the presence of God. The law was very clear on this subject.  All  physical things (people or  inanimate  objects) that came into the presence of God while he was  in  his spirit  form  within  the Tabernacle had to be in  a condition  of physical and  ceremonial purity:

"And  there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured  them,  and they  died  before the Lord" (Lev.10:2 Para.). See  also  Lev.10:1,3, 9-10,12.

The Most Holy Place

"He said, 'Tell your brother Aaron that only at the proper time is he  to  go behind the curtain into the Most Holy  Place,  because that  is where I appear in a cloud above the lid on the Covenant Box. If he disobeys, he will be killed" (Lev.16:2 GNB).

Within the heart of the tabernacle was the Most  Holy  Place. In this most sacred place was the ark of  the covenant (i.e., the mercy seat) where the presence of God resided. The ark of the  covenant contained the Ten Commandments written in stone  by the finger of God, Aaron's rod which signified his  authorization to meet with God and intercede for the people of Israel, and some of  the  food that God gave from heaven to sustain the  Israelites  as they traveled in the wilderness.

Who Was Aaron?

Who  was  Aaron and what were his  responsibilities  before  God?

Aaron  was the brother of Moses and his spokesman to the  Pharaoh before  Israel's exodus from Egypt. After the exodus,  God  appointed  Aaron to administer the sacrificial worship  system  and represent the nation of Israel before him.

One  of the reasons that God brought Israel out of Egypt was  for the purpose of representing his system of worship and his way of life to  the  world: they were to be a nation of  priests.  Although Moses was first in authority in Israel as the prophet of God  and the civil ruler, Aaron was the high priest who  governed  the priesthood serving at the tabernacle and he stood before God as the highest representative of Israel as a national priesthood.

Aaron's primary responsibility was to be a bridge between God and the  people in all matters concerning the sacrificial  system  of worship. Because of this responsibility, Aaron and all subsequent High  Priests were prophetic and symbolic of the  coming  Messiah who  would offer the perfect sacrifice to atone for the  sins  of humanity  and be the perfect and final mediator between God—the Father and humanity.

The Performance of the Atonement Rituals

Although  other members  of the priesthood could  officiate  in  various duties within the tabernacle, only Aaron as the high priest (and his  successors)  could perform the special  rituals that  were necessary  for  the atonement of the tabernacle and  the  people. Only  Aaron  could go behind the veil into the  Most  Holy  Place where the presence of God resided upon the  ark of the covenant:

"And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the  congregation when he goes in to make an atonement in the holy place, until  he come  out,  and have made an atonement for himself, and  for his household,  and  for all the congregation  of  Israel"  (Lev.16:17 KJV).

This  is  the one day of the year when God  would  appear upon  the  mercy seat in his glorified spirit-form.  Because  God himself would appear, the awesome power of his presence would  be extremely intense;  therefore, great care had to be taken in order to  prevent the accidental death of the high priest.

It is said that, because of the extreme danger involved in performing the rites of the  Day  of Atonement, at the close of the day during the  time  of  the second  temple, the  High  Priest  would invite his friends to a banquet to celebrate his successful  performance of the services.

Aaron's Preparation

Prior to actually entering the Most Holy Place as the representative  of  the nation of Israel, Aaron had to prepare  himself  by performing specific ritual sacrifices, washings, and other acts  in order to make sure that he and the priesthood were in  a condition  of  physical purity and  any sins that they might have been guilty of  were atoned for.

This  preparation was necessary  to guarantee  that  the High  Priest   would survive his meeting with God.  Coming so close to the presence of God was extremely dangerous and required that the rituals of atonement were performed in exact detail  in order  to remove all physical impurity from the High Priest  and the  priesthood. If the high priest failed to perform these  acts of purification correctly, he would die.

Under the agreement with ancient Israel, the priesthood, the  people, and all things that came into close contact with God had  to be  purified  and kept clean, simply because God will  not  dwell where  there  is  sin (Lev.19:2; 1.Pet.1:15-16),  whether  it  is sin of  physical defilement  (Ex.29:36-46; Deut.23:14) or spiritual or moral  sin. Absolutely nothing that is  physically  or spiritually  sinful under the terms and conditions of the  agreement  with  ancient Israel could come into the  presence of  God without being destroyed by the power of his presence.

The Holy Garments

"Before Aaron goes into the Most Holy Place, he must take a  bath and put on the priestly garments: the linen robe and shorts,  the belt, and the turban" (Lev.16:4 GNB).

The clothing that Aaron was commanded to wear during the Day of   Atonement rituals  was different from the usual golden clothing that he wore when officiating as high priest.

Each  time he would change from the golden attire into  the  holy linen  clothing (see Lev.16:32) or the reverse, he was  required  to wash his hands and feet and take a ritual bath. It is said that this process  occurred five times during the  Day  of  Atonement rites.

The white clothing that was to be worn during the Day of  Atonement rituals had great symbolic meaning for that day and the future. The scriptures clearly shows white clothing as symbolic  of righteousness, and, by extension, the one wearing the white  clothing  is symbolic of a righteous individual who stands before  God as pure  and sinless. See Dan.7:9-10;  Matt.17:1-3;  Rev.3:4-5,18; 7:13-14; 19:7-8.

"And  Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of  the  congregation, and  shall  put off the linen garments, which he put on  when  he went   into  the  holy  place,  and  shall  leave   them there" (Lev.16:23 Para.).

This record does not indicate the reason Aaron was to leave the white linen  clothing within  the tabernacle. Some Bible scholars believe that  this  clothing was not to be used again and was to  be destroyed. Others believe that it was left there to be  used the next year. However, it seems logical that, whether it was destroyed  or  used again, it was left because  it  symbolized righteousness  and righteousness  can only  exist  where  God's spirit is present.

The Bull and the Ram

"He  may  enter the Most Holy Place only after he has  brought  a young  bull  for a sin offering and a ram for a  burnt  offering" (Lev.16:3 GNB).

The Bull

The bull was to be a sin  offering.  The  word 'sin'  in verse 3 is a translation from the Hebrew word 'hattat.' This word  appears many times in both Leviticus and Numbers and it alternates  in  meaning between  'the reality of disobedience to  God',  'sin-offering', and  'the means of removing guilt and penalty'. In  this context, the noun is closely associated with the Hebrew word 'asham', which is often translated as 'guilt-offering'.

Because God says that the young bullock was to be offered as a sin  offering, it can be assumed it was being offered to expiate unintentional  sin  and  to remove  personal and physical  defilement. See Ex.chp.29.

The Ram

A  ram was one of the animals that could be offered as a  voluntary  act  of  worship, an expression of  devotion  and  complete surrender  to the will of God, or for expiation of  unintentional sin.

Although  verse 3 notes that Aaron could enter the Most Holy Place after these two sacrifices were made, it is very likely that the sacrifice  of  the bull and the ram were  a part of the day's  formal worship and not a part of the special atonement for the Most Holy Place,  the tabernacle, the two altars, the priesthood,  and  the nation as a whole.

Aaron's Sin Offering

It  is only after Aaron had made these two sacrifices that he was prepared  to  proceed with the rest of the  special  purification rituals.

"And  Aaron  shall bring near the bullock of  the  sin  offering, which  is his own, and shall make atonement himself and  for  his house" (Lev.16:6 Para.).

"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 KJV).

The  instruction for Aaron to sacrifice a bull as a sin  offering for  himself  and his house is mentioned a total of  three  times (the  number three is symbolic of divine perfection). The  sacrifice of this bull not only atones for Aaron but also for those of his house (i.e., those of the priesthood).

Purification of the Altar of Incense

Exodus 30:1-10 contains the instructions for the  construction of the altar of incense that was to be placed before the veil of the Most Holy Place:

"And  you  shall make an altar to burn incense  upon . . .  And  you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before  the mercy seat. . . where I will meet with you.  And Aaron shall  burn thereon sweet incense every morning . . ."  (Ex.30:1,6-7 KJV).

"And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it [the altar of incense] once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements:  once  a year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy to the Lord" (Ex.30:10 KJV).

This is the requirement to make an atonement for the  altar of incense once a year, which was necessary in order to remove all impurity  from the altar before Aaron could take coals from  it  to place  in his censer.  Remember that, when God's  spirit-presence comes  into contact with impurity, impurity is destroyed.  Therefore, the altar of incense had to be purified so that it would not contaminate  Aaron and cause his death when he entered into  the Most Holy Place to meet with God.

"And  he shall 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 veil: 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.16:12-13 KJV).

At some point after Aaron had made the appropriate sacrifices for himself  and his household, he took burning coals from the  altar  of incense, placed them in the incense burner that he carried  with him into the Most Holy Place behind the veil and placed  a large  amount  of  incense on the coals, which caused the pleasant smelling smoke to fill the room.

From  the scriptures, we know that it was very dangerous  to  come into close contact with or to look upon the glorified spirit-form of  God (Ex.33:18-23;  Lev.10:1-2); therefore, it is logical  that Aaron would purify the altar of incense before taking live coals from it and going behind the veil to meet God.

The following could be reasons why the cloud of incense was necessary:

"Lord,  I  cry  unto you: make haste unto me; give  ear  to  my voice, when I cry to you. Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psa.141:1-2 KJV).

"And  another angel came and stood at the altar, having a  golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer  it  with the prayers of all saints upon the golden  altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense,  which came  with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God  out of the angel's hand" (Rev.8:3-4 KJV). See also Rev.5:8.

Symbolically,  it seems that the censer was the vehicle that held  and carried the prayers of the people as they beseeched God to accept the  offerings that were made for spiritual and moral sin and purification from physical defilement.

Purification of the Mercy Seat

After the sacrifices for the atonement of  the altar of incense, it seems logical that the next ritual was the  purification of the mercy seat with the blood of a bull:

"And  he shall 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 Para.).

This  is the blood of the bullock that was offered for the  sins of  Aaron and his house in order to expiate  their  unintentional sins  and remove their physical defilement. We know this  because the bull is called a sin offering, not a burnt offering which the bull was called. This is noted in the list of animals  to be sacrificed  separately from the special rituals of atonement on this day  (Num.29:7-11). Moreover, sin offerings were mandatory for purification rites, whereas  burnt  offerings were voluntary and given as acts  of  fellowship and worship.


This blood was sprinkled upon  and  before  the mercy  seat seven times. The number seven is symbolic  of  divine perfection.

The Two Goats and the Ram

"From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for  a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering" (Lev.16:5 NIV).

Two goats were to be provided by the people of Israel to  be used in the special rituals on this day. It is  not  clear from  the  scriptures whether this ram is the same ram  noted  in verse  three or a different ram, which was to be offered at a  different  time.  What is certain, however, is that no time-frame is given  for  the sacrifice of a ram, except that a ram was  to  be offered before Aaron went behind the veil.

"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 KJV).

During  each  of the annual festivals one goat  was  offered  for atonement of sin; however, on the Day of Atonement, there were two goats  brought before God. These  two goats were led to the door of  the  tabernacle,  but not allowed to pass  through  it  alive, which was the case with all animals used  as sacrifices.

"And  Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot  for  the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat" (Lev.16:8 KJV).

There was a distinction made between  the  two goats;  one was for the Lord and the other was for something  different.  Notice  that God  made  the   selection between the two goats, which may be symbolic of God the  Father's selection of Christ as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity. See Psa.40:6-7; Heb.10:7-9; 1.Pet.1:18-20.

Although  the  scripture states that the goat is for the  Lord,  by extension,  this goat was also for the people; without the sacrificial blood of this goat being placed upon and before the mercy seat for its purification  from physical defilement, neither God  nor  his presence would be able to dwell among the people of Israel.

"And  Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot  fell, and offer him for a sin offering" (Lev.16:9 KJV).

After  Aaron went behind the veil and sprinkled the blood of  the bull  upon  and before the mercy seat, he had to  kill  the  goat that God had chosen to remove the physical defilement from  the people of Israel.

"Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people,  and  bring his blood within the veil, 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 Para.).

Again,  blood had to be sprinkled upon and before  the  mercy seat seven times, but this time, the blood of the goat was sprinkled.

"And he shall make an atonement for the sanctuary  because of the pollutions of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions  for all their sins. And so shall he do for the tabernacle of  the congregation, which is dwelling in the  midst  of  their pollutions" (Lev.16:1 Para).

Chapter 16 shows that the atonement was  necessary because  of the pollutions and  transgressions of  the Israelites.


In Leviticus 16, verse 1, the  English  word  'pollutions' is translated  from  the  Hebrew word 'tuma', which  means 'uncleanness'. ' Tuma' is associated with   physical defilement  (i.e., ceremonial impurity) which must be kept away from  anything that is holy. Therefore, it was necessary  for the Most Holy Place and the rest of the tabernacle to be  purged of  any  physical defilement that might have slipped in  during  the year.


Atonement was necessary because of the transgressions of God's law. In verse 1, the English word 'transgressions' is  a translation of the  Hebrew word 'pesha',  which means 'rebellion', 'revolt', or 'transgression'. This word is predominantly used to describe rebellion against the law and  covenant of God; therefore, as it is used in verse 1, 'persha' denotes the sum of misdeeds and a fractured relationship between man and God.

As  far as God is concerned, there are only two ways that  'pesha' (transgressions) can be erased: through punishment or a renewal of the covenant relationship.

Because  the presence of physical impurity  and  spiritual and moral sin causes a breach between God and humanity, this  breach had to be repaired in order for God and his people  to continue to fellowship with each other. It was for the reason  of renewing and maintaining this fellowship relationship that atonement for the Most Holy Place and the tabernacle was necessary.

Purification of the Altar of Sacrifice

"And  he shall go out to the altar that is before the  Lord,  and make  an  atonement for it; and shall take of the  blood  of  the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about" (Lev.16:18 KJV).

Some  believe  that the altar noted in verse 18 is the  altar  of incense; however, this is highly unlikely because it was necessary  to  purify the altar of incense before Aaron  took  live coals  from it in preparation to go behind the veil to meet  with God.

"And  with his finger he shall sprinkle blood on it seven  times, and  cleanse [Heb. tahor] it, and shall purify [Heb. qodesh]  it from  the  uncleanness  of the sons  of  Israel" (Lev.16:19 Para.).

In  verses  18-19, the high priest is told to take the  blood  of both  the bullock and the goat and put it upon the altar for  the purpose  of  removing physical defilement and restoring it  to  a condition of ceremonial purity.

The altar is atoned for by the blood of  both  the bull and the goat, which had also been taken into the Most Holy  Place. It  is  through this blood that the altar is  made  'tahor' (i.e., ceremonially pure) and it is through this blood that the altar is consecrated to the sphere  of  the  sacred 'qodesh' (i.e., made holy).

The blood of both the bull and the goat was used  for the expiation of defilement from unintentional sins and this blood symbolically  represents the blood of Jesus Christ whose perfect sacrifice makes it possible for all sin to be removed.

The Burning of the Bull and Goat

Only  the  blood of the bull and the goat was used in  the  atonement process; their fat had to be burned upon the altar of sacrifice for a peace offering. See Lev.4:26,31.

"And  the fat of the sin offering shall he [Aaron] burn upon  the altar" (Lev.16:25 KJV).

It is important to remember that these offerings were mandatory, not  voluntary. Because they were mandatory, perhaps the offering of the fat  indicated that God had accepted the blood of atonement and delighted in  the sweet savor (smell) offering because he could be at peace with  the Israelites.

"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 KJV).

Once  the atonement process had been completed, the carcasses  of the bull and the goat that were sacrificed for the atonement of  the Most Holy Place, the tabernacle, the altars, the priesthood,  and the nation as a whole, were taken outside the camp and burned.

"And  he  that burns them shall wash his clothes, and  bathe  his flesh in water, and after he shall come into the camp"  (Lev.16:8 KJV).

The fact that the carcasses of the bull and the goat had to be burned outside the camp and the one who burned them had to bathe and wash before entering the camp,  indicates that these animals were sacrificed  for the purpose  of  purification. See  also  Ex.29:1-14;  30:20-21; Num.19:1-21.

The  necessity  for  the atonement of the Most Holy Place,  the tabernacle, the altar, the priesthood, and the nation as a  whole once a year reveals that, without  the power of God's spirit, it is impossible to preserve an object or a  person  in a condition of physical and spiritual purity for very long.

The Live Goat

Some people believe that the live goat represents the devil, and the  sins of the people were put back upon him. However, this idea  is inconsistent  with the plan of God for the salvation of  humanity; in that,  salvation can only be obtained through the sacrifice and name  of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:10-12). The scriptures clearly  say that Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev.12:10), but he has  no part whatsoever  in their justification to the Father  or  their ultimate salvation. Satan is the originator of sin and, therefore, he could  never, in any way, have a part in being  an atonement for sin.

The Scapegoat

Once the sacrificial process of  atonement had been completed for the  Most Holy Place, the tabernacle, the altar, the  priesthood, and the nation as a whole, the live goat was brought to the high priest  for the final ritual concerning the removal of  sin  from Israel:

"And  when he has made an end of reconciling the holy place,  and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat" (Lev.16:20 KJV).

At  this point in time, the tabernacle, the priesthood,  and  the nation  as a whole were all in a condition of purity before  God. The bridge between God and his people was maintained, and formal relations  between  God  and his people could continue  for another year.

Why the Live Goat?

During each of the other annual festivals, only one goat had to be  offered for the atonement of sin, which is also true of the sin offering on the Day of Atonement. However, on the Day of Atonement, one live goat was required in addition to the goat of the burnt offering:

"And  Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot  fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the  lot fell  to  be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before  the Lord, to make an atonement with him,. . ."  (Lev.16:9-10 KJV).

If the atonement process was completed with the blood  sacrifices that had already been given, and the tabernacle and the nation as  a whole  were  already reconciled to God, why was there a need for a second  goat? What sin could be left to atone for if all sin  had already been atoned for?

What is a Scapegoat?

The English term 'scapegoat' used in the King James Version denotes  a person, animal, or object upon which a community's impurity  or  guilt was transferred and then  removed.  Today, 'scapegoat' often refers to an   innocent person whom  people  blame  for misfortunes, faults, or sins.

The word 'scapegoat' is a translation of the Hebrew word  'azazel',  which only appears in Leviticus 16. The exact definition of  this word is uncertain. In all four usages it has the preposition 'to' attached  to  it, which seems to indicate that something is  to  be done  to the goat. Various meanings that have been proposed  are: 'the goat that departs', 'the goat that is banished', 'the goat that is removed', or 'the goat that is sent.'

Regardless of the precise meaning of the word 'azazel', this goat had to have the people's sins placed upon it and it had to be sent far from the people.

The Second Goat Remains Alive

Under the Law of Offerings, the animals offered for atonement were always killed. There is no example in the Law of Offerings in which a sin offering must be left alive; all sin offerings were to be slain by the hand of the one making the offering. This is a very important point to understand, because the sacrificial animal symbolically bore  the punishment for the guilty person and symbolically paid for  their transgression  by  literally  giving  its  life (See   Heb.9:22 and Lev.17:11). In view of these facts, why would the sins  of  the people ever be placed on a live goat?

Although  the  King James translation uses  the  words  'sin-offering'  and 'atonement' in reference to the live goat,  it  is obvious  that this goat is not offered as a blood  sacrifice  for the  atonement of sin. Because the second  goat remained alive, it must be symbolic of something entirely  different from the sacrificial process of   atonement for ceremonial, physical, spiritual, and moral defilement.

The key to understanding what the live goat literally and symbolically  represents can be found in the original  Hebrew  language. Moreover, understanding the Hebrew words that are translated into the English words  'sin-offering' and 'atonement' in Leviticus 16, verses 5 and 10, will help clear up the confusion about the meaning of the live goat.


"From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for  a sin  offering  [Heb.'hattat'] and a ram for  a  burnt  offering" (Lev.16:5 NIV).

The  Hebrew  word  'hattat' appears many times in  the  books  of Leviticus  and  Numbers, alternating  in  meaning  between  'the reality  of disobedience to God', 'sin-offering', and 'the  means of  removing  guilt  and penalty'  (i.e.,  atonement/expiation  of sin).

Because  one goat was slain and the other was left alive, it seems that  a more conceptually accurate translation of the word 'hattat' in verse 5  would be one of the following:

Atonement for Sin

"But  the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat [azazel]  shall  be presented  alive before the Lord to be used for making  atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat [azazel]" (Lev.16:10 NIV).

As  stated before, the word 'atonement' (kippurim)  concerns  the means by which a person who is estranged from God is placed  back into harmony with him. The conceptual meaning of 'kippurim' contains both the method and the result. When the method is properly carried out, the breach between God and man is healed; the result of sin is removed.

Both  goats  are  a part of the atonement process  by  which  the breach  is healed between God and man. Each goat atones  for  the sins  of the people; however, each goat does this by  an  entirely different  method. One goat is slain to eliminate the  result  of sin and the other goat lives to eliminate the result of sin.

Bible  Translators

When the Bible was translated into English, the translators often did  not know the exact meaning of certain words, so they made  their best guess based on textual context, the theology of the  day,  and personal preferences. This seems to be the problem with  the words  'hattat'  and 'kippurim', which have been  translated into 'sin', 'sin-offering', and 'atonement'.

Understanding  that  the translation and  interpretation  of  the Hebrew  words 'hattat' and 'kippurim' is dependent upon the  context  in  which each is used is a major key to  understanding  the literal and symbolic meaning of the live goat.

Because the slain bull and goat had already fulfilled the  function of  substituting a life for a life in payment for the penalty  of sin, the live goat, not being a blood sacrifice for sin, was still a part of the atonement process, as noted in verse 10. But what part?

The Bearer of Sin

When  we  view the live goat as only a bearer of sin  and  not  a sacrifice for sin, the literal and symbolic meaning of it becomes very  clear.  The live goat was an atonement for sin,  in  that  it bore the  sins  of Israel and carried them  away  from  Israel. Thereby, it performed the  function of an atonement  by  removing Israel's sin from God's view:

"And  Aaron  shall lay both his hands upon the head of  the  live goat, 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" (Lev.16:21 Para.).

Because the live goat was to  bear the whole nation's sins, it  is obvious that these sins still existed. But why?  These sins  still existed because the people were still guilty of sin, even after being purged of  it  through the blood of the  sacrifices.  The  whole nation, including the priesthood, were still guilty of something.

To gain a clear understanding of what was placed  upon  the live goat, it is important to know the meaning  of  the Hebrew  words that have been translated into the  English  words 'iniquities', 'transgressions', and 'sins' in Leviticus 16:21.


The English word 'iniquities' is translated from the Hebrew  word 'awon', which means 'iniquity,' guilt,' or 'punishment.'


The  English word 'transgression', which is used to  describe  the type of sin being atoned for in both Leviticus 16 and Numbers  29 during the special atonement rituals is the Hebrew word  'pesha', which can only mean 'rebellion', 'revolt', or 'transgression'. This word denotes the sum of misdeeds and a fractured relationship between God  and man.


The Hebrew word used here for 'sins' is the noun 'hattat',  which is usually used with the word 'pesha'. 'Hattat' pertains to the reality of guilt before God (i.e., sin).

Although all iniquity, all transgressions, and all sins of the nation of Israel were atoned for by the blood sacrifices, all  of these sins  existed and were to be symbolically placed upon the  live goat. But, if Israel's sin had already been atoned for,  why did it still exist?

Israel's Spiritual and Moral Sins Were Not Forgiven

There can be no doubt that the covering and removal of Israel's physical defilement  (ceremonial and physical impurity) and  the  setting aside  of the punishment for their spiritual and moral sin  had  been accomplished through the blood of the sacrifices.

There  is also no doubt that their spiritual and moral sins  had  not been  forgiven, because these sins were symbolically  placed  upon the live goat.

Israel's Sins Were Set Aside, Not Forgiven

The reason that the sins of Israel still existed after they were atoned for, is that they could never have been truly  forgiven and  forgotten.  Before the advent of Jesus Christ,  there  was  no forgiveness of sin as we think of forgiveness under today's agreement with God. Prior to Christ's death and resurrection,  forgiveness   of sin was temporary. Sins were forgiven,  in  that the  punishment for certain violations of God's law  were  temporarily set aside.

The  writer  of Hebrews explains why sins  under  the  sacrificial system could never be totally forgiven.

Hebrews 10:1-4 Paraphrased

"For the law being a shadow of good things to come, and not  the very  image  of these things, can never with the  sacrifices  which they continually offered year by year make the offerers  perfect. If these sacrifices had made the offerers perfect, then why would they  have to continually offer sacrifices? Would not they  have ceased  to offer sacrifices? If the worshipers were purged,  then they  should  have no more consciousness of sins.  But  in  these sacrifices  there is a remembrance of sins every year. For it  is not  possible  that the blood of bulls and of goats  should  take away sins."

The sins of Israel were brought to remembrance every year on  the Day of Atonement because they were not forgiven or forgotten. The reason  they could not be forgiven or forgotten was that the sacrifices  were not perfect; they had no power to forgive  sins. Therefore,  the sins still existed and the people were still  guilty of their sin.

Although the blood of bulls and goats was symbolic of the  cleansing and forgiving power of Christ's blood, it could never forgive sins.

Israel's Sin Sent Away

"And  Aaron  shall lay both his hands upon the head of  the  live goat, 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, and shall send him away  by  the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:" (Lev.16:21 KJV).

At the time these instructions were given,  Israel was camped  in Sinai,  which was a very large  and mostly uninhabited  area.  The English word 'wilderness', in verse 21, is translated from the Hebrew word 'midbar', which generally describes three types of country: pasture lands,  uninhabited  land,  or the area of Sinai. Regardless  of  the  exact meaning of the Hebrew word that was translated into 'wilderness' in verse 21 and 22, the inference  is clear; the live goat had to be taken away  from  the camp of Israel and set loose:

"And  the goat shall bear  upon him all their iniquities  unto a land  not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the  wilderness" (Lev.16:22 KJV).

Although the live goat bore all the sins of Israel upon it  and these sins were taken away from the camp of Israel, the punishment for  these  sins had not been exacted and  the penalty had  not  been paid. The live goat could only atone for these sins by temporarily  removing them from Israel, just as the slain goat could  only atone for sin by providing a temporary substitute for the life of those who were guilty of sin.

The blood of bulls and goats could not forgive sin, it could only  act as a temporary substitute for the life of the offender.

These  sins still existed, the people were still guilty  of  sin, and  the  next year on the Day of Atonement these same sins and any  committed during the year would be  remembered  and would have to be atoned for by the blood of bulls and goats and symbolically  sent  away from the nation of Israel  for  another year.

This atonement process had to be repeated year after year because, under  the  terms  and conditions of the agreement  between  God  and ancient  Israel, only the life of the law breaker could pay  the penalty for their sin. Animal life was only a substitute  payment, which would be made until payment was made either by the law breaker or another  substitute whose life was more valuable than that of the law breaker.

The Live Goat Was Defiled by Sin

"And  he  that let go the goat for the scapegoat shall  wash  his clothes, and bathe his flesh with pure water, and afterward  come into the camp" (Lev.16:26 Para.).

The man who came into contact with  the  live goat had to be physically cleansed before he could come back into the camp, because he had been in contact with an  animal that was symbolically defiled with the sins of Israel.

The Two Goats

Together, these two goats were symbolic of Israel's reconciliation with  God.  The slain goat symbolically paid the  price  of  sin, whereas the live goat symbolized the removal of the sin.

These  goats were both symbolic  and prophetic of the perfect process  of atonement. The blood of the slain goat represented the atoning  blood  of Jesus Christ, whereas the live  goat  represented sins awaiting Christ's  perfect sacrifice in order to  obtain  total forgiveness of sin and its removal forever.


The  Creator God  brought the Israelites out of Egypt because  he had  a job for them to do and a purpose for their existence as  a nation.  These people were called to be a nation of priests   who would  represent God to the world as they practiced his  religion to  perfection; thereby, he would show his plan for the  salvation  of humanity.

The  perfect situation would have been for Israel to  have  maintained   physical  purity   and righteousness  through  perfect obedience to God's law. However, Israel could not do this because the  entire  physical existence was  contaminated  with  physical defilement  from which it was impossible to remain isolated  for very long. Righteous behavior was also extremely difficult for the Israelites to maintain, because they did not have perfect character and were subject to human weaknesses.

The best that could be hoped for in this situation was that  each time  an  infraction  of the law was brought to  light,  it  was atoned for at the earliest opportunity. Although atonement  could be  made for individuals daily and it was made daily for the nation as  a whole, as time passed, unresolved sin of all  types accumulated over the year.

Therefore,  once a year on the Day of Atonement, all of the various types of sin that had accumulated over the past year were to be atoned for, so that God could continue to dwell among his people.

The Major Lessons of The Day of Atonement:

The Atonement for Sin

The special rituals on this day were performed  for  two  basic reasons:

1. To  cover and remove  physical  defilement  (ceremonial and physical impurity)   from the Most Holy Place within the  tabernacle, the tabernacle itself, the altar, the priesthood, and the nation as a whole.

2. To set aside spiritual and moral defilement  (sin) of the  nation  of Israel that was done unintentionally or through ignorance. Once these two things had been accomplished, the nation of Israel was reconciled to God and he could continue to dwell within the tabernacle and commune with his people.