16:1–34 The Day of Atonement, when annual atonement was made for the sins of the nation, was the holiest day in the Old Testament calendar. It fell in the Hebrew seventh month (October) and involved the offering of various sacrifices, the entry of the high priest into the Most Holy Place (in this chapter referred to simply as the “Holy Place” or “holy sanctuary”), and the dispatch of a goat into the wilderness carrying the people’s sins. For a summary of the sacrifices see notes on chs. 1; 4; and 5. A summary of the rites is given in vv. 6–10 and fuller details in vv. 11–28. The Day of Atonement proceeded according to the following steps: (a) The high priest washed and dressed (v. 4); (b) he sacrificed a bull as a sin offering for himself (v. 6; cf. v. 11); (c) he entered the Most Holy Place and sprinkled the ark with blood (vv. 12–14); (d) he took two goats and by lot chose one to be the scapegoat (Azazel), the other to be a sin offering (vv. 7–8); (e) he sacrificed one goat as a sin offering (vv. 9, 15); (f) he entered the Most Holy Place and sprinkled the ark with blood (v. 15); (g) he went out to the outer part of the tabernacle of meeting and sprinkled the blood (v. 16); (h) he went out into the courtyard of the tabernacle and sprinkled the main altar with blood (vv. 18–19); (i) he confessed the sins of the Israelites as he laid his hands on the scapegoat’s head (v. 21); (j) he sent the scapegoat into the wilderness (vv. 21–22); (k) the scapegoat gone, the high priest changed into his regular garments and washed (vv. 23–24); and (l) finally, he offered burnt offerings for himself and for the people (vv. 24–25).
For the high priest, the most important aspects of the ceremony were his entry into the Most Holy Place with the blood of the sin offerings and the dispatch of the scapegoat into the wilderness. These actions atoned for the sins of repentant Israelites (vv. 16, 19, 21–22). All sin offerings served to cleanse both the earthly sanctuary and the worshipers, but on other occasions the high priest did not enter the (inner) Most Holy Place, but only the anteroom before the separating veil (usually called the “Holy Place”), the chamber containing the altar of incense, the gold lampstand, and the table of showbread. Because the ark of the covenant, the focal point of God’s presence in the tabernacle (v. 2 note; Ex. 25:17–22 and notes), was housed in the Most Holy Place, entry to the Most Holy Place was rare and dangerous (v. 2). That the high priest entered the inner chamber only on this one day of the year indicated the depth of atonement being made.
The scapegoat ceremony was also unique to this day. By placing his hands on the goat’s head and confessing the nation’s sins, the high priest transferred those sins to the goat. The goat then symbolically carried the people’s sins away into the wilderness. Christians have long regarded the scapegoat as a type of Christ. The New Testament makes many comparisons between the Day of Atonement and the death of Christ (Heb. 9:6–28; 13:11–13). That Christ was delivered to the Gentiles and killed outside the walls of Jerusalem indicated that He was sent “outside the camp” like the scapegoat of old.