The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Leviticus 16

Lev 16:1

Lev 16: Outline of events on the Day of Atonement: The day would seem to begin as usual with the offering of the morning sacrifice, the burnt offering of a one-year-old lamb (Exo 29:38-42; Num 28:3-6). After these duties were performed, the High Priest would commence the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, as prescribed in Lev 16:
Historical basis for Day of Atonement: Commemoration of Adam's rejection from Garden.

Lev 16:2

TELL YOUR BROTHER AARON NOT TO COME WHENEVER HE CHOOSES INTO THE MOST HOLY PLACE...: "It can be assumed by the phrase 'at all times' [KJV] that up until the time of Nadab and Abihu's sin of offering strange fire, the high priest would have had access continually to the Most Holy Place. In place of this continual access, the Day of Atonement was instituted where the priests only had access one day per year to the Holiest of Holies.

"It appears from Lev 9; 10... that this consuming fire came on the VERY FIRST DAY of Nadab and Abihu's ministration before the Lord... Their very first day on the job, so to speak, found them terminated in the most literal and tragic way thus barring this priestly order from continual Most Holy access.

"It is highly symbolic that the Aaronic priesthood was not originally barred from continual access to the Most Holy. It was on account of sin that this way was thwarted. For a system whose primary objective was to demonstrate the sinfulness and inevitability of sin, there could not be a more fitting start. The flesh and its results are clearly and dramatically demonstrated... The writer to the Hebrews makes several points which are even more poignant with this bit of additional information: (1) The priesthood of Christ was not limited by sin. 'For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need' [Heb 4:15,16]. Jesus, in living a sinless life, reopened the way that had been closed by sin. The barrier erected by man's sin in the Garden to their God was confirmed in the fleshly priesthood of Aaron, but opened by the blood of Jesus Christ. Aaron's sons died because of sin thus barring access to God while Jesus died without sin thus opening the way to God.

"While the sin of Nadab and Abihu closed off access to the Most Holy Place except once a year on the Day of Atonement, Jesus entered once and stayed forever. 'For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us' (Heb 9:24). We need not wait to approach unto God as did the men of Israel, but can access God through our High Priest whenever we pray in his name" (KT).

BECAUSE I APPEAR IN THE CLOUD: God dwelt in the cloud, as He did in Christ: Col 2:9.

Lev 16:8

SCAPEGOAT: Heb "azazel". "The meaning of the Heb term (which occurs four times in the OT, all of them in this chapter: vv 8,10,10,26) is much debated. There are three major views: (1) Some derive the term from a combination of the Heb words 'goat' and 'go away' meaning 'the goat that departs' or 'scapegoat'. This meaning suits the ritual practice of sending the so-called scapegoat away into the wilderness (vv 10, 21,22, 26). Similarly, some derive the term from an Arabic word meaning 'remove' (BDB 736). (2) Some see the term as a description of the wilderness area to which the goat was dispatched. (3) The most common view among scholars today [which is plainly false, but interesting nonetheless as an indication of how false ideas develop and proliferate: GB] is that it is the proper name of a particular demon (perhaps even the Devil himself) associated with the wilderness desert regions. Levine has proposed that it may mean 'mighty goat'. He suggests that a possible connection with the 'goat-demons' of the desert in Lev 17:7 (cf Isa 13:21, etc), should not be ignored in the derivation of Azazel, although the term ultimately became the name of 'the demonic ruler of the wilderness'... Perhaps a play on words between the proper name and the term for 'goat' has occurred so that the etymology has become obscure" (NET notes).

Lev 16:11

Vv 11,12: "As God instituted the ceremony associated with the Day of Atonement based on this tragic event, it would be impossible every year as Aaron performed it not to recall the awful scene of that first day. Imagine a holy festival consecrated as a result of your children's death. Much of the ceremony itself would be a painful reminder of the death of his two sons as well as the sin which brought it about on that fateful day.

"As the Law required... Aaron would have to take into his hand a censer exactly like (or possibly the same one!) as his two sons had in their hands when they were struck dead by God for offering 'strange fire'. Aaron would probably have little difficulty summoning up the humility required to first offer a sin offering for himself as required on that day knowing that he was about to carry fire before the Lord. He definitely would not enter in casually. There is a tremendous lesson for us in this.

"As he laid his hands upon the bull, would he recall the Golden Calf that he had so foolishly produced in the wilderness of Sinai? Would he recall his failings as a father -- to produce two sons who more than likely were drunk of this first day of their priesthood (Lev 10:9)? As they lead the scapegoat out of the camp, would he be reminded of the bodies of his sons who were carried outside of the camp (Lev 10:5)?

"How would God react to this event? Here was a man appearing before him grieving for the loss of his sons as a result of sin. Surely God would want to tell Aaron, 'You know, Aaron, I have killed your sons because of their sin. But one day in the distant future your sons are going to kill my son. The big difference is going to be that he won't deserve to die.'

"So we have two fathers grieving over sin, the loss of their sons as the blood flowed freely and plentifully.

"The only incident more dramatic than this scene was when the shadow became reality several thousand years later on a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha" (KT).

TO MAKE ATONEMENT FOR HIMSELF: High Priest first offers for self, then for sins of people: v 15. "This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people" (Heb 5:3). "He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12).

Lev 16:12

The censer would be suspended on his wrist.

Lev 16:13

SO THAT HE WILL NOT DIE: The cloud formed by the incense protects the High Priest from God's holy presence. Acceptable preparation and prayer are our only protection when we venture into God's presence. "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions" (Isa 44:22).

Lev 16:17

NO ONE...: The High Priest (repr Christ) is the only mediator.

Lev 16:21

IN THE CARE OF A MAN APPOINTED FOR THE TASK: Cp Simon from Cyrene, with the cross (Luk 23:26).

Lev 16:31

SABBATH OF REST: Lit, "sabbath of sabbaths", or great sabbath.

Lev 16:33

AND ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE COMMUNITY: The congregation awaited the High Priest's reappearance from the Most Holy: Heb 9:28; Col 3:1-4.

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