And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21-22
Much is required to approach a holy God. It is not to be taken lightly. There are restrictions in place to approach the Ark and offer the sacrifices. A thick curtain separates the Ark from the tabernacle. Only the high priest can enter this space, called the holy of hollies, and only once a year. On the Day of Atonement (or “Yom Kippur”), the high priest brings two young goats and a bull to make a sacrifice offering on behalf of all the people. Blood is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Fitting that it is shed over the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the law is kept. The law that shows us what holiness looks like, but also that we can’t keep it on our own.
At God’s direction, one goat is sacrificed with the bull, and the other one is set free. The blood from the sacrificed goat and bull is sprinkled on God’s mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. The priest then puts his hands on the other goat and confesses the sins of the nation, transferring them onto the goat. The goat is brought deep into the wilderness and released with the sins of the people.
Two goats – payment for sin and removal of sin. Death and freedom.
For the Israelites, it becomes part of their customs and rituals. But it is temporary forgiveness and cleansing. It is a shadow of the sacrifice Jesus will come to offer. Not only does Jesus come to die on the cross to shed blood in payment for our sins, but He also transfers His righteousness to us. He takes our punishment AND sets us free. Free from guilt and condemnation. Free to approach a holy God.
Question: How do you see the work of Jesus in each goat – the sacrificed goat and the scapegoat set free?
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Leviticus 16:15
One part of the tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant. Think of the Ark as a chest. On top of the ark is a mercy seat flanked by two angels made of gold. Inside the ark are the tablets with the commandments (written by the hand of God and given to Moses), Aaron’s rod (likely the one used as part of trying to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go), and a pot of manna (the bread that rained down from heaven daily to provide nutrition for the Israelites while in the desert). A way to remember God’s commands, power, and provision.
This is where God will meet His people and where the sacrifices will be made for the forgiveness of sins.
A major theme of the book of Leviticus in the Bible is HOLINESS and being SET APART. God’s kingdom is different than the world, requiring acknowledgment and payment for sins, and then a turn toward holiness. But the law itself and our inability to follow it demonstrates our lack of holiness on our own. The temporary solution is a very intricate and detailed sacrificial system that is set in motion for the forgiveness of sins and giving thanks to God. Leviticus lays out a sort of priest handbook for oversight of the temple and these sacrifices.
But they are never enough. Sacrifices have to be made year after year… UNTIL Jesus comes and becomes the final and perfect sacrifice of bloodshed for sin and reconciliation.
Questions: Why was it important for God’s people to be set apart? Often God will ask the Israelites to build something or save something or do something to help them remember important events and truths about who He is. What are some things you have created or saved to help you remember something special?