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Year 1, Week 14, Day 2

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Leviticus 15-16.

Today’s reading concludes the present segment, begun in Leviticus 11, which described ritual purity. Leviticus 11-15 distinguished the condition of uncleanness from cleanness. Leviticus 15 describes various bodily discharges and emissions, from both men and women that constitute uncleanness. The matters of discharge and emission spoken of are not natively sinful, so the state of uncleanness was not necessarily sinful. And yet, the orientation of clean and unclean in many normal facets of life, helped Israel to grasp the stark contrast between the Holiness of the LORD and the extensiveness of their sinful condition. Concern with distinguishing between clean and unclean was a means by which Israel could dwell safely in the presence of the Lord: “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” (Leviticus 15:31). But Israel needed more than the ability to distinguish unclean from clean; they needed to be made clean. Leviticus 16 provided the means by which Israel could experience not only purification from their uncleanness, but also pardon from their sins. Leviticus 16 describes Israel’s Day of Atonement.

What struck me in today’s reading was the LORD’s provision of forgiveness as seen in the events surrounding the Day of Atonement: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5). The Day of Atonement addressed a matter of great importance to the covenant people of Israel. The LORD had proclaimed that He is a forgiving God: “The LORD…forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7). Leviticus 16 explains how forgiveness occurred. 

Leviticus 16 is the literary and theological center of the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses). Leviticus is the center of the Pentateuch and Leviticus 16 is the center of Leviticus. The structure of Leviticus can be grasped in a couple of ways. First, the phrase, “and the LORD said to Moses” (Leviticus 16:2), is used thirty-seven times in Leviticus—eighteen times in Leviticus 1-15, one time in Leviticus 16, and eighteen more times in Leviticus 17-27. Second, the structure of Leviticus places chapter 16 at the center. Leviticus 1-7 parallels Leviticus 23-27 and each parallel pertains to the sacrifices. Leviticus 8-10 parallels Leviticus 21-22 and each parallel pertains to priestly instructions. Leviticus 11-15 parallels Leviticus 17-20 and each parallel pertains to ritual purity for the people. That leaves Leviticus 16 as the center of the Book’s structure. And the center of Leviticus 16 is: “Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.” (Leviticus 16:16). Thus, the center of the Pentateuch is the LORD’s provision of Atonement—how a Holy God provides pardon and purification for His people so they can draw near.

The Day of Atonement was an annual event in which the High Priest entered the Holiest Place in the Tabernacle, where the Ark of Covenant and the Mercy Seat resided. This was the only day of the year that the Holiest Place could be entered, and then only by the High Priest. After the High Priest made provision for his own sin and uncleanness (Leviticus 16:3-14), there were additional movements that the High Priest took on behalf of the nation. First, the High Priest would sacrifice a goat on behalf of the people: "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, see 16:15-20). Next, the High Priest would release a second goat: “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). The significance of these two goats being involved in the Day of Atonement activities reflects two dimensions of the LORD’s atoning work. First, it demonstrated that a death occurred for the sin incurred as the sins of the people were transferred to the slaughtered goat. Second, it demonstrated that a removal of sin transpired as the sins of the people were transferred to the other goat, who lived, but was taken outside the camp, removed from the nation.

The Day of Atonement was for the purpose of pardon and purification: “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.” (Leviticus 16:30). This great day in the life of Israel  provided an annual cleansing and previewed an eternal cleansing: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:24,26).

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe