Leviticus 16

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Read Leviticus 16

The Day of Atonement

16 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

“This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Go Deeper

Leviticus 16 is a shift away from the regulations regarding uncleanliness and into a new section on the day of atonement. When reading Leviticus, we modern believers are tempted to disregard the regulations and rituals as belonging to the God of the Old Testament. We read the litany of requirements to make sacrifices at the temple and (perhaps too easily) dismiss the potency of what these scriptures reveal about God today.

If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), then we must let Leviticus challenge us with the truth that God is altogether Holy and completely pure. He does not wink at disobedience or nod at white lies. He is light and there is not one atom of shadow or darkness within the expanse of His brilliance (James 1:17). Too easily we shortchange the exhaustive grace of Jesus, by minimizing the utter sanctity of a God who will not allow his name to be associated with anything but holy reverence and undiluted honor. All of the washing and clean linen directives, the sacrifices and incense aren’t just rituals. They are directly in response to the Lord striking down the sons of Aaron for being flippant in their duties to Yahweh. There is no such thing as a little sin with a holy God. He does not categorize sin. For Yahweh, partial obedience is complete disobedience.

It is interesting, too, the order and magnitude of sacrifice for Aaron and for the Children of Israel. Aaron must sacrifice a full bull as a sin offering for just his sin and the sin of his household. And he must offer that sacrifice for his own sin before he deals with the sin of Israel. Moreover, the sacrifice for the millions of Israelites was simply a goat. It seems to correlate with Jesus’s statements in the New Testament about removing the plank in your own eye before you seek to remove the speck from your brother’s (Matthew 7:3-5). Confession and absolution are personal first and public second. How often have we prayed for the redemption of our fallen culture when we haven’t even dealt with the very same sin issue in our own lives? Leviticus 16 seems to say that our heart’s position is exponentially more important than our heart’s petition.


  1. What does Leviticus 16 teach you about God? What does this chapter teach you about humanity? 
  2. What ways have you allowed the grace of the cross to diminish your understanding of God’s holiness?
  3. As you pray for the sins of the nation and for a turning of people’s hearts to God, have you hardened your heart against personal repentance and obedience?

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5 thoughts on “Leviticus 16”

  1. Reading a commentary in reference to this chapter, it was pointed out that the Hebrew word atone means “to cover”. Old Testament sacrifices could not remove sins, only cover them. How grateful I am for the ultimate sacrifice of Christ “who removes our sins as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). I’m soaking in the lyrics of this song, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” in deepest gratitude. Take a listen!


  2. Reading through Leviticus, and the commentary today of Chapter 16, I am reminded that all too often I approach the Lord so casually because of the grace extended to me through Jesus who was the sacrificial Lamb for all the sins of the world. God is so very much more holy than I can imagine or than I demonstrate. I am so grateful for the powerful blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for me.
    ‘Grace covers a multitude of sins,” but does not negate my need to approach our holy God with the reverence He is due.

  3. Bible study tools described atonement very well and summed it up. God’s love for us!!!!!

    Hebrews 2:17 points squarely at Jesus as the high priests of Leviticus 16 who offers a sacrifice of atonement (hilaskomai [iJlavskomai]) for his brothers and is therefore a merciful and faithful high priest, but who is of course also the very sacrifice he offers, suffering so that he is able to help those who are tempted in their time of need. The oneness both between Jesus and the redeemed and between God and humanity is emphasized by the family metaphor used throughout the context of the passage (Heb 2:10-17). Similarly, in 1 John 2:2 Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement (hilasmos [iJlasmov”]) is powerful enough to heal the sins of the whole world and unite it to God, but it is only “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1) who can accomplish this. God’s sovereignty and love in atonement are clearly seen in 1jo 4:10 and cap the New Testament teaching on this essential doctrine: our love for God is not the issue, but rather his for us and it is this love that has both motivated and produced the sacrifice of atonement (hilasmos [iJlasmov”]) necessary for healing the relationship of God to man. So the biblical teaching about atonement is summed up: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jo 4:10).
    Andrew H. Trotter, Jr.
    God thank you for your love for us and that you so desired children and that it is specifically us!!! Thank you for helping us to love you back by obeying and doing right things and making right choices in Jesus name Amen

  4. V17…having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
    I can’t help but question the community and ALL their sins. Who are we specifically talking about? If we look back in Exodus, most of the Israelites were not crazy in love with God. You can look at Israel today and see the whole community is divided….just like in America. So does this text only apply to the community of believers/worshippers in the temple? I can’t help but wonder what some thought of these atonements. Radical? Ridiculous? Flat not going to work? Is this not how the world views us now? Are we crazy in love with God, or are we lukewarm —just enough devoted to God to keep us from looking absurdly Christian?
    I know I appear crazy to some. I know there are people that question my authenticity. And it kinda started to bother me until Sunday until our Pastor reminded us that Jesus appeared crazy, too…to his family and to the Pharisees in Mark 3. Just like I’m sure Moses and Aaron appeared to some of the community.
    Using JP’s tactic…On a scale from 1-10, how crazy are you for God? Are you devoted enough to God to sacrifice and lay down your life to serve Him?
    (These questions are what I’ve asked of myself as I’ve read.)

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