The Bible

Leviticus 16 : Day of Atonement

Study the Inner Meaning

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;

2 And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.

3 Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.

4 He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.

5 And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

6 And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.

7 And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.

9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.

10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.

11 And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:

12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail:

13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:

14 And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.

15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:

16 And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.

18 And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.

19 And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

20 And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:

21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:

22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.

23 And Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there:

24 And he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering, and the burnt offering of the people, and make an atonement for himself, and for the people.

25 And the fat of the sin offering shall he burn upon the altar.

26 And he that let go the goat for the scapegoat shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward come into the camp.

27 And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall one carry forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung.

28 And he that burneth them shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp.

29 And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:

30 For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.

31 It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.

32 And the priest, whom he shall anoint, and whom he shall consecrate to minister in the priest's office in his father's stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen clothes, even the holy garments:

33 And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.

34 And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.


Study the Inner Meaning

Commentary on this story:

Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:

Apocalypse Revealed 10, 242, 378, 379, 392, 393, 395, ...

Arcana Coelestia 716, 934, 1001, 1947, 2180, 2576, 2830, ...

Life 59

True Christian Religion 284

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


Commentary

The Day of Atonement

By Rev. Scott Frazier

The scapegoat, as described in the Book of Leviticus, was used to carry the sins of the Children of Israel.

“Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for Jehovah and the other lot for Azazel.” (Leviticus 16:8)

There are three states that precede yearly repentance:
1. humility through external truth;
2. a strong desire to replace our love with the Lord’s love;
3. and behavior based on our understanding of the Lord’s Word.

By intentionally seeking these states, we can participate in the repentance, reformation, and regeneration that the Lord is constantly endeavoring to bring to us.

The Lord describes this progression of states in the ritual given to Moses called the Day of Atonement. The story in Chapter 16 of Leviticus is a description of this process: we dress in the simple linens of servitude; we fill the Holy of Holies with incense; and then we paint the altar of burnt offering with the blood of sacrifice. After this the Lord will help us banish the goat that symbolizes the evils from which we are trying to flee. This ritual serves as the most holy and powerful description of repentance in the Old Testament, presages the power of the Divine Human of the Lord, and offers us a model of how we cooperate with the Lord to join Him in His heavenly kingdom.

Because the Israelitish church was a representation of a church, a kind of Divine reenactment of a true church, all of their rituals are symbols and pictures of the spiritual processes that are vital for the church.

The Day of Atonement was the time of the year when the Israelites, in the person of the high priest, cleansed the Tabernacle of all the residual sin of the Children of Israel, much as we might periodically clean out our closet or have a weekend of spring cleaning once a year. Our spiritual life operates the same way – things build up, and a larger examination and cleaning is sometimes in order.

The Day of Atonement is also, in the internal sense, a picture of the subordination of our external selves to our internal selves, a state of self-compulsion described by the Heavenly Doctrines as the greatest state of freedom. We should remember that all of this must be done voluntarily, and that it represents only our part in the process; regeneration is something accomplished by the Lord, and He asks us to participate.

This ritual was the only time of the year the high priest could safely enter the Holy of Holies. He would take off his official high-priest garb of breastplate, crown and ephod and instead wear a simple linen smock with simple linen breeches. He would then choose two goats, one for the Lord, one for evil. He would then mix embers from a burnt offering of a bull with a handful of incense in a firepan. Then, carefully, he would place the smoking firepan past the veil of the Tabernacle into the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The smoke would fill the chamber and thus protect the high priest from clearly seeing the Ark and therefore being struck dead when he entered the chamber again. He would then go back, collect the blood of the sacrifice, and ritually cleanse the entire Tabernacle with the blood, sprinkling it by hand on the Ark and the interior of the tabernacle. He would then take the remaining blood and paint it on the corner posts or ‘horns’ of the altar of burnt offering, thus finishing the purification. Having cleansed the Tabernacle, the high priest could then transfer the sins of the entire people to the goat chosen for evil. This goat would then be driven into the desert, carrying with it the sins of the Israelites.

We, too, must first put on simple linen, the clothes a servant would wear, symbolizing the simple, external truths of humility we should adopt. We realize that we have no power and need help. We practice the thought that we are not masters of our fate, that we are not the authors of our own happiness, and that left to ourselves we would be incapable of use, thought, or life.

These are not thoughts in which to spend all our time. We normally try to shape our lives to be useful to those around us, but this is when we contemplate how powerless we are as we prepare to approach the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, in our story from the New Testament, is likewise clothed in simple linen when He teaches the disciples the value of repentance. As He washes Peter’s feet, he is clothed much as a high priest would be on the Day of Atonement.

We ourselves can imagine taking off our normal thoughts and identity like clothing. Take off your bank account and job description, take off your memory and intelligence and worries, take off your hobbies and your disposition and your habits, and put on the thought that you are simply to be obedience to the Lord’s truth.

Once he is clothed in the simple linens, the high priest then mixes holy fire from sacrifice with incense to fill the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle with smoke. This is our second step – we must adopt the state of wanting to replace our loves – our identities – with the Lord’s love.

We are not accustomed to imagining the Lord as dangerous. As a God of love He wishes for us our eternal happiness with Him in heaven. Normally there is nothing scary or risky about us being with the Divine – all that we are is from Him already. Every now and then, however, having achieved a state of humility, we can imagine, if obscurely, what it would be like to want what the Lord wants. This can be a frightening mental process, demanding more than simply identifying how we might love the neighbor or find peace in following His commandments. The high priest reaching past the veil into the Holy of Holies is us reaching for the true notion that there is nothing lovable about ourselves that is not the Lord’s – and we should, ideally, love this notion.

We only rarely approach the celestial state represented by the Holy of Holies. Angels of the celestial heaven not only recognize that they are nothing, but also can sense – can feel – the influx from the Lord into their affections. They desire to lose their proprium, their sense of self, yet retain it to obey the Lord. They know that all they are apart from the Lord is their evils, which are essentially imaginary and insane. Who on earth can adopt, even for an hour, the desire to lose their own goals, desires and delights? Who among us is comfortable faced with the undeniable truth that we are, considered by ourselves, nothing but evil, and that evil isn’t real?

The Lord does not wish for us to see this reality without protection; the smoke of incense is our protection. By the time the high priest has left and come back with the blood, the Holy of Holies is full of sweet smoke. The Heavenly Doctrines explain that the infinite conjoins to the finite, the eternal with the temporal, through appearances. For example, we perceive the Divine as something far off like the sun, and like the sun we value the appearance of distance between ourselves and the Divine even if we know that distance isn’t real; the Divine is with us here and now.

Filling the Holy of Holies with the smoke of incense is to approach the celestial state through what the Heavenly Doctrines call ‘the acceptable perceptions of worship’. These are our prayers, the adoration of the Lord we can summon, ideas and goals the Lord can work with despite being obscure. From our perception of reality, clouded as it is with the appearance or ‘smoke’ of our own real-ness, we can worship and adore the Lord and ask to be transformed into heavenly loves without immediately experiencing what that transformation would feel like. This is like dimly perceiving the Ark of the Covenant in that curtained room through the sweet-smelling smoke of the incense. We perceive it is there, but are protected from the full implications of what we are perceiving.

We ourselves can spend some time picturing our day, re-evaluating how we live our life, and see it, dimly, through the eyes of heaven: What would your schedule look like if was planned by an angel? What should excite you or bring you peace? What if you cared only for the Lord’s truth? A fearless attempt to see this may make us uncomfortable.

We should not linger long in the Holy of Holies. The high priest comes out and uses the holy blood to next cleanse the Tabernacle, ending with the altar upon which the sacrifice was originally made. He then paints the blood on its horns, the most external part of the altar which is itself the most external item within the whole Tabernacle site.

Blood corresponds to the Divine Human, the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to change who we are. Blood symbolizes the basic but profound realization that all truth comes from good, that all wisdom is merely the shape of love, and that the Ten Commandments are the shape of the love the Lord Jesus Christ has for us.

This is the same blood offered by the Lord during Easter Week. He says to His disciples in Luke: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” It was a new covenant because He was giving to humanity the new idea of a human God. The Israelites could not have a concept of the Divine as a person, but the Day of Atonement reveals how we approach Jesus Christ for help.

The priest physically walking from the Holy of Holies to the altar of burnt offering symbolizes the descent of our thought from the contemplation of heavenly life to an examination of our earthly behaviors. He moves, geographically, from the Ten Commandments as they are in themselves to the rest of his duties and life.

Putting blood on the horns of the altar is the third state preceding repentance – we reconsider our life in its most external facets: our physical behavior in our daily lives. This is also why the Lord on earth washed merely the feet, the lowest parts, of His disciples, not their heads and hands – it is about external matters. This step could look like us reading His Word, thinking over our day, comparing it to the testimony of the Ten Commandments, and seeing how our life would be cleaner, brighter, happier if it were more like the Ten Commandments.
Unlike the previous, potentially profound state, this third state is lower, more pedestrian. From the light of the Word, we should decide on a change to something detectable to the senses. This is the state of power where we see something both changeable and manageable; we can live life differently in some small way to be closer to the Lord. The blood is painted on the horns, the truth descends into action.

When we progress through these steps in order, we prepare ourselves to banish the goat of Azazel. This is the second of two goats – the first goat was sacrificed earlier as the goat for the Lord. This second goat represents the faith of repentance. The high priest would place his hands on the goat for Azazel and pronounce all the sins of Israel upon it. Since the goat now, ritually speaking, contained within it the rest of the residual sins of Israel, it was driven off.

The name Azazel is confusing, but is from the Hebrew word ‘azal’, meaning ‘go away’ or even vastation. It seems to depict a place separated from the Lord, a place of evil spirits. By sending away the goat for ‘Azazel’, the Children of Israel acknowledged that sin and evil were not intrinsically theirs.

We must do the same thing. The Lord in His Second Coming has made clear to us that neither good nor evil ‘belong’ to us, and the closer we come to believing and living as if this is true, the happier and more at peace we will become. We are not the source of good or evil, none of our thoughts or affections come from ourselves, and nothing makes these things ‘us’ unless we let them. We read in "Divine Providence":

To believe and think, as is the truth, that all goodness and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, seems to be an impossibility, when in fact it is something truly human and thus angelic. This is impossible for people who do not acknowledge the Lord's Divinity, and that evils are sins, but it is possible for people who do. Insofar as they refrain from evils as sins, they simply reflect on the evils in themselves and cast them away from themselves back to hell from where they came. (Divine Providence 320)

This truth can clean our lives. Just as the high priest lays his hands on the goat for Azazel, we direct our own borrowed power to driving evil out of our life. Please notice that they do not kill the goat – they remove it from camp. It is not our job to kill evil, neither can we. Instead, we flee from evil, we shun it, we remove ourselves from it. This might mean changing behaviors that are not evil in themselves but that we now perceive to feed evil: we watch what we say at the Tuesday meeting or spend less time away from home on Saturday. Prepared with humility, freshly aware of the celestial state the Lord wishes for us, and armed with a perception of what we should change in our bodily lives in the light of the Word, we change.

And that is how we undergo yearly examination and repentance, something the Heavenly Doctrines encourage us to do. The Day of Atonement does not describe the daily repentance with which we are familiar but a yearly repentance, a more thorough cleaning. It is a process, as we have said, wholly managed and performed by the Lord, but He asks that we participate.

The process described is universal; the Atonement ritual describes individual repentance, spiritual vastation, how a church undergoes investigation and correction, it even describes how we can clean our worship of our own proprium and worldly concerns. The process of approaching the Divine is eternal.

This ritual is also the closest the Children of Israel came to their God. As the Easter season starts and our thoughts turn to the last events of the Lord’s life on earth, we should give some thought as to how we will approach Him. Perhaps this is a time for us to approach Him in a state of repentance: We start in simple linen, a state of humility before our God. We then approach carefully with incense, our mind perceiving what it can of celestial life. We then return to our life, painting our behavior with the blood of Divine Truth. Finally, we can be prepared to drive evil from our life and draw closer to our living God.

“Jehovah, I cry unto you: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto you. Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 142:1-2)

Other references: John 13:3-10, Arcana Coelestia 10208.

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