Leviticus 16: Atonement

The Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur, is one of the most important holy days of the Jewish calendar. Leviticus 16 discusses its importance and symbolism.


Leviticus 16 discusses Yom Kippur, otherwise known as the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.[1] Aaron is given instruction both on the Day of Atonement as well as how to atone for his sons (killed for their sinful actions).

Atonement for Aaron's Sons

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Aaron is to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself. He is also to bring 2 goats before God and cast lots on them. One would become God's and the other would be sent in to the wilderness as a scapegoat (similar to the bird released in the previous chapters). Interestingly, this usage of the word "scapegoat" is also the origin of the word.[2] The goat given to God was a sin offering for Israel. After Aaron presented these sin offerings, he was to sanctify the holy place. No one was to go into the tabernacle of congregation during this time. The atonement was made for the holy place using the blood of both the bull (for Aaron) and goat (for Israel). After the holy place was cleansed, Aaron was to confess the sins of Israel, symbolically placed on the scapegoat through Aaron's hands, and then release the animal into the wilderness. The remnants of the animals sacrificed were to be burned, and whoever burned them was to wash their clothes and flesh before returning.


The word scapegoat was coined by Tyndale while translating the Latin version of the Bible (the Vulgate). In the Vulgate, the words used for Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26 are caper and emissarius which is a translation of the Hebrew azazel. Some believe the original Hebrew meant goat that departs, while others believe it refers to a Jewish demon or devil. The latter theory is often linked with the Canaanite god called Aziz. Likely the original phrase meant "one who removes through a series of acts."[1][2] Today we use the word scapegoat without really thinking about its Biblical origins—non-Christians use this word too.

Day of Atonement

God sets aside the 10th day of the 7th month as the Day of Atonement. It is called a sabbath, as most holy-days related to the feasts are. This meant that no work was to be done on this day and all of Israel's focus was to be on God, specifically atonement. Strangers (which would include slaves and people passing through) were not to do work either. This would have included stopping those who simply felt like doing work, but also kept the Israelites from continuing their business through slaves or people passing by. The modern name for this holy-day, used by Jews today, is Yom Kippur. It occurs in September or October, the Gregorian calendar's equivalent to Tishri, which is the 7th month of the Jewish calendar.[3] As the name "Day of Atonement" suggests, this holy-day was meant to be a day for the Israelites to atone for their sins. This day is meant to be an everlasting statute for the children of Israel. Interestingly, we see that in modern day, not only are we as Christians not required to sacrifice anything on this day, but there is no temple to complete a sacrifice. Instead, Jewish people who have not accepted Jesus spend the day confessing their sins and fasting. How is this everlasting, then? In my post on Leviticus 23, I will discuss how Jesus fulfills each of the feast days. Jesus fulfills the Day of Atonement by washing away our sins each time we ask for His forgiveness. His sacrifice on the cross covers the sacrifice we would have given on the Day of Atonement. We cannot get Heaven without accepting Jesus' sacrifice and asking for forgiveness, which is to say, we still atone for our sins. The only difference is that now we can atone any time we like and the sacrifice has already been made. Thus, this statute is still everlasting.


  1. Thomas Nelson Publishers. KJV Study Bible. pg. 225-227. 1998
  2. Harper, Douglass. "Scapegoat". Online Etymology Dictionary. 2016
  3. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 205. 2014

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