There is perhaps a no better and a no more vivid picture of how God deals with our sin than in Leviticus 16-17. It is the centerpiece of book of Leviticus and really the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses).
Leviticus is all about God’s presence and how we come near to his presence. The answer: “Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.” A question that’s come up a lot though in our readings is “how in the world would they ever be able to keep all those laws?” There’s a seemingly never ending list of the animals, skin diseases, fluids, immoral behavior that made a person unclean. And for the priests!? All those regulations for the tabernacle! We saw what happened to Aaron’s sons when they come into God’s presence in disobedience to God’s law. It didn’t end well.
And when the people did recognize their sin, surely the sacrifices they brought to the priests didn’t cover all their sins, for there would be too many to count. You’re right. That’s why there needed to be Leviticus 16.
Only on the Day of Atonement could the high priest enter into the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies. Any other day and he would die. On this day, two things would happen to all the Israelites sin, and these two things were symbolized to what would happen to two goats.
Frist, “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.”
Second, “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.
One day a year, God would make atonement with the people, by accepting the sacrifice of one innocent goat, and casting away the sins of the people on the other. Sound eerily familiar, right?
Of course this day in Leviticus 16 only serves to point the people to that one day in Matthew 27. That is the real Day of Atonement. That day makes it so we no longer have to sacrifice one goat and send another away. Because on that day, Good Friday, God sacrificed the once-for-all sacrifice, his own innocent son, Jesus, for the sins of all people (Hebrews 10). He was that goat who was sacrificed. He’s also the scapegoat, for our sins are sent away forever.
It’s awesome that we get to read about two Day of Atonements this. Enjoy reading about how God deals with your sin. They’re paid for. They’re gone.
For a great explanation of the overall structure and theme of Leviticus, check out this video: