God’s Word of Mercy and Forgiveness
Leviticus 16:1-19: Today’s reading focuses on rituals associated with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), an annual occasion for repentance and forgiveness that remains a central feature of the liturgical year in Jewish tradition. Moses’s brother, Aaron, who was ordained to serve as a priest (see Leviticus 8), is given instructions concerning sacrifices to be made to purify the Most Holy Place.
The Day of Atonement
1The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who were killed when they offered unholy fire to the Lord. 2 He said, “Tell your brother Aaron that only at the proper time is he to go behind the curtain into the Most Holy Place, because that is where I appear in a cloud above the lid on the Covenant Box. If he disobeys, he will be killed. 3 He may enter the Most Holy Place only after he has brought a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
4Then the Lord gave the following instructions. Before Aaron goes into the Most Holy Place, he must take a bath and put on the priestly garments: the linen robe and shorts, the belt, and the turban.
5The community of Israel shall give Aaron two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 6He shall offer a bull as a sacrifice to take away his own sins and those of his family. 7Then he shall take the two goats to the entrance of the Tent of the Lord‘s presence. 8There he shall draw lots, using two stones, one marked “for the Lord” and the other “for Azazel.” 9Aaron shall sacrifice the goat chosen by lot for the Lord and offer it as a sin offering. 10The goat chosen for Azazel shall be presented alive to the Lord and sent off into the desert to Azazel, in order to take away the sins of the people.
11When Aaron sacrifices the bull as the sin offering for himself and his family, 12he shall take a fire pan full of burning coals from the altar and two handfuls of fine incense and bring them into the Most Holy Place. 13There in the Lord‘s presence he shall put the incense on the fire, and the smoke of the incense will hide the lid of the Covenant Box so that he will not see it and die. 14He shall take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the lid and then sprinkle some of it seven times in front of the Covenant Box.
15 After that, he shall kill the goat for the sin offering for the people, bring its blood into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkle it on the lid and then in front of the Covenant Box, as he did with the bull’s blood. 16In this way he will perform the ritual to purify the Most Holy Place from the uncleanness of the people of Israel and from all their sins. He must do this to the Tent, because it stands in the middle of the camp, which is ritually unclean. 17From the time Aaron enters the Most Holy Place to perform the ritual of purification until he comes out, there must be no one in the Tent. When he has performed the ritual for himself, his family, and the whole community, 18he must then go out to the altar for burnt offerings and purify it. He must take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it all over the projections at the corners of the altar. 19With his finger he must sprinkle some of the blood on the altar seven times. In this way he is to purify it from the sins of the people of Israel and make it holy.
Today’s Key Verse: Leviticus 16:16a
In this way he will perform the ritual to purify the Most Holy Place from the uncleanness of the people of Israel and from all their sins.
What instructions is Aaron to follow before entering the Most Holy Place? What is the significance of performing these rituals? What are the consequences for not heeding these instructions? Are there specific rituals to be followed within your community of faith? If so, why are they important?
Almighty God, you alone are holy and worthy to be praised. I confess to you my sins and ask that you purify my heart. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.
Leviticus 16:20-34: Further instructions for observing the Day of Atonement are given.