- The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 19 focuses on Leviticus 16:3-10, 29-30.
In light of the sin of Aaron’s sons from our last lesson, it makes sense to skip over a few chapters to examine the Day of Atonement. While the word “atone” may seem frightening, we should understand it most simply as reconciliation after someone broke a relationship.
Even though atonement is the focus of this lesson, ask your class to take a look at chapters 11-15 to note of some of the purity codes. As you skim these, you will notice why these chapters typically are not included in a Bible study. Yet, we see God’s demand for cleanness falls in line with his desire for holiness.
We are called to be set apart for his purpose. This centers on a relationship with God that must be repaired and renewed when broken. In light of this, we must take special care to view atonement as a significant responsibility.
Prepare to sacrifice
An important truth is evident from the get-go: God promised a way for his people to be free from the guilt of sin. The broken relationship with God was because of Aaron’s house, so Aaron needed to be instructed how to repair the broken relationship. Notice that God has every intent and desire to renew this relationship.
Aaron’s role did not grant him free access to the Most Holy Place. Rather, he would enter from “behind the curtain” on this particular day. These preparations reveal Aaron’s “crucial position as mediator. He is the one who deals with the most holy things (and) must take care with his own safety” (W.H. Bellinger, Leviticus/Numbers, p. 99).
For the people to be made right with God, it required their mediator to be right with God first. Otherwise, atonement could not be made. How should we prepare ourselves to repair our relationship with God? What may we learn from Israel’s rituals, even though we are not under the same sacrificial obligation as they?
If there is one thing we should take from this preparation, it is confession. “The context is one of confession and purification, and so the simple linen garments fit the occasion” (Bellinger, p. 99). Our preparation must include a confession of our sin, showing our desire for reconciliation with God.
The chosen goat
After sacrificing a sin offering on behalf of himself and his house, Aaron would take two goats and by lot determine which would be sacrificed and which would be sent into the wilderness. It is unique that in this sacrifice, one would be slaughtered while the other would remain alive.
It is the scapegoat that surprises us, and to be honest, that is one of the more questioned subjects of Leviticus. The Hebrew word is actually “Azazel,” used only here, and it is untranslatable. That’s right: We do not know exactly what it means. Rather than being caught in theories or mysteries, we should notice what is clear about this goat.
The live “escape goat” was sent—or perhaps exiled—to the arid wilderness after being presented before the Lord. This may remind us how God removes and casts sin away. Have your group consider Micah 7:19—“You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” While sea and desert differ, both seem endless and are places of exile.
The Day of Atonement
What started on this day would be made into an annual practice. The command on this Day of Atonement was to “deny yourselves and not do any work,” and this applied to every person in or near the community.
This self-denial reminds us of the Sabbath, when ceasing from work for a day was even more about giving up one’s control of the day to God. How can we see self-denial as a positive step in our relationship with God? According to God, the result of this atonement would be worth all the preparation and sacrifice. In verse 30, we see the roots of the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Look into the ritual of Yom Kippur and notice how it closely relates to what we are reading today.
Consider this: We often look at atonement as an obligation we must do to stay in God’s good graces; however, we need to see that the day was created for us, so we would be cleansed to stand before our God as “clean from all (our) sins.” How should we improve our understanding of atonement and our relationship with God?
This practice of atonement was a brand new idea to God’s people. It was a fresh opportunity to make things right between them and their God. The best part is that God provided the first step, instituting this unique way of restoring relationship.
Today, we look to Jesus as not only our mediator/priest, but even more as the eternal, atoning sacrifice. He took these on himself to open the door—or rip the curtain—to a restored relationship with God, leaving the door open completely to all.
Christ’s death and resurrection, when we believe and receive his sacrifice and life, make it so that we no longer have to conduct the ritual Aaron and Israel did. How does this make us feel? Which parts of what we have read today should still be our desire for atoning for our sins?
Perhaps like me, you are grateful ritual no longer rules our relationship with God. At the same time, we must consider the practices of preparation, confession, cleansing and removing guilt still are helpful and draw us closer to God.
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.