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Leviticus 16 and 23 – The Day of Atonement and the Liturgical Calendar

Summary

In chapter 16, the Lord gives instructions to Moses about observing the Day of Atonement. In chapter 23, the calendar of religious festivals is established.

Analysis

In these two chapters, the Israelites are instructed to observe certain "holy convocations" and "appointed festivals" (23:2). There are six such festivals, three in the spring--Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, Festival of Firstfruits, and the Festival of Weeks--and three in the fall--the Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Festival of Booths. The weekly observance of the Sabbath heads the list in chapter 23, reflecting the priestly concern with the Sabbath (compare Genesis 2:2-3). There are four other such liturgical calendar texts in the Pentateuch. Leviticus 23, along with Numbers 28-29, are the only two texts that list all the major holy days.

The rituals for the Day of Atonement are described in detail in Leviticus 16. This is the only day in the whole year when the high priest can enter the innermost part of the sanctuary, the holy of holies. There, he offers incense and sprinkles the blood of sacrifices to make atonement for the sanctuary, for himself, and for the people. The ritual for the Day of Atonement also includes the practice of the high priest laying hands on the head of a goat and confessing the people's sins--thereby ritually laying the burden of those sins on the goat--then sending the goat out into the wilderness. William Tyndale in the sixteenth century coined the term "scapegoat" to describe the function of the goat in this passage.

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, remains the most important of the high holy days in the Jewish calendar today. It also provides the background for the discussion in Hebrews 9, where the author of Hebrews proclaims Jesus as both the great high priest and the final sacrifice.

Leviticus 16 and 23

The Day of Atonement

16The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died. 2The Lord said to Moses:

Tell your brother Aaron not to come just at any time into the sanctuary inside the curtain before the mercy-seat* that is upon the ark, or he will die; for I appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.* 3Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bull for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt-offering. 4He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and shall have the linen undergarments next to his body, fasten the linen sash, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy vestments. He shall bathe his body in water, and then put them on. 5He shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin-offering, and one ram for a burnt-offering.

6 Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin-offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7He shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting; 8and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.* 9Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin-offering; 10but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel* shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, so that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.*

11 Aaron shall present the bull as a sin-offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall slaughter the bull as a sin-offering for himself. 12He shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of crushed sweet incense, and he shall bring it inside the curtain 13and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, so that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat* that is upon the covenant,* or he will die. 14He shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy-seat,* and before the mercy-seat* he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times.

15 He shall slaughter the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the curtain, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy-seat* and before the mercy-seat.* 16Thus he shall make atonement for the sanctuary, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins; and so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which remains with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17No one shall be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the sanctuary until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement on its behalf, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat, and put it on each of the horns of the altar. 19He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

20 When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task.* 22The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

23 Then Aaron shall enter the tent of meeting, and shall take off the linen vestments that he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there. 24He shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, and put on his vestments; then he shall come out and offer his burnt-offering and the burnt-offering of the people, making atonement for himself and for the people. 25The fat of the sin-offering he shall turn into smoke on the altar. 26The one who sets the goat free for Azazel* shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterwards may come into the camp. 27The bull of the sin-offering and the goat of the sin-offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp; their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be consumed in fire. 28The one who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterwards may come into the camp.

29 This shall be a statute to you for ever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves,* and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. 30For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. 31It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves;* it is a statute for ever. 32The priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the linen vestments, the holy vestments. 33He shall make atonement for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the people of Israel once in the year for all their sins. And Moses did as the Lord had commanded him.

Appointed Festivals

23The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed festivals.

The Sabbath, Passover, and Unleavened Bread

3 For six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work: it is a sabbath to the Lord throughout your settlements.

4 These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. 5In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight,* there shall be a passover-offering to the Lord, 6and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. 8For seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall not work at your occupations.

The Offering of First Fruits

9 The Lord spoke to Moses: 10Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it. 12On the day when you raise the sheaf, you shall offer a lamb a year old, without blemish, as a burnt-offering to the Lord. 13And the grain-offering with it shall be two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord; and the drink-offering with it shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. 14You shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your settlements.

The Festival of Weeks

15 And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation-offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. 16You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord. 17You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation-offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord. 18You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt-offering to the Lord, along with their grain-offering and their drink-offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord. 19You shall also offer one male goat for a sin-offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being. 20The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation-offering before the Lord, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute for ever in all your settlements throughout your generations.

22 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

The Festival of Trumpets

23 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 24Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord’s offering by fire.

The Day of Atonement

26 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 27Now, the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you: you shall deny yourselves* and present the Lord’s offering by fire; 28and you shall do no work during that entire day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. 29For anyone who does not practise self-denial* during that entire day shall be cut off from the people. 30And anyone who does any work during that entire day, such a one I will destroy from the midst of the people. 31You shall do no work: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your settlements. 32It shall be to you a sabbath of complete rest, and you shall deny yourselves;* on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your sabbath.

The Year of Jubilee

33 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 34Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths* to the Lord. 35The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. 36For seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord’s offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.

37 These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord offerings by fire—burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, sacrifices and drink-offerings, each on its proper day— 38apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts, and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill-offerings, which you give to the Lord.

39 Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. 40On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic* trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41You shall keep it as a festival to the Lord seven days in the year; you shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute for ever throughout your generations. 42You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.

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10 February 2011

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