The Scapegoat in the Wilderness
Day of Atonement
Leviticus xvi: 1
high-priest could enter the inner room of the
Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, where was the
ark of the covenant, and where God was supposed to
live. And even the high-priest could go into this
room on but one day in the year. This day was called
"the Great Day of Atonement."
The service on that day was to show the people that
all are sinners, and that they must seek from God to
have their sins taken away. God teaches us these
things by word in his book, the Bible; but in those
times there was no Bible, and very few could have
read a written book; so God taught the people then
by acts which they could see.
As a beginning of the service on the day of
atonement, everybody was required to fast from
sunset on the day before until three o'clock on that
afternoon, the hour when the offering was placed on
the altar. No person could eat anything in all that
time. Even children, except nursing babies, were not
allowed to have any food. They were to show a sorrow
for sin, and were to appear before God as seeking
Early in the morning of that day the high-priest
offered on the altar before the Tabernacle what was
called "a sin-offering," for himself and his family.
It was a young ox, burned upon the altar. He took
some of the blood of this ox, and carried it through
the Holy Place, lifted the vail, entered into the
Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood on the
golden lid to the ark of the covenant before the
Lord. This was to show the priest himself as a
sinner, seeking mercy and forgiveness from God. The
priest must himself have his own sins forgiven,
before asking forgiveness for others.
Then the priest came again to the great altar before
the Tabernacle. Here two goats were brought to him.
Lots were cast upon them and on the forehead of one
goat was written, "For the Lord," and on the other
words that meant, "To be sent away." These two goats
were looked upon as bearing the sins of the people.
One was killed, and burned on the altar; and the
priest, with some of the blood of the slain goat,
again entered the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the
blood on the ark of the covenant, as before, thus
asking God to receive the blood and the offering,
and to forgive the sins of the people.
Then the high-priest came out of the Tabernacle
again, and laid his hands on the head of the living
goat, the one whose forehead was marked "To be sent
away," as if to place upon him the sin of all the
people. Then this goat, which was called the
"Scapegoat," was led away into the wilderness, to
some desolate place from which he would never find
his way back to the camp; and there he was left, to
wander as he chose. This was to show the sins of the
people as taken away, never to come back to them.
When this service was over, the people were looked
upon as having their sins forgiven and forgotten by
the Lord. Then the regular afternoon offering was
given on the altar; and after that the people could
go home happy, and end their long fast with all the
food that they wished to eat.
In all this God tried to make the people feel that
sin is terrible. It separates from God; it brings
death; it must be taken away by blood. Thus so long
before Christ came to take away our sins by his
death, God showed to men the way of forgiveness and
Day of Atonement