The Scapegoat in the Wilderness
Day of Atonement Bible Story
Leviticus xvi: 1 to 34
Only the 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 for mercy.
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 peace.
Day of Atonement