The Ceremonies of the Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16:3-34
Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.…

The Day of Atonement was one of the most interesting, as it was perhaps the most solemn and impressive, of all the holy days of the Jews. For seven days previously the high priest had been making preparation for taking up his abode within the Temple precincts. The services of the day began with the first grey light of dawn; for then the high priest, after performing the ordinary morning service, arrayed himself in his fine white liner garments and prepared to go within the awful sanctuary where the Shechinah dwelt. But first he must confess his own sins, and so he lays his hand upon the head of the bullock, which was to be for his sin-offering, and said, "O Jehovah, I have committed iniquity, I have sinned, I and my house." Ten times in this prayer he repeated the name of Jehovah — a word which had an awful significance in the ears of every Jew; and every time he repeated it, those who stood near cast themselves with their faces to the ground, while the multitude responded, "Blessed be the name; the glory of His kingdom is for ever and ever." "After some other ceremonies," says Edersheim, "advancing to the altar of burnt-offering, he next filled the censer with burning coals, and then ranged a handful of frankincense in the dish destined to hold it. Every eye was now strained toward the sanctuary as, slowly bearing the censer and the incense, the figure of the white-robed priest was seen to disappear within the Holy Place — the place that had never been visited by any other except the high priest, and which he had not seen for a full twelvemonth. After that nothing further could be seen of his movements. The curtain of the most Holy Place was folded back, and he stood alone and separated from all the people in that awful gloom of the holiest of all, only lit up by the red glow of the coals in the priest's censer." What a sight met his eyes as they became accustomed to the gloom! — the mercy-seat; on either side the outstretched wings of the cherubim; and above them the visible presence of Jehovah in the cloud of the Shechinah. He whose name alone, in after-years, the Jews dared not pronounce was there, and upon him, revealed in the cloud, gazed the white-robed priest as he stood alone in that awful presence. Then, when the smoke of the incense filled the place, came this prayer from the lips of the priest: "May it please thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that neither this day nor during this year any captivity come upon us. Yet if captivity befall us this day or this year, let it be to a place where the law is cultivated. May it please Thee, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, that want come not upon us either this day or this year. But if want visit us this day or this year, let it be due to the liberality of our charitable deeds." After further prayer and other ceremonies the priest returned to the people, and then began perhaps the most unique and interesting service of the day — the sending away of the scapegoat. Earlier in the day two goats, as similar in all respects as could be found, were chosen; lots were cast upon their heads, one being reserved for a sacrifice, the other to be sent into the wilderness. Upon the horns of the latter a piece of scarlet cloth or "tongue" was tied, telling of the guilt it had to bear. After the sacrificing of the first animal the priest laid both his hands upon the head of the second and confessed the sins of the people. "O Jehovah, they have committed iniquity; they have transgressed; they have sinned," &c. "Then," as Edersheim further says, "a strange scene would be witnessed. The priest led the sin-burdened goat out through Solomon's Porch and, as tradition has it, through the Eastern Gate, which opened upon the Mount of Olives. Here an arched bridge spanned the intervening valley, and over it they brought the goat to the Mount of Olives, where one specially appointed took him in charge." The distance between Jerusalem and the beginning of the wilderness was divided into ten stations, where one or more persons were placed to offer refreshment to the man leading the goat, and then to accompany him to the next station. At last they reached the wilderness, and their arrival was telegraphed by the waving of flags from one station back to another until in a few minutes "it was known in the Temple and whispered from ear to ear that the goat had borne upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited."

(F. E. Clark.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.

WEB: "Herewith shall Aaron come into the sanctuary: with a young bull for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.

The Annual Atonement
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