Leviticus 16:1
And the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;
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(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—As the observance of the minute regulations given in the preceding chapters about the daily sacrifices and purifications would necessarily be tainted with many imperfections and shortcomings, both on the part of the mediating priests and the offering laity, a general day of atonement is here instituted, when priest and people are alike to obtain atonement once a year for the sins which were mixed up even with their sacred worship. The day of atonement enacted in the chapter before us is therefore an appropriate conclusion of the laws of purification in the preceding chapters. It is an annual supplement and completion of all the ordinances which were daily practised, and the design of which was to obtain atonement and reconciliation.

After the death of the two sons of Aaron.—That is, after Nadab and Abihu, his two eldest sons, had died, in consequence of having presumptuously entered the sanctuary in a profane manner, and at an irregular time. (See Leviticus 10:1-2.)



Leviticus 16:1 - Leviticus 16:19

The Talmudical treatise on the ritual of the day of atonement is entitled ‘Yoma,’ the day, which sufficiently expresses its importance in the series of sacrificial observances. It was the confession of the incompleteness of them all, a ceremonial proclamation that ceremonies do not avail to take away sin; and it was also a declaration that the true end of worship is not reached till the worshipper has free access to the holy place of the Most High. Thus the prophetic element is the very life-breath of this supreme institution of the old covenant, which therein acknowledges its own defects, and feeds the hopes of a future better thing. We do not here consider the singular part of the ritual of the Day of Atonement which is concerned with the treatment of the so-called ‘scapegoat’ but confine ourselves to the consideration of that part of it which was observed in the Tabernacle and was intended to expiate the sins of the priesthood and of the people. The chapter connects the rites of the Day of Atonement with the tragic death of the sons of Aaron, which witnessed to the sanctity of the inner shrine, as not to be trodden but with the appointed offerings by the appointed priest; and so makes the whole a divinely given instruction as to the means by which, and the objects for which, Aaron may enter within the veil.

I. In Leviticus 16:3 - Leviticus 16:10 we have the preliminaries of the sacrifices and a summary of the rites. First, Aaron was to bathe, and then to robe himself in pure white. The dress is in singular contrast to the splendour of his usual official costume, in which he stood before men as representing God, and evidently signifies the purity which alone fits for entrance into the awful presence. Thus vested, he brings the whole of the animals to be sacrificed to the altar,-namely, for himself and his order, a bullock and a ram; for the people, two goats and a ram. The goats are then taken by him to the door of the tent,-and it is to be observed that they are spoken of as both constituting one sin offering {Leviticus 16:5}. They therefore both belong to the Lord, and are, in some important sense, one, as was recognised by the later Rabbinical prescription that they should be alike in colour, size, and value. The appeal to the lot was an appeal to God to decide the parts they were respectively to sustain in a transaction which, in both parts, was really one. The consideration of the meaning of the ritual for the one which was led away may be postponed for the present. The preliminaries end with the casting of the lots, and in later times, with tying the ominous red fillet on the head of the dumb creature for which so weird a fate was in store.

II. The first part of the ritual proper {Leviticus 16:11 - Leviticus 16:14} is the expiation for the sins of Aaron and the priesthood, and his entrance into the most holy place. The bullock was slain in the usual manner of the sin offering, but its blood was destined for a more solemn use. The white-robed priest took a censer of burning embers from the altar before the tent-door, and two hands full of incense, and, thus laden, passed into the Tabernacle. How the silent crowd in the outer court would watch the last flutter of the white robe as it was lost in the gloom within! He passed through the holy place, which, on every day but this, was the limit of his approach; but, on this one day, he lifted the curtain, and entered the dark chamber, where the glory flashed from the golden walls and rested above the ark. Would not his heart beat faster as he laid his hand on the heavy veil, and caught the first gleam of the calm light from the Shechinah? As soon as he entered, he was to cast the incense into the censer, that the fragrant cloud might cover the mercy-seat. Incense is the symbol of prayer, and that curling cloud is a picture of the truth that the purest of men, even the anointed priest, robed in white, who has offered sacrifices daily all the year round, and today has anxiously obeyed all the commands of ceremonial cleanliness, can yet only draw near to God as a suppliant, not entering there as having a right of access, but beseeching entrance as undeserved mercy. The incense did not cover ‘the glory’ that Aaron might not gaze upon it, but it covered him that Jehovah might not look on his sin. It would appear that, between Leviticus 16:13 - Leviticus 16:14, Aaron’s leaving the most holy place to bring the blood of the sacrifice must be understood. If so, we can fancy the long-drawn sigh of relief with which the waiting worshippers saw him return, and carry back into the shrine the expiating blood. The ‘most holy place’ would still be filled and its atmosphere thick with the incense fumes when he returned to perform the solemn expiation for himself and the whole priestly order. Once the blood was sprinkled on the mercy-seat, and seven times, apparently, on the ground in front of it. The former act was intended, as seems probable, to make atonement for the sins of the priesthood; the latter, to cleanse the sanctuary from the ideal defilements arising from their defective and sinful ministrations.

This completed the part of the ceremonial which belonged immediately to Aaron and the priests. It carries important lessons. Could there be a more striking exhibition of their imperfect realisation of the idea of the priestly office? Observe the anomaly inherent in the very necessity of the case. Aaron was dressed in the white robes emblematic of purity; he had partaken in the benefit of, and had himself offered, sacrifices all the year round. So far as ritual could go, he was pure, and yet so stained with sin that he dared not enter into the divine presence without that double safeguard of the incense and the blood. The priest who cleanses others is himself unclean, and he and his fellows have tainted the sanctuary by the very services which were meant to atone and to purify. That solemn ritual is intended to teach priest and people alike, that every priest ‘taken from among men’ fails in his office, and pollutes the temple instead of purifying the worshipper. But the office was God’s appointment, and therefore would not always be filled by men too small and sinful for its requirements. There must somewhere and somewhen be a priest who will be one indeed, fulfilling the divine ideal of the functions, and answering the deep human longings which have expressed themselves in all lands, for one, pure with no ceremonial but a real purity, to bring us to God and God to us, to offer sacrifice which shall need no after atonement to expiate its defects, and to stand without incense or blood of sprinkling for himself in the presence of God for us. The imperfections of the human holders of the Old Testament offices, whether priest, prophet, or king, were no less prophecies than their positive qualifications were. Therefore, when we see Aaron passing into the holy place, we see the dim shadow of Christ, who ‘needeth not to make atonement’ for His own sins, and is our priest ‘for ever.’

III. The ritual for the atonement of the sins of the people follows. The two goats had been, during all this time, standing at the door of the Tabernacle. We have already pointed out that they are to be considered as one sacrifice. There are two of them, for the same reason, as has been often remarked, as there were two birds in the ritual of cleansing the leper; namely, because one animal could not represent the two parts of the one whole truth which they are meant to set forth. The one was sacrificed as a sin offering, and the other led away into a solitary land. Here we consider the meaning of the former only, which presents no difficulty. It is a sin offering for the people, exactly corresponding to that just offered for the priests. The same use is made of the blood, which is once sprinkled by Aaron on the mercy-seat and seven times on the ground before it, as in the former case. It is not, however, all employed there, but part of it is carried out into the other divisions of the Tabernacle; and first, the holy place, which the priests daily entered and which is called in Leviticus 16:16 ‘the tent of meeting,’ and next, the altar of burnt offering in the outer court, are in like manner sprinkled seven times with the blood, to ‘hallow’ them ‘from the uncleanness of the children of Israel’ {Leviticus 16:19}. The teaching of this rite, in its bearing upon the people, is similar to that of the previous priestly expiation. The insufficiency of sacrificial cleansing is set forth by this annual atonement for sins which had all been already atoned for. The defects of a ritual worship are proclaimed by the ritual which cleanses the holy places from the uncleanness contracted by them from the worshippers. If the altar, the seat of expiation, itself needed expiation, how imperfect its worth must be! If the cleansing fountain is foul, how shall it be cleansed, or how shall it cleanse the offerers? The bearing of the blood of expiation into the most holy place, where no Israelite ever entered, save the high priest, taught that the true expiation could only be effected by one who should pass into the presence of God, and leave the door wide open for all to enter. For surely the distance between the worshippers and the mercy-seat was a confession of imperfection; and the entrance there of the representative of the sinful people was the holding out of a dim hope that in some fashion, yet unknown, the veil would be rent, and true communion be possible for the humble soul. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us where we are to look for the realities of which these ceremonies were the foreshadowings. The veil was rent at the crucifixion. Christ has gone into ‘the secret place of the Most High,’ and if we love Him, our hearts have gone with Him, and our lives are ‘hid with Him, in God.’Leviticus 16:1. This chapter would naturally have followed the tenth, where the death of Aaron’s sons is related, if that event had not given occasion for declaring the forementioned laws about those uncleannesses that disqualified an Israelite for approaching the sanctuary.16:1-14 Without entering into particulars of the sacrifices on the great day of atonement, we may notice that it was to be a statute for ever, till that dispensation be at an end. As long as we are continually sinning, we continually need the atonement. The law of afflicting our souls for sin, is a statue which will continue in force till we arrive where all tears, even those of repentance, will be wiped from our eyes. The apostle observes it as a proof that the sacrifices could not take away sin, and cleanse the conscience from it, that in them there was a remembrance made of sin every year, upon the day of atonement, Heb 10:1,3. The repeating the sacrifices, showed there was in them but a feeble effort toward making atonement; this could be done only by offering up the body of Christ once for all; and that sacrifice needed not to be repeated.The reference to the death of Nadab and Abihu is a notice of the occasion on which the instructions were given, well calculated to add point and emphasis to the solemn admonition to the high priest in the second verse. The death of his sons Leviticus 10:2, for drawing near to Yahweh in an unauthorized manner, was to serve as a warning to Aaron himself never to transgress in this respect. CHAPTER 16

Le 16:1-34. How the High Priest Must Enter into the Holy Place.

1. after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the Lord, and died—It is thought by some that this chapter has been transposed out of its right place in the sacred record, which was immediately after the narrative of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu [Le 10:1-20]. That appalling catastrophe must have filled Aaron with painful apprehensions lest the guilt of these two sons might be entailed on his house, or that other members of his family might share the same fate by some irregularities or defects in the discharge of their sacred functions. And, therefore, this law was established, by the due observance of whose requirements the Aaronic order would be securely maintained and accepted in the priesthood.Aaron not permitted at all times to go into the holy of holies, Leviticus 16:1,2. He is commanded to make a general expiation, and wherewith, Leviticus 16:3-5. He-goats, the one for sacrifice, the other to escape, Leviticus 16:7,8. The manner of offering, Leviticus 16:9-14, and ministering the sacrifice, Leviticus 16:15-19. The scape-goat, with the sins of the people laid on his head, sent into the wilderness, Leviticus 16:20-22; after which Aaron, and he who let go the goat, and he who burnt the sacrifice without the camp, must wash themselves, Leviticus 16:23-28. This day of expiation, which was on the tenth day of the seventh month, to be a solemn fast and sabbath of rest, and they cleansed from all their sins, Leviticus 16:29-34.

No text from Poole on this verse.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron,.... That is, either immediately after their death, and so this chapter would have stood in its natural order next to the tenth; or else after the above laws concerning uncleanness on various accounts were delivered out, designed to prevent the people entering into the tabernacle defiled, whereby they would have incurred the penalty of death; wherefore, as Aben Ezra observes, after the Lord had given cautions to the Israelites, that they might not die, he bid Moses to caution Aaron also, that he might not die as his sons died; these were Nadab and Abihu:

when they offered before the Lord, and died; offered strange fire, and died by flaming fire, as the Targum of Jonathan; or fire sent down from heaven, as Gersom, by lightning; see Leviticus 10:1.

And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;
1. On the introductory clauses see App. I (d), pp. 163 ff.



CHAPTER 16. THE CEREMONIAL PURIFICATION OF THE WHOLE CONGREGATION ON THE GREAT DAY OF ATONEMENT. This chapter, containing the account of the institution of the ceremonial to be used on the Day of Atonement, would take its place chronologically immediately after the tenth chapter, for the instructions conveyed in it were delivered to Moses "after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the Lord and died" (verse 1), when the fate of Nadab and Abihu would naturally have led Aaron to desire a more perfect knowledge than had as yet been imparted to him as to the manner in which he was to present himself before the Lord. Logically it might either occupy its present position, as being the great and culminating atoning and cleansing ceremony, or it might be relegated to a place among the holy days in chapter 23, where it is, in fact, shortly noticed. That it is placed here shows that the most essential characteristic of the Day in the judgment of the legislator is that of its serving as the occasion and the means of "making an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and making an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and for making an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation" (verse 33). Annually there gathered over the camp, and over the sanctuary as situated in the midst of the camp, a mass of defilement, arising in part from sins whose guilt had not been removed by the punishment of the offenders, and in part from uncleannesses which had not been cleansed by sacrifices and the prescribed ceremonial rites. Annually this defilement had to be atoned for or covered away from the sight of God. This was done by the solemn observance of the great Day of Atonement, and specially by the high priest's carrying the blood of the sacrifices into the holy of holies, into which he might enter on no other day of the year; while the consciousness of deliverance from the guilt of sin was quickened on the part of the people by their seeing the scapegoat "bear away upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited" (verse 22). After the issue had ceased, she was to purify herself like the man with an issue, as described in Leviticus 15:13-15. - Obedience to these commands is urged in Leviticus 15:31 : "Cause that the children of Israel free themselves from their uncleanness, that they die not through their uncleanness, by defiling My dwelling in the midst of them." הזּיר, Hiphil, to cause that a person keeps aloof from anything, or loosens himself from it, from נזר, Niphal to separate one's self, signifies here deliverance from the state of uncleanness, purification from it. Continuance in it was followed by death, not merely in the particular instance in which an unclean man ventured to enter the sanctuary, but as a general fact, because uncleanness as irreconcilable with the calling of Israel to be a holy nation, in the midst of which Jehovah the Holy One had His dwelling-place (Leviticus 11:44), and continuance in uncleanness without the prescribed purification was a disregard of the holiness of Jehovah, and involved rebellion against Him and His ordinances of grace.
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