The Day of Atonement was the most sacred day of the year for God’s old covenant people. The most sacred space in all the earth was the tabernacle’s Most Holy Place. Only one man may enter, the high priest; and on only one day, the Day of Atonement: the most sacred man, in the most sacred space, on the most sacred day. God set very particular rituals and requirements in place such that the high priest was properly prepared lest he die (see vv 3,13). The day included a bull and goat for sin offerings, a ram for burnt offerings, a live goat for the nation’s transgressions, ritual bathing, a holy garment for the high priest, a special cloud of burning incense to cover the mercy seat, blood sprinkling upon the mercy seat and the court’s altar, and the scapegoat. 

The high priest conducted much of the day’s ritual in the most holy place beyond the gaze of the nation. However, one of the most striking elements of the day was carried out in front of the nation. Two goats were placed before the high priest with lots deciding which goat served as a sin offering and which goat would be sent off to the wilderness (vv7-10). Before dispatching the second goat, Aaron was instructed to lay his hands upon the goat’s head and confess all of Israel’s iniquities, transgressions, and sins (see v21); putting them upon the head of the goat. This three-part description uses the most common OT expressions for wrong doing to emphasize God’s complete demand for purity, and his complete provision for impurity’s removal. Hence, the “scapegoat”. “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area (v22).” And thus, the nation’s sins are removed from them and brought to a place of desolation.  

Something to Praise:

The scapegoat offers us a beautiful picture of a beautiful truth; God doesn’t merely cover our sin, God removes our sin.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west, 

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12