We must never forget that separation from God is the cause of the divisions in the human race. God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden, and almost the next thing we are told is Cain killed Abel. The Devil was a murderer from the beginning with his lies (Jn. 8:44). Those lies tempted Eve to lust for the fruit and Adam plunged himself and the whole human race into death (Gen. 3:6); those lies tempted Cain to lust and murder his brother (Gen. 4:7). In the beginning, God gave the human race desire, as a holy appetite for His good gifts and for Himself (Gen. 2:17). But those desires, being twisted, have become the source of our wars and fights and murder (Js. 4:1-11). These cheap, craven lusts create cycles of violence that are only temporarily relieved by sacrificial scapegoats. Therefore, Christ is the only path to reconciliation with God and men. There is no true human community apart from the Cross of Christ.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the Lord, and died…” (Lev. 16:1-34)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Leviticus 16 picks up from Leviticus 10 where Nadab and Abihu were killed when they offered strange fire before the Lord, and God says that priests may not come into the Most Holy Place at any time lest they die because God will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat (Lev. 16:1-2). On the day that God appoints, the priest must wash and put on special linen clothes, and he must bring animals for sin offerings and ascension offerings for himself and for the congregation (Lev. 16:3-6). Lots are cast upon two goats: one is designated as the congregational sin offering, the other is the scapegoat (Lev. 16:7-10). Aaron then cleanses the tabernacle with the blood of the sin offerings by sprinkling blood on the mercy seat seven times inside the veil, as well as the altar before the Lord, to cleanse all the uncleanness of Israel and to make atonement for all of their sins (Lev. 16:11-19). Finally, the priest is to lay his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confess all the sins of Israel, and the goat is to be released into the wilderness (Lev. 16:20-22). The priest is to change his clothes and bathe and offer the ascension offerings, along with several other final instructions (Lev. 16:23-28). This is to be an everlasting statute for Israel once a year, a sabbath of sabbaths, a day of afflicting their souls, on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 16:29-34).
ATONEMENT & COMMUNITY
The scene opens with two dead brothers (Lev. 16:1). While the emphasis is certainly on who may draw near to the Lord and not die, there is also simultaneously an underlying message here about who may draw near to the Lord together and not die. In other words, as we come to the climax of the teaching of Leviticus on clean and unclean, we should not miss that God is also teaching His people how to be a congregation, the only way to be a true community (Lev. 16:16-20, 29-34). This is exactly how the New Testament talks about the sacrifice of Christ: “that He might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby… For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:16, 18). “And, having made peace through the blood of the cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto himself” (Col. 1:20).
A SCAPEGOAT SOCIOLOGY
Rene Girard has described the core conflict between people as “memetic desire.” It’s no accident that the 10th Commandment is “Thou shalt not covet…” God made people with desire, hunger, ambition, and people tend to imitate the desires of others. We see what appears to us to be the happiness, success, blessing of others, and so we desire the things they appear to have desired and acquired. In a fallen world good desire (imitation) easily turns to envy, lust, jealousy, covetousness, hatreds, fights, wars, and murder (Js. 4:1-11). You can see this with little kids in a room full of toys, and one child is playing with one toy (perhaps rather apathetically), and another child enters the room and is immediately drawn to the one toy the other child has, and despite that child’s previous indifference to that one toy he was playing with, the sudden interest of the new child in that one toy incites a strong desire to keep that one toy, and that response only incites a stronger response in the new child and the cycle escalates from there. This is the essence of memetic desire and rivalry, and while we are often told by modern secularists that difference breeds distrust and animosity, memetic rivalry is actually the fiercest in those we are most alike: siblings, family, roommates, neighbors, fellow church members. And it tends to grow in communities like static electricity until it bursts out in violence, and we call the victim of that violence the scapegoat.
THE GOSPEL OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
The purpose of the Day of Atonement is to allow access to God’s presence (Lev. 16:2) and to cleanse the tabernacle from all the uncleanness and sin of the people (Lev. 16:16, 19). While Israel was required to keep the purity codes because God lived in their midst, the Day of Atonement indicates that the uncleanness of Israel is still accumulating at the tabernacle. We can also see that same basic goal of cleansing in the parallels with the cleansing for leprosy: sprinkling seven times (Lev. 16:14, 19 cf. 14:7, 51) and the doubled animals: one dying and one released outside the camp (birds/goats). This doubling should be seen as a simultaneous action: they are both the sin offering (Lev. 16:5). Atonement is God’s act of bringing sinners near while taking away all their sin. So the blood must go all the way into the presence of God, and the sin must be carried all the way out of the camp to an uninhabited land. And Jesus does both. He is the priest and He is the sacrifice: His blood purifies the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:24), and He was led outside the gate of the city (Heb. 13:11-13).
The Day of Atonement was a type of Good Friday. When Jesus died on the cross the veil in the temple tore from top to bottom (Mk. 15:38), but Hebrews says that the real veil was His flesh. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20). This is how all envy, covetousness, rivalry, bitterness, hatred, and murder ends.
The only way into the presence of God is through the torn flesh of the only innocent victim, and precisely because He was innocent and died for all our sins, He brings us near together. This is the only basis for true human community. There is no Kingdom apart from the King, and the Kingdom flows directly from the King’s Cross.