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Leviticus 16

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Book of Leviticus Chapter Sixteen
Commentary by Pastor Ron Beckham

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The Scapegoat

Verse 1: "Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the Lord and died." Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered "strange fire" (incense not intended by the Lord), and "fire went out from the Lord," killing them in Leviticus 10:1-2. Moses and Aaron were stunned by the event, much like the events in our lives make us LISTEN to what the Lord has to say.

As the grieving uncle and father intently listened in Verse 2, "The Lord said to Moses: 'Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.'" Notice that the Lord has a specific plan for each of our lives, and if you know what it is, do it. Like everyone else, Aaron was a sinner, limiting his abilities in many ways. He should have made sure his sons exactly followed the Lord's commands and he failed to do so. They died as a result and he was threatened at the moment.

The "holy place" was outside the large veil concealing the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies. In Verse 3, "Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering." He will subsequently be allowed to enter through the veil to the ark, but only after washing, being dressed appropriately and offering sacrifice. You and I must be washed in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, be dressed in His robes of righteousness, and in faith accept His sacrifice for our sins. Then, as symbolized by Aaron, we have "boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh" (Hebrews 10:19-20). Through Jesus, we are taken inside to the place of God's grace.

If you are in ministry, your words and actions are no longer your own. It's not about you, instead it's about the Lord's will and the needs of others. Notice God's careful instruction through Moses to Aaron in Verse 4: "He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on." The steps you take to enter ministry in the Name of the Lord, must be His steps, not yours.

We have heard too often about ministers who have fallen into sin and disgrace. The fact is, we are all sinners, unable to save ourselves, let alone help others, and so an offering, an Innocent Death was given for Aaron and the rest of humanity, as symbolized in Verses 5-6: "He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. 6 Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household." Your sin offering is Jesus Christ, "who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Revelation 1:5).

As you read the verses that follow, remember God the Son, who died for our sins and then rose from the dead, inviting us to join Him in His life through faith. Verses 7-9: "He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 8 Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the Lord fell, and make it a sin offering." Two goats, one representing the Messiah's death for our sins, and the other His resurrection—both prophesies of the then-future Messiah. Verse 10: "But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat." Look carefully at these "two goats": We are offered death for our sins and new life through trusting in the Lord and His sacrifice for us.

Verse 11: "Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for himself and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself." Have you considered the sheer SIZE of the bull ox that Aaron was sacrificing for his and his family's sins? It was a big, physical, time-consuming job, helping us become aware of how enormous our sins are in the sight of God, and we are to see that Jesus Christ is big enough to deal with them.

Instructions to the priest continue in Verses 12-13: "He shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. 13 He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die." We know from Revelation 9:8, that the "incense" here is a representation of "the prayers of the saints." Your prayers, small though they may seem to be, are significant to God—He loves to hear you, and He answers in ways we do not expect, greater than our understanding. All prayer is bathed in the fire of the Holy Spirit as we look to God's abundant mercy.

His mercy is for all people in every time and place through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, prefigured here in Verses 14-15: "Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. 15 Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat." Ephesians 1:7 encourages us that "In Him (in Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace," the mercy of God. The "east side" of the ark was its front, covered by the mercy seat, symbolizing God's offer of forgiveness, sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and seen through a haze of incense, representing our prayers.

Our holy places aren't holy in themselves because they are filled with sinners, an observation in Verses 16-19: "He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities. 17 When he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat and put it on the horns of the altar on all sides. 19 With his finger he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times and cleanse it, and from the impurities of the sons of Israel consecrate it." Rituals are really invitations. We can't do anything, and so by sprinkling, partaking and washing, we invite the Lord to do what we can't. Only He can atone for our sins and the work was done on His cross. It's amazing that the Lord died for us, and astonishing that so many pass through the Book of Leviticus without seeing Him in it.

Two goats. One is now dead, and the other, the scapegoat, bleats nearby. The Lord was represented by both goats—He would die for our sins and be placed in the tomb, awaiting resurrected life. Because of His death and life, we can live, too. "Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (died—1 Corinthians 15:20). God brings forgiveness to sinners, which is to say—life out of death. These goats should make us shout with joy, because even though we are dead like the one goat, we LIVE in Christ when we are willing to trust in Him.

Verses 20-23: "When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. 21 Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. 23 Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there." When Christ died, your sins and the sins of humanity died with Him. He was buried in the tomb, along with our sins. He was raised from the dead, but for the faithful, those sins remain dead in the tomb. Leave your sins behind and become fully ALIVE—when you—believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 1:5 shouts of "Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood," and so must we be washed, not only for ourselves, but also for the purposes of God in relation to those we serve. Verse 24: "He shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes, and come forth and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people." First we become clean and then we can help others.

Verses 25-28: "Then he shall offer up in smoke the fat of the sin offering on the altar. 26 The one who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water; then afterward he shall come into the camp. 27 But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. 28 Then the one who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water, then afterward he shall come into the camp." The entire camp of Israel could smell the burning fat, flesh and refuse of the sin offerings, just as humanity's sins fill the world with the stench of death. Sins involve actions that run counter to the will of God for your life. He longs to express His love to you, and His love grows inside the hearts of those who look to Him. Sins are like dams that block the living water meant to flow in and through us, and so we come to Him with our sinful thoughts, actions and associations, letting Him wash our souls and free us from the isolation of sin.

Verses 29-31: "This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; 30 for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. 31 It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute." The Day of Atonement is called Yom Kippur, celebrated in the fall of each year, as a time of rest, reflection, fasting and prayer. The deep rest we truly need is in our souls, and the satisfaction of that need is the Lord, who cried out, "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The word "sabbath" is essentially "rest"—The Lord is our sabbath, our rest.

Verses 32-34: "So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, 33 and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.' And just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so he did." The function of the high priest was to pass from father to son during the years and centuries that followed, and it did, until 70 AD, when the temple and the office of the high priest ended, for Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the holy Scapegoat, is our High Priest. We are to understand that the Lord, our Scapegoat, died in our place, and see in Yom Kippur that we are sinners saved by the Lord. We have nothing except for Him.

Father, I want You. I want the rest offered by and through the Lord. I am a sinner, Lord, unable to cleanse myself, but You can make me clean. Please forgive me, wash me and dress me anew. I am Yours, Lord. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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