3-Day of Atonement: Bull, Sacrificial Goat, and Scapegoat

3-Day of Atonement: Bull, Sacrificial Goat, and Scapegoat March 24, 2018

During Old Testament times, the Day of Atonement occurred once a year on the tenth day of the seventh month. This holy day was the most holy day.

Day of Atonement Ritual

Leviticus 16 describes the intricate ritual to release Israel from the bondage of sin.  The High Priest approached the Holy of Holies, the most holy place in the tabernacle and temple, only when commanded by the Lord, “that he die not.” The Day of Atonement was one of those days.

The high priest washed and put on temple clothing.

Then the high priest took two goats in the door of the tabernacle.  He cast lots to see which goat would be the sacrifice and which would be the scapegoat.  The Lord’s lot fell on the chosen, sacrificial sin offering.

Once the goats were chosen, the Lord commanded that the high priest next sacrifice a bull as a sin offering for himself and his family.  He placed burning coals and smoking incense through the veil of the Holy of Holies to cover the mercy seat. Then he took the bull’s blood and sprinkled it on the eastward side of the mercy seat and then before the mercy seat seven times.

He then sacrificed the goat and sprinkled its blood at the mercy seat as he had the bull’s blood.

And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

The priest did all of this alone.  The Lord allowed no one else in the temple during this time while he made atonement for the House of Israel.

Then he put the bull and goat’s blood on the horns of the altar and sprinkled it seven times to “cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.”

With reconciliation complete, the priest presented the scapegoat before the Lord.  The high priest put hands on its head and transferred the people’s sin and wickedness to the goat. A specific man released the goat into the wilderness where the sins were forgotten and no longer clung to the people.

The bull and goat were offered on the altar and all of their remains were taken outside the walls and incinerated.

The high priest, person releasing the scapegoat, and the person who burned the remnants changed and washed their clothes and themselves.

Sacrificial Bull, Sacrificial Goat, Scapegoat, and 3 Men

The scapegoat William Holman Hunt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt
I’m struck by the three animals: sacrificial bull, sacrificial goat, and scapegoat.  The bull often symbolized strength, leadership, virility, increase, and wealth.  The goat often symbolized strength, creativity, energy, truth. The word for goat is sometimes translated as ram, like the ram Abraham found in the thicket to sacrifice instead of Isaac.

Three men participate in the ritual, too. The first selects the sacrifices and uses divine power to place sin on the scapegoat. He performs the sacrifices. The second goes with the scapegoat to the place set apart. The third takes the carcasses and remnants of the ritual and incinerates them. All three wash in water. The third’s consuming fire after sacrifice reminded me of sanctification.

And sanctification led me full circle to today’s atoning ritual—individual purification by water and fire in a weekly holy day, a day of Atonement, marked by body and blood, bread and water.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

 O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

And the result of blessing and sanctification?

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

The bull purified the Priest and His house to administer the atonement. The sacrificial goat paid the price for sins. The scapegoat took sins away out of their presence and consciousness to be let go and forgotten forever.

God be praised!

He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

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