Ritual performed on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in ancient Israel

The Prophecy of the New Covenant and the conclusion of the old Covenant

by Judy D. Gassett @Spirit-Digest.com

Second article of a five part study

The ritual performed in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement was the summit of Jewish religious life.  This usually happened in our mid to late September, (the 10th day of the 7th month), on a day which celebrated the Old Covenant. All of Israel fasted on this day

 It was the day that the high priest of Israel offered a goat as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the nation as specified in the Mosaic Covenant.  Exactly six months later in the Spring lambs were offered in a remembrance 8-day festival for the delivery from slavery whilst in Egypt.  The rituals discussed below  revolved around the Ark of the Covenant, which has lost to Israel over 500 years before Christ was born.  Lambs were never offered as sin offerings in Israel.  Jesus Christ was the first and only "lamb" ever offered for sins. The New Testament clearly states in Hebrews 9:3, 11,12 that Jesus offered Himself as a high priest .  However, that does not meant there was a departure from Gods own requirement that He also be declared an acceptable sacrifice deemed worthy to have the sins of Israel pronounced over him  by a priest (John the Baptist) and that sacrifice be presided by a real Levitical high priest (Caiaphas).

Below are the rituals for the First Temple Period or for the Temple of Solomon. After about 586 B.C. the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Ark was 'lost' and could no longer be featured in Jewish worship. Just prior to this the holy Ark was hidden in the honeycomb of cave beneath the old city of Jerusalem  to prevent it from being captured. The Bible mentions the looted temple treasures carted off and the Ark is not among them.  After 70 years of captivity, several generations had passed and remembrance of the Ark's  whereabouts were lost forever.

The next Temple was rebuilt without the  Ark. So the Jewish priesthood performed their ancestral rituals using the "Foundation Stone" or "Corner Stone" of the Temple for 6 centuries until the true Corner Stone came.  

Herod's TempleThe Levites and the priesthood (from Wikipedia)

"Israel's priesthood consisted of three levels: 1) At the top of the structure was the high priest whose duty it was to represent the whole people before the Mercy Seat of God and to make atonement for their sins. 2) At the second level were the priests who officiated at religious feasts and festivals, offering the sacrifices in the elaborate rituals. After the exile, the priesthood attained enormous prestige and power and largely comprised the educated class, guarding the traditions of the patriarchs. During the reign of David, the priesthood was divided into twenty-four "courses," each course consisting of descendants of one of the twenty-four grandsons of Aaron (I Chron. 24). These officiated in the temple services. And all members of the priesthood were Levites in that they were of the tribe of Levi. 3) The third and lowest level of priests were called "Levites" who functioned more like sacristans charged with the subordinate functions of the temple service, such as caring for the building and grounds, gate keeping, preparation of offerings, and assisting the priests in whatever way was necessary".

As their inheritance, the sons of Levi received no land of their own, but were assigned forty-eight cities scattered throughout the territory of the other tribes.  No land was a punishment from patriarch Jacob on his deathbed for the cruelty of Levi toward a rival clan (Genesis 34: 23-31 ).   So the tribe of Levi  were maintained by the tithe of the congregation.  By the time of Jesus' ministry the priesthood had developed into an aristocratic ruling class.

The Temple

There were four golden pillars at the entrance. It was a room 30 feet x 15 feet x 15 feet. Its sides were formed by the golden upright frames. The room just exterior to the Holy of Holies housed  the sacred furniture except the Ark. Inside the room every piece of holy furniture was gold or overlaid with gold. As you entered the only door, the golden lampstand was on the left, the table of showbread on the right, and the golden altar of incense in the back before the Veil.  Behind it in the Holy of Holies or sometimes called the Holy Place, rested the Ark of the Covenant. There were  beautiful linen tapestries woven with  pattern of cherubim  throughout because it was originally a tent.


The Ark of the Covenant

"And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you. You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits (30 inches) shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width (15 inches). And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat.

"You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel" Ex.  25:8-22

1.    On the Day of Atonement the high priest wore special vestments

The high priest had to be ritually clean in spirit and body, and wear ceremonial clothing consisting of very fine linen. The garment was  seamless linen and of the finest weaving, but had no decorations to show purity and humility.  Also reverence for God  required that the high priest's head be covered. We are reminded of Jesus' seamless garment and His crown of thorns. Leviticus 16:4 "He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments". 

Details of these elaborate garment and their purpose found here.  Note that the high priest must be barefoot during these ceremonies.

2.    The high priest chose two perfect adult male GOATS, (not rams or lambs), and presented them to God outside the temple for the SIN OFFERING once a year.

They had to be perfect physically with no deformities or broken bones.  Leviticus 16:5, "He shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering".

Leviticus 16:7: "He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle". The high priest  then asked God which one was to be slaughtered as a sin offering. The goat not selected for the sin offering became the scapegoat. The selection of the which goat would perform which function was chosen by lots by the Lord  in complicated ritual.  After the death of Jesus the selection of the sin offering became a terrifying omen that God was no longer pleased with the sin offering. I will describe this in the next article, the third article in this study.

3.    The High Priest  put incense on the burning coals of a fire that stood right before the Mercy Seat behind the veil.

Outside the veil  was the "altar to the Lord", commonly referred to as the Altar of Incense. The high priest was now dressed and ready to go behind the veil into the Holy of Holies or sometimes called, the Most Holy Place. This could only happen once a year on this high holy feast day of Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement.  The high priest must fill his censer with  burning coals from The Altar of Incense before entering the Holy of Holies. The other hand held incense. The high priest then went behind the veil,  (and perhaps started a fire with the coals), and placed incense on the fire directly in front of the Ark of the Covenant.  The resulting cloud of incense covered the Mercy Seat. This was both for reverence and protection. Because of the smoke from the incense, the high priest would not be able to see the Lord before He appeared in Shekinah Glory.  "No man could ever look upon God and Live"  ( Exodus 33:20). God physically manifested upon his Mercy Seat, (earthly throne), once a year. The smoke cloaked the Lord so that the high priest could not see Him.

This is described in Leviticus 16: 12,13: "Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his  hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And 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 Testimony, lest he die". 

4.    The priest left the Holy of Holies (or "Holy Place")  to go out into the temple court to slay a young bullock and collect its blood in a basin

The bullock's blood was to atone for the priest's sins so he could worthily offer the goat sin offering for the people in three hours.  After slaying the bull, the high priest went back into the Holy of Holies and  sprinkled the bull's  blood on the Mercy Seat as the first blood offering of the day to purify himself so that he could worthily offer the sin offering (goat) for the people at the concluding ritual three hours later.

This is described in Leviticus 16:14-16 "He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the Mercy Seat on the East side; and before the Mercy Seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

Readers should note that lambs slain on Passover, 6 months later, were NEVER sin offerings, but remembrance offerings thanking God for deliverance from  slavery in Egypt.   It was Jesus who turned the Passover meal into a New Covenant complete with a covenantal meal to accompany it.  It comes  to us today as a remembrance meal and special meal between sinners and God. The New Covenant meal  would now  be remembered, often, even daily, not yearly.  The Lamb was to be the sin offering.  Goats never again would be offered in the New Covenant.

5.    The High Priest, still in the Holy of Holies, then prayed for three solid hours in darkness asking forgiveness for the sins of Israel.

The high priest then prayed and asked atonement for his sin and the sins of Israel alone, in darkness and for 3 hours.

Compare this to what Christ did for us as a high priest on the Cross: The first words out of his mouth were for forgiveness as a strange darkness enfolded the entire world

Another  detail is that God demands in Leviticus 16:17 that the high priest must be ALONE to pray for the atonement for the sins of the people: "There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. Only the high priest of Israel could perform these ceremonies unassisted behind closed doors (veil) , ALONE.

We all know how alone Jesus felt on the cross.

The high priest wore small bells around the hem of his linen garments since he was alone so that the priests outside the Tabernacle could hear him moving around. He would also have had a tether tied to his ankle. If he died during the atonement ritual, his body was pulled out using the tether. People were assured by hearing the bells that their priest alive and ministering to God.  A recent discovery in the Old city of Jerusalem found one of these tiny gold bells. Only the high priests wore them.

6.    By rabbinic tradition, at the end of this period of 3 hours, the high priest stood up and said, "It is finished"

Jesus Christ, as our high priest, used these very words from the Cross.

7.    The sacrificial goat was then sacrificed, and its blood sprinkled on the Mercy Seat

The high priest then left the Holy of Holies after the three hours of continuous prayer and returned to the Temple courtyard to kill the sin offering, a spotless goat, for the people. The high priest re-entered the Holy of Holies for the third and last time of the day and, as a matter of fact, until the next year on the Day of Atonement. He brought the sin offering's blood inside the veil in a basin and sprinkled it on the right or eastern side of the Mercy Seat.

 "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat and before the Mercy Seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins"

The Scapegoat was standing by and was not released until blood atonement was made on the Mercy Seat using the blood of the sacrificial goat. 

Rabbinic tradition held that the Messiah, Himself, would sprinkle sacrificial blood on the left side (West) of the Mercy Seat.

The sages of Israel never explained how or why the Messiah could or would do this or which animal species would be slain for the blood offering. Jewish prophecy required that the Messiah would be a king born in the City of David in the midst of the tribal lands of Judah. The Messiah would not be a Levite and only Levites could conduct worship services involving the  Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was the very embodiment  and repository for the words of the Old Covenant. However, we know Christ was our high priest, the Word made flesh, as well as the matchless victim, so only He was perfectly qualified to sprinkle His blood on the Mercy Seat in a final act which ended the Old Covenant and opened the New Covenant.

You will have to read the fourth article in this study to see exactly how Christ put his blood on the real Mercy Seat.

8.    If The Lord was pleased with the sin offering and the priest's sincere prayers the smoke cleared and the Lord sat on His throne of mercy between the cherubim and a glorious light shone called the Shekinah Glory surrounded the Mercy Seat  which the high priest could behold and not die.

On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, when atonement ritual was completed and the sin offering accepted,  God appeared in Shekinah Glory between the cherubim, and above the Mercy Seat. The Jews took this to mean that the Lord previously sitting in Judgment looked upon the blood of the innocent animal. If He was pleased with the sacrifice and sincere prayers of repentance of the high priest, He changed His Judgment Seat to one of Mercy and showed forth in a wondrous light called Shekinah Glory. 

Shekinah Glory was a divine light, stronger than a thousand suns which did not cause pain to look upon. Recall, that the sun broke forth again at 3 p.m. when the Lord died.  The light that shone forth after Christ died and the earthquake was likely of outer-worldly in brightness.

We also see Christ must act as the high priest in the place of Caiaphas who, unbeknownst to himself, still presided over a legal, acceptable blood offering of the Old Covenant to God on Passover. The missing element was that the offering of the bullock at the beginning for the sins of the priest. Christ stood in the place of bullock offering to cover the sins of the high priest so that the perfect sin offering of Himself for the people could be completed.  So there was a necessity that Christ be our high priest. Also Caiaphas, as high priest, could not sprinkle the sin offering of Jesus Christ's blood on the Mercy Seat.

Christ our high priest from Hebrews 9:3, 11, 12

We are told that when Jesus passed through this veil, He entered Heaven, and sprinkled his Blood on the Mercy Seat of the Tabernacle in Heaven:

"He came as High Priest of this better system that we now have... He went into that greater, perfect tabernacle in heaven, not made by men nor part of this world, and once for all took blood into that inner room, the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat; but it was not the blood of goats and calves. No, He took His own Blood, and with it He, by Himself, made sure of our eternal salvation."

9.    The scapegoat received the rite of atonement, and was sent into the wilderness

The rituals within the Holy of Holies were complete for the year. The  high priest came out from behind the veil into the temple courtyard and placed his hands ON the scapegoat to confer on it all the sins and transgression of the assembly of Israel for the past year,  (called 'receiving the rite of atonement'). This is why this feast was called the "Day of Atonement". The scapegoat was then sent into the wilderness.  The idea was to cast out sin and send it as far from the assembly as possible, as described in  Leviticus 16:10, 20-21; "The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness".

Even this literally came to pass during the Passion.  Again, we find all the essentials for the  imposing upon Jesus Christ in the role of scapegoat by a real Levitical high priest.  Consider John 11:49,50:

"And one of them, name Caiaphas, being high priests that same  years, said...It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation perish not."

This officially assigned to Christ, alone, the scapegoat role that he was destined to bear. It would have been meaningless in the Old Covenant  to have any other person make his pronouncement save, the high priest, Caiaphas.

10.  The high priest then removed his ceremonial linen garments, bathed and donned seven priestly garments seen in the picture at the top right for the concluding ceremonies.  These garments were designed by God, Himself, for sacred worship. The high priest was known as "Zedek" or "holy righteous one". The same root is in the name of Melchizedek.

Only a rare snail from the Red Sea was available to produce the required blue and violet dyes. Harvesting it was dangerous. But the Lord was specific in describing the manufacture of  these priestly garments and declared them beautiful in His sight.  In my opinion, they are.

11.    In the second temple period, the Talmud records that the Levites tore a piece of scarlet wool in two and tied one piece around a horn of the scapegoat and tied the other to the temple gate

The goat was led into the wilderness, probably ten miles north of the city, (Christ was also crucified north of the city). After the goat was driven off a cliff, witnesses were sent to examine the thread on the horn and on the temple gate. For centuries, this thread is reported to have miraculously turned from scarlet to white, indicating that God had accepted their sacrifice and forgiven the nation of Israel. It was believed that this was in fulfillment of Isaiah 1:18, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

According to Manners and Customs of the Bible, one time, in ancient Israel, the scapegoat sent to the wilderness came wandering back into the city. This terrified the priests as a bad omen. So from then on they made sure the scapegoat did not come back. It then became customary to use relay teams of Levites to get it out of the city and finally drive it over a cliff.   The Levites who handled the animal were defiled for touching the sin-laden scapegoat  and had to be purified (by the ashes of the red heifer) to resume Jewish life

We are reminded of the scarlet cloak St. Matthew describes as placed on the shoulders of our priceless sin offering, Jesus Christ. The four Gospel chroniclers pass tersely over the details of the passion, but take care to mention the  vividly colored garment placed on Christ to humiliate him. In Mat 27:27 a scarlet cloak is thrown on the Savior's shoulders. This and all other clothing is torn off later. The next time we see Christ clothed is in Mat 28: "His countenance was like lightning and is raiment white as snow" (some translations say wool).  And to this day we never hear of Jesus clad in anything else but radiant, living white or light, for indeed, as the scapegoat, he took away sins of all forever with his death and God was pleased with the sacrifice.

Finally, When the Crown of Thorns was placed on the sacred head of Jesus Christ and driven down, he received the iniquities and sins of the entire world, past and to come. Thorns in the Bible are used  as divine recompense for sin and always bring sorrow and hardships. They were the first curse of God upon Adam.  It would not be all surprising to learn someday that the high priests suggested this extra-ordinary brutality to the scourgers. The second point is that this was a real, legal and legitimate crowning. All the required elements are present including acknowledgement by the reigning authority (Romans) both by declaration and in writing. Pilate even affirmed it by refusing to alter what he had written. Jewish kings were always crowned and given their scepter in the middle of Nisan.  This was NOT "coincidental."

These and other details of the Passion show that  the ancient priesthood of Israel, at the highest levels, more than any other group, contingent, or caste, bore the major responsibility for the handling and treatment of all lambs designated for sacrifice including Jesus Christ, the ultimate Lamb. The Levitical priesthood was designed from the giving of the Torah (law) at Mt Sinai for 2,000 years to ultimately mediate the perfect sin offering to God. After mediating the single sacrifice of Christ, the Levitical priesthood of the Old Covenant ended. The next article will show how the Lord let it be known in no uncertain terms that the temple sacrificial system was no longer acceptable.

12.    The Goat which was sacrificed was taken outside of the city walls and completely burned to ashes. It's flesh was never eaten.

Sin sacrifices had to be completely consumed away from God and outside of the city and Temple proper. The idea was to send any vestige of sin away from the sinners so that it could be "remembered no more". 


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The Temple - Its Ministry and Services