The Day of Atonement. 1* After the death of Aaron’s two sons,a who died when they encroached on the LORD’s presence, the LORD spoke to Moses 2and said to him: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he pleases* into the inner sanctuary, inside the veil,b in front of the cover on the ark, lest he die, for I reveal myself in a cloud above the ark’s cover. 3Only in this way may Aaron enter the inner sanctuary. He shall bring a bull of the herd for a purification offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He shall wear the sacred linen tunic, with the linen pants underneath, gird himself with the linen sash and put on the linen turban.c But since these vestments are sacred, he shall not put them on until he has first bathed his body in water.d 5From the Israelite community he shall receive two male goats for a purification offering and one ram for a burnt offering.
6Aaron shall offer the bull, his purification offering, to make atonement* for himself and for his household. 7Taking the two male goats and setting them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 8he shall cast lotse to determine which one is for the LORD and which for Azazel.* f 9The goat that is determined by lot for the LORD, Aaron shall present and offer up as a purification offering. 10But the goat determined by lot for Azazel he shall place before the LORD alive, so that with it he may make atonement by sending it off to Azazel in the desert.
11Thus shall Aaron offer his bull for the purification offering, to make atonement for himself and for his family. When he has slaughtered it, 12he shall take a censer full of glowing embers from the altar before the LORD, as well as a double handful of finely ground fragrant incense, and bringing them inside the veil, 13there before the LORD he shall put incense on the fire, so that a cloud of incense may shield the cover that is over the covenant, else he will die. 14Taking some of the bull’s blood, he shall sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the ark’s cover and likewise sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times in front of the cover.
15Then he shall slaughter the goat of the people’s purification offering, and bringing its blood inside the veil, he shall do with it as he did with the bull’s blood, sprinkling it on the ark’s cover and in front of it. 16Thus he shall purge the inner sanctuary* of all the Israelites’ impurities and trespasses, including all their sins. He shall do the same for the tent of meeting,g which is set up among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17No one else may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters the inner sanctuary to make atonement until he departs. When he has made atonement for himself and his household, as well as for the whole Israelite assembly, 18* he shall come out to the altar before the LORD and purge it also. Taking some of the bull’s and the goat’s blood, he shall put it on the horns around the altar, 19and with his finger sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times.h Thus he shall purify it and sanctify it from the impurities of the Israelites.
The Scapegoat. 20When he has finished purging the inner sanctuary, the tent of meeting and the altar, Aaron shall bring forward the live goat. 21Laying both hands* on its head, he shall confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and their trespasses, including all their sins, and so put them on the goat’s head.i He shall then have it led into the wilderness by an attendant. 22The goat will carry off all their iniquities to an isolated region.j
When the goat is dispatched into the wilderness, 23Aaron shall go into the tent of meeting, strip off the linen vestments he had put on when he entered the inner sanctuary, and leave them in the tent of meeting. 24After bathing his body with water in a sacred place, he shall put on his regular vestments, and then come out and offer his own and the people’s burnt offering, in atonement for himself and for the people, 25and also burn the fat of the purification offering on the altar.
26The man who led away the goat for Azazel shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water; only then may he enter the camp. 27The bull and the goat of the purification offering whose blood was brought to make atonement in the inner sanctuary, shall be taken outside the camp,k where their hides and flesh and dung shall be burned in the fire. 28The one who burns them shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water; only then may he enter the camp.
The Fast. 29l This shall be an everlasting statute for you: on the tenth day of the seventh month every one of you, whether a native or a resident alien, shall humble yourselves* and shall do no work. 30For on this day atonement is made for you to make you clean; of all your sins you will be cleansed before the LORD. 31It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, on which you must humble yourselves—an everlasting statute.
32This atonement is to be made by the priest who has been anointed and ordained to the priesthood in succession to his father. He shall wear the linen garments, the sacred vestments, 33and purge the most sacred part of the sanctuary, as well as the tent of meeting, and the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and all the people of the assembly. 34This, then, shall be an everlasting statute for you: once a year atonement shall be made on behalf of the Israelites for all their sins. And Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.
* [16:2] Not to come whenever he pleases: access to the various parts of the sanctuary is strictly controlled. Only the high priest can enter the most holy place, and only once a year. The veil: the Letter to the Hebrews makes use of the imagery of the Day of Atonement (in Hebrew Yom Kippur) to explain Jesus’ sacrifice (Heb 9:1–14, 23–28). Ark’s cover: the meaning of kappōret is not certain. It may be connected with the verb kipper “to atone, purge” (see note on v. 6) and thus refer to this part of the ark as a focus of atonement or purification.
* [16:6] Make atonement: the Hebrew verb kipper refers specifically to the removal of sin and impurity (cf. Ex 30:10; Lv 6:23; 8:15; 16:16, 18, 20, 27, 33; Ez 43:20, 26; 45:20), thus “to purge” in vv. 16, 18, 20, and 33, and more generally to the consequence of the sacrificial procedure, which is atonement (cf. Lv 17:11). “Atonement” is preeminently a function of the purification sacrifice, but other sacrifices, except apparently for the communion sacrifice, achieve this as well.
* [16:16] Inner sanctuary: this refers to the most holy room (vv. 2, 11–15). Trespasses, including all their sins: the term for “trespasses” (Heb. pesha‘im), which has overtones of rebellion, and the phrase “all their sins” indicate that even sins committed intentionally are included (such as when the sinner “acts defiantly,” as in Nm 15:30–31). This complements the scheme found in Lv 4 (see note on 4:3): intentional sins pollute the sanctuary more and penetrate even further than inadvertent sins, namely to the most holy place. The same for the tent of meeting: this rite may be that found in 4:5–7, 16–18 where blood is sprinkled in the anterior room and blood is placed on the horns of the incense altar there. Cf. Ex 30:10.
* [16:21] Both hands: this gesture is for transferring sins to the head of the goat and is apparently different in meaning from the one-handed gesture that precedes the slaughtering of sacrificial animals (1:4; 3:2; 4:4; see note on 1:4).
* [16:29] Humble yourselves: also v. 31. The idiom used here (Heb. ’innâ nephesh) involves mainly fasting (Ps 35:13), but probably prohibits other activities such as anointing (Dn 10:3) and sexual intercourse (2 Sm 12:15–24). Such acts of self-denial display the need for divine favor. Fasting is often undertaken in times of emergency and mourning (cf. 1 Sm 14:24; 2 Sm 1:12; 3:35; cf. Mk 2:18–22).