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Chapter 16

The Day of Atonement. [a]After the death of Aaron’s two sons,(A) who died when they encroached on the Lord’s presence, the Lord spoke to Moses and said to him: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he pleases[b] 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. Only 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. He 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) From the Israelite community he shall receive two male goats for a purification offering and one ram for a burnt offering.

Aaron shall offer the bull, his purification offering, to make atonement[c] for himself and for his household. Taking the two male goats and setting them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, he shall cast lots(E) to determine which one is for the Lord and which for Azazel.[d](F) The goat that is determined by lot for the Lord, Aaron shall present and offer up as a purification offering. 10 But 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.

11 Thus shall Aaron offer his bull for the purification offering, to make atonement for himself and for his family. When he has slaughtered it, 12 he 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, 13 there 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. 14 Taking 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.

15 Then 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. 16 Thus he shall purge the inner sanctuary[e] 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. 17 No 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 [f]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,

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  1. 16:1–34 This is the narrative sequel of the story in chap. 10. The ritual in chapter 16 originally may have been an emergency rite in response to unexpected pollution of the sanctuary.
  2. 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 (Hb 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 16:8 Azazel: a name for a demon (meaning something like “angry/fierce god”). See note on 17:7.
  5. 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.
  6. 16:18–19 Thus a third locale in the sanctuary complex, the open-air altar, is purified. See the summaries in 16:20, 33.

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