In “The Privilege of Prayer (Part 2)”, I said that the Day of Atonement is a spring cleaning ceremony, where once a year the Temple is cleaned out from the sins and uncleannesses of the Israelites, so that a holy God could remain dwelling with his unholy people. Like kids traipsing mud into the house, the Israelites traipsed spiritual mud – their unholiness – into God’s house all year-long. Once a year God’s house was cleaned out.
Dirt is cleaned with water, but what do you clean sin with? In the Bible, sin is cleaned with blood (Lev 17:11). Blood atones for sin. It shows in picture-language that the penalty for sin is death. And so the Temple is cleaned out with blood! In verse 11 Aaron bring his sin offering and takes its blood into the Most Holy Place (vs. 14). He cleans out the Most Holy Place with the blood. Once he has done that for himself, he does the same for the people (vs. 15). Having cleaned out the Most Holy Place for himself and the people with blood, he then cleans the rest of the Tabernacle with blood (verse 16). He then cleans the altar with blood (vs. 18). Note verse 20: “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar…” Notice for whom atonement is made. Or rather, for what atonement is made. Atonement here is not made for people, but for inanimate objects. Here atonement is not about the forgiveness of sins (as with the daily burnt offering). Atonement here is about cleansing the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is cleaned out with blood from the sins and uncleannesses of the Israelites (verse 16). This is done so that a holy God may remain dwelling with his unholy people. The Temple has now been cleansed.
To drive the picture home, in verses 20-22 we have another graphic picture. Aaron then confesses the Israelites sins over the head of a live goat, and sends it far away from the Temple. The picture here is clear: the Temple has been cleansed of sin, and their sins are now sent far away from the presence of God. Thus a holy God can remain dwelling with his unholy people.
The Day of Atonement is important. It teaches us that God is holy and that we are unholy. We cannot just ‘rock up’ before God in our sin. If we do, we will bear our guilt and die. And so the Day of Atonement teaches us that our sin must be dealt with for a holy God to remain dwelling with his unholy people.
These things are real. God really is holy. We really are unholy. Our unholiness really must be dealt with for a holy God to remain dwelling with his unholy people. But the Day of Atonement ceremonies were given to the Israelites as picture language. They are like the blueprint for a building: a real blueprint showing a real building, but not the building itself. They were the shadow pointing ahead to the reality (Col 2:16-17). The Day of Atonement ceremonies don’t deal with sin once for all. If they did, the ceremonies wouldn’t have to be repeated year after year (Heb 9:25, 10:1-2). And it’s not as if the blood of animals can actually atone for the sins of humans (Heb 10:3-4). The picture language of the Day of Atonement ceremonies is showing us reality, but in a way that points ahead of itself.
Rev Martin Pakula, Pastor of Hills Bible Church, continues a four-part post on the “Privilege of Prayer”.
In his final post is this series, he writes, “Prayer is an immense privilege. I’m sure that most folk who aren’t Christian assume that they can approach God when they are in trouble and, hopefully, he will hear and answer their prayers. But would He?”
Read Martin’s upcoming post and see how he answers this question.