The author of Hebrews takes time to explain in great detail the furnishings of the Tabernacle, and then in one verse, the author describes the Day of Atonement:
But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9.7)
Surely, the Jewish believers in Rome who received this letter were well acquainted with the Day of Atonement, so briefly described in verse 7. But for us Gentile readers, it might be helpful to read the description of this day from the book of the Law:
6“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
11“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering.
20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. (Leviticus 16. 1-21, selected verses)
There is so much depth and gospel foreshadowing in this special day. The author of Hebrews has already talked about the fact that the Old Testament priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, unlike Jesus who was the sinless High Priest. And most of us know that on this one day, the High Priest would enter behind the veil and offer the sacrifice for the sins of all the people. But there are some interesting things to note.
For instance, when Solomon dedicated the Temple, he offered a sacrifice of 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats (see 2 Chronicles 7.5). The large number of animals sacrificed makes sense when you think about the wealth of Solomon and the number of people he was representing. However, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest offered only one lone goat.
Also, notice that two goats are offered on the Day of Atonement. While the blood of one goat is offered for the sins of the people, the other goat plays an even greater role (in my opinion). The High Priest would lay his hands upon this goat, confess the sins of the people over this goat, and then send this goat away into the wilderness. In so doing, the goat would take away the sins of the people.
Another interesting thing is that the author of Hebrews adds a little note of commentary when he describes the sins of the people as acts “committed in ignorance.” I don’t know that we can read into this that the Day of Atonement did not cover sins committed in willful disobedience since “all wickedness and rebellion…all their sins” were confessed over the live goat. Instead, the author of Hebrews is telling us that we are sinful beings even if we are not even aware of the sins that we commit. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
So much gospel foreshadowing. What else do you see in the Day of Atonement?