Leviticus 16

The Day of Atonement

The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons when they approached the presence of the Lord
Heb “in their drawing near to the faces of the Lord.” The rendering here relies on the use of this expression for the very “presence” of God in Exod 33:14–15 and in the Lev 9:24–10:2 passage, where the Nadab and Abihu catastrophe referred to here is narrated.
and died,
and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother that he must not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil-canopy
Heb “into the holy place from house to the veil-canopy.” In this instance, the Hebrew term “the holy place” refers to “the most holy place” (lit. “holy of holies”), since it is the area “inside the veil-canopy” (cf. Exod 26:33–34). The Hebrew term פָּרֹכֶת (parokhet) is usually translated “veil” or “curtain,” but it seems to have stretched not only in front of but also over the top of the ark of the covenant which stood behind and under it inside the most holy place, and thus formed more of a canopy than simply a curtain (see R. E. Averbeck, NIDOTTE 3:687–89).
in front of the atonement plate
Heb “to the faces of the atonement plate.” The exact meaning of the Hebrew term כַּפֹּרֶת (kapporet) here rendered “atonement plate” is much debated. The traditional “mercy seat” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV) does not suit the cognate relationship between this term and the Piel verb כִּפֶּר (kipper, “to make atonement, to make expiation”). The translation of the word should also reflect the fact that the most important atonement procedures on the Day of Atonement were performed in relation to it. Since the Lord would “appear in the cloud over the atonement plate,” and since it was so closely associated with the ark of the covenant (the ark being his “footstool”; cf. 1 Chr 28:2 and Ps 132:7–8), one could take it to be the place of his throne at which he accepts atonement. See J. Milgrom, Leviticus (AB), 1:1014; J. E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC), 234-35; and R. E. Averbeck, NIDOTTE 2:691, 699. Cf. NIV “the atonement cover”; NCV “the lid on the Ark”; NLT “the Ark’s cover – the place of atonement.”
that is on the ark so that he may not die, for I will appear in the cloud over the atonement plate.

Day of Atonement Offerings

“In this way Aaron is to enter into the sanctuary – with a young bull
Heb “with a bull, a son of the herd.”
for a sin offering
See the note on Lev 4:3 regarding the term “sin offering.”
and a ram for a burnt offering.
For the “burnt offering” see the note on Lev 1:3.
He must put on a holy linen tunic,
The term “tunic” refers to a shirt-like garment worn next to the skin and, therefore, put on first (cf. Exod 28:4, 39–40; 29:5, 8; 39:27). It covered the upper body only. For detailed remarks on the terminology for the priestly clothing in this verse (except the “linen leggings”) see the notes on Lev 8:7–9 and the literature cited there.
linen leggings are to cover his body,
Heb “shall be on his flesh.” As in many instances in Lev 15, the term “flesh” or “body” here is euphemistic for the male genitals (J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1017, and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 222; cf. the note on Lev 15:2), which the priest must be careful not to expose during such ritual procedures (see Exod 20:26 with 28:42–43).
and he is to wrap himself with a linen sash
The sash fastened the tunic around the waist (Exod 28:4, 39; 29:9; 39:29).
and wrap his head with a linen turban.
Heb “and in a turban of linen he shall wrap.”
The turban consisted of wound up linen (cf. Exod 28:4, 37, 39; 29:6; 39:31; Lev 16:4). It is usually thought to be a “turban,” but it might be only a “turban-like headband” wound around the forehead area (HALOT 624 s.v. מִצְנֶפֶת).
They are holy garments, so he must bathe
Heb “and he shall bathe….”
his body in water and put them on.
He must also take
Heb “And he shall take.”
two male goats
Heb “he-goats of goats”; CEV “two goats, both of them males.”
from the congregation of the Israelites for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering.
Then Aaron is to present the sin offering bull which is for himself and is to make atonement on behalf of himself and his household. He must then take the two goats
Heb “the two he-goats,” referred to as “two he-goats of goats” in v. 5.
and stand them before the Lord at the entrance of the Meeting Tent,
and Aaron is to cast lots over the two goats,
Heb “and Aaron shall give lots on the two he-goats.” See the note on Lev 8:8 for the priestly casting of lots in Israel and the explanation in B. A. Levine, Leviticus (JPSTC), 102, on Lev 16:8–9. J. Milgrom, Leviticus (AB), 1:1019–20, suggests, however, that the expression here signifies that, the lots having been cast, the priest was to literally “place” (Heb “give”) the one marked “for the Lord” on the head of the goat to be sacrificed and the one marked “for Azazel” on the head of the one to be released in the wilderness in order to avoid confusing them later in the ritual sequence.
one lot for the Lord and one lot for Azazel.
The meaning of the Hebrew term עֲזָאזֵל (’azazel, four times in the OT, all of them in this chapter; vv. 8, 10 [2 times], and 26) is much debated. There are three or perhaps four major views (see the summaries and literature cited in J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1020–21; B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 102; J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 237-38; D. P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity [SBLDS], 21–25; M. V. Van Pelt and W. C. Kaiser, NIDOTTE 3:362–63; and M. S. Moore, NIDOTTE 4:421–22). (1) Some derive the term from a combination of the Hebrew word עֵז (’ez, “goat”; i.e., the word for “goats” in v. 5) and אָזַל (’azal, “to go away”), meaning “the goat that departs” or “scapegoat” (cf., e.g., the LXX and KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT). This meaning suits the ritual practice of sending the so-called “scapegoat” away into the wilderness (vv. 10, 21–22, 26). Similarly, some derive the term from Arabic ’azala (“to banish, remove”), meaning “entire removal” as an abstract concept (see BDB 736 s.v. עֲזָאזֵל). (2) Some see the term as a description of the wilderness area to which the goat was dispatched, deriving it somehow from Arabic ’azazu (“rough ground”) or perhaps עָזָז, (’azaz, “to be strong, fierce”). (3) The most common view among scholars today is that it is the proper name of a particular demon (perhaps even the Devil himself) associated with the wilderness desert regions. Levine has proposed that it may perhaps derive from a reduplication of the ז (zayin) in עֵז combined with אֵל (’el, “mighty”), meaning “mighty goat.” The final consonantal form of עֲזָאזֵל would have resulted from the inversion of the א (aleph) with the second ז. He makes the point that the close association between עֵז and שְׂעִירִים (sheirim), which seems to refer to “goat-demons” of the desert in Lev 17:7 (cf. Isa 13:21, etc.), should not be ignored in the derivation of Azazel, although the term ultimately became the name of “the demonic ruler of the wilderness.” The latter view is supported by the parallel between the one goat “for (לְ, lamed preposition) the Lord” and the one “for (לְ) Azazel” here in v. 8. The rendering as a proper name has been tentatively accepted here (cf. ASV, NAB, NRSV, TEV, CEV). Perhaps a play on words between the proper name and the term for “goat” has occurred so that the etymology has become obscure. Even if a demon or the demonic realm is the source for the name, however, there is no intention here of appeasing the demons. The goal is to remove the impurity and iniquity from the community in order to avoid offending the Lord and the repercussions of such (see esp. vv. 21–22 and cf. Lev 15:31).
Aaron must then present the goat which has been designated by lot for the Lord,
Heb “which the lot has gone up on it for the Lord.”
and he is to make it a sin offering,
10 but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive
The LXX has “he shall stand it” (cf. v. 7).
before the Lord to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness.
Heb “to make atonement on it to send it away to Azazel toward the wilderness.”


The Sin Offering Sacrificial Procedures

11  “Aaron is to present the sin offering bull which is for himself, and he is to make atonement on behalf of himself and his household. He is to slaughter the sin offering bull which is for himself, 12 and take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord
Heb “and he shall take the fullness of the censer, coals of fire, from on the altar from to the faces of the Lord.”
and a full double handful of finely ground fragrant incense,
Heb “and the fullness of the hollow of his two hands, finely ground fragrant incense.”
and bring them inside the veil-canopy.
Heb “and he shall bring from house to the veil-canopy.”
13 He must then put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the cloud of incense will cover the atonement plate which is above the ark of the testimony,
The text here has only “above the testimony,” but this is surely a shortened form of “above the ark of the testimony” (see Exod 25:22 etc.; cf. Lev 16:2). The term “testimony” in this expression refers to the ark as the container of the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them (see Exod 25:16 with Deut 10:1, 5, etc.).
so that he will not die.
Heb “and he will not die,” but it is clear that the purpose for the incense cloud was to protect the priest from death in the presence of the Lord (cf. vv. 1–2 above).
14 Then he is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the eastern face of the atonement plate,
Heb “on the faces of the atonement plate toward the east.” Some have taken this to mean that the ark was stationed just behind the veil-canopy on the eastern side of the most holy place. Thus, the high priest would need to enter and walk toward the west end of the most holy place and then turn eastward in order to face the ark and sprinkle the blood in an eastward direction. The rendering here, however, requires that the ark was stationed on the western end, or perhaps in the middle of the area, so that as the priest entered he was already facing the ark and would sprinkle the blood on the eastern face of the atonement plate, in a westward direction (see, e.g., J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 239 versus J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1032).
and in front of the atonement plate he is to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger.
Presumably in this case the blood was sprinkled seven times on the ground in front of the ark on which the atonement plate was mounted.


15  “He must then slaughter the sin offering goat which is for the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil-canopy,
Heb “and he shall bring its blood into from house to the veil-canopy.”
and he is to do with its blood just as he did to the blood of the bull: He is to sprinkle it on the atonement plate and in front of the atonement plate.
16 So
Heb “And.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) can be considered to have resultative or even inferential force here.
he is to make atonement for the holy place from the impurities of the Israelites and from their transgressions with regard to all their sins,
Heb “to all their sins.”
and thus he is to do for the Meeting Tent which resides with them in the midst of their impurities.
17 Nobody is to be in the Meeting Tent
Heb “And all man shall not be in the tent of meeting.” The term for “a man, human being” (אָדָם, ’adam; see the note on Lev 1:2) refers to any person among “mankind,” male or female.
when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he goes out, and he has made atonement on his behalf, on behalf of his household, and on behalf of the whole assembly of Israel.

18  “Then
Heb “And.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) indicates the sequence of events here.
he is to go out to the altar which is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take
Heb “And he shall take.”
some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it all around on the horns of the altar.
19 Then he is to sprinkle on it some of the blood with his finger seven times, and cleanse and consecrate it
Heb “and he shall purify it and he shall consecrate it.”
from the impurities of the Israelites.

The Live Goat Ritual Procedures

20  “When he has finished purifying the holy place,
Heb “And he shall finish from atoning the holy place.” In this case, the “holy place” etc. are direct objects of the verb “to atone” (cf. v. 33a below). In this case, therefore, the basic meaning of the verb (i.e., “to purge” or “wipe clean”) comes to the forefront. When the prepositions עַל (’al) or בֲּעַד (baad) occur with the verb כִּפֶּר (kipper) the purging is almost always being done “for” or “on behalf of” priests or people (see the note on Lev 1:4 as well as R. E. Averbeck, NIDOTTE 2:698, the literature cited there, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 110, for more details).
the Meeting Tent, and the altar, he is to present the live goat.
21 Aaron is to lay his two hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins,
Heb “transgressions to all their sins.”
and thus he is to put them
Heb “and he shall give them.”
on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man standing ready.
The meaning of the Hebrew term עִתִּי (’itti) is uncertain. It is apparently related to עֵת (’et, “time”), and could perhaps mean either that he has been properly “appointed” (i.e., designated) for the task (e.g., NIV and NRSV) or “ready” (e.g., NASB and NEB).
22 The goat is to bear on itself all their iniquities into an inaccessible land,
The Hebrew term rendered “inaccessible” derives from a root meaning “to cut off” (cf. NAB “an isolated region”). Another possible translation would be “infertile land” (see HALOT 187 s.v. *גָּזֵּר and cf. NRSV “a barren region”; NLT “a desolate land.”
so he is to send the goat away
Heb “and he [the man (standing) ready, v. 21] shall send the goat away.”
in the wilderness.

The Concluding Rituals

23  “Aaron must then enter
Heb “And Aaron shall enter.”
the Meeting Tent and take off the linen garments which he had put on when he entered the sanctuary, and leave them there.
24 Then he must bathe his body in water in a holy place, put on his clothes, and go out and make his burnt offering and the people’s burnt offering. So he is to make atonement
Heb “And he shall make atonement.”
on behalf of himself and the people.
Heb “on behalf of himself and on behalf of the people.” After “on behalf of himself” the LXX adds the expected “and on behalf of his household” (cf. vv. 6, 11, and 17).


25  “Then he is to offer up the fat of the sin offering
Heb “And the fat of the sin offering he is to offer up.”
in smoke on the altar,
26 and the one who sent the goat away to Azazel
For “Azazel” see the note on v. 8 above.
must wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and afterward he may reenter the camp.
27 The bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought to make atonement in the holy place, must be brought outside the camp
Heb “he shall bring into from outside to the camp.”
and their hide, their flesh, and their dung must be burned up,
Heb “they shall burn with fire”; KJV “burn in the fire.” Because “to burn with fire” is redundant in contemporary English the present translation simply has “must be burned up.”
28 and the one who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may reenter the camp.

Review of the Day of Atonement

29  “This is to be a perpetual statute for you.
Heb “And it [feminine] shall be for you a perpetual statute.” Verse 34 begins with the same clause except for the missing demonstrative pronoun “this” here in v. 29. The LXX has “this” in both places and it suits the sense of the passage, although both the verb and the pronoun are sometimes missing in this clause elsewhere in the book (see, e.g., Lev 3:17).
In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves
Heb “you shall humble your souls.” The verb “to humble” here refers to various forms of self-denial, including but not limited to fasting (cf. Ps 35:13 and Isa 58:3, 10). The Mishnah (m. Yoma 8:1) lists abstentions from food and drink, bathing, using oil as an unguent to moisten the skin, wearing leather sandals, and sexual intercourse (cf. 2 Sam 12:16–17, 20; see the remarks in J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1054; B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 109; and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 242).
and do no work of any kind,
Heb “and all work you shall not do.”
both the native citizen and the foreigner who resides
Heb “the native and the sojourner who sojourns.”
in your midst,
30 for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the Lord.
The phrase “from all your sins” could go with the previous clause as the verse is rendered here (see, e.g., B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 109, and J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1011), or it could go with the following clause (i.e., “you shall be clean from all your sins before the Lord”; see the MT accents as well as J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 221, and recent English versions, e.g., NASB, NIV, NRSV).
31 It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must humble yourselves.
See the note on v. 29 above.
It is a perpetual statute.
Compare v. 29a above.


32  “The priest who is anointed and ordained to act as high priest in place of his father
Heb “And the priest whom he shall anointed him and whom he shall fill his hand to act as priest under his father.” Imperfect active verbs are often used as passives (see, e.g., v. 27 above and the note on Lev 14:4).
is to make atonement. He is to put on the linen garments, the holy garments,
33 and he is to purify
Heb “to atone” (also later in this verse); see the note on “purifying the holy place” in 16:20.
the Most Holy Place,
Heb “the sanctuary of the holy place.” Although this is the only place this expression occurs in the OT, it clearly refers to the innermost shrine behind the veil-canopy, where the ark of the covenant was located.
he is to purify the Meeting Tent and the altar,
Heb “and the tent of meeting and the alter he shall atone.” The repetition of the verb כִּפֶּר (kipper, “to atone”) at the beginning and end of the sequence appears to be strange, but the MT accents suggest that only “the Most Holy Place” goes with the verb at the beginning of the verse. Of course, the purging of “the Most Holy Place” has been the main emphasis of this chapter from the start (see vv. 2–3 and 11–17).
and he is to make atonement for
At this point in the verse the verb כִּפֶּר (kipper, “to make atonement”) takes its object with the preposition עַל (’al, “for”; literally, “upon”; contrast the first part of the verse and cf. the notes on Lev 1:4 and 16:20 above).
the priests and for all the people of the assembly.
34 This is to be a perpetual statute for you
Heb “And this shall be for you to a statute of eternity” (cf. v. 29a above). cf. NASB “a permanent statute”; NIV “a lasting ordinance.”
to make atonement for the Israelites for
Heb “from”; see note on 4:26.
all their sins once a year.”
Heb “one [feminine] in the year.”
So he did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The MT of Lev 16:34b reads literally, “and he did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” This has been retained here in spite of the fact that it suggests that Aaron immediately performed the rituals outlined in Lev 16 (see, e.g., J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 224 and 243; J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1059; note that Aaron was the one to whom Moses was to speak the regulations in this chapter, v. 2). The problem is that the chapter presents these procedures as regulations for “the tenth day of the seventh month” and calls for their fulfillment at that time (Lev 16:29; cf. Lev 23:26–32 and the remarks in P. J. Budd, Leviticus [NCBC], 237), not during the current (first) month (Exod 40:2; note also that they left Sinai in the second month, long before the next seventh month, Num 10:11). The LXX translates, “once in the year it shall be done as the Lord commanded Moses,” attaching “once in the year” to this clause rather than the former one, and rendering the verb as passive, “it shall be done” (cf. NAB, NIV, etc.). We have already observed the passive use of active verbs in this context (see the note on v. 32 above). The RSV (cf. also the NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT) translates, “And Moses did as the Lord commanded him,” ignoring the fact that the name Moses in the Hebrew text has the direct object indicator. Passive verbs, however, regularly take subjects with direct object indicators (see, e.g., v. 27 above). The NIV renders it “And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses,” following the LXX passive translation. The NASB translates, “And just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so he did,” transposing the introductory verb to the end of the sentence and supplying “so” in order to make it fit the context.


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