The Cleansing of the People
Relieved, Aaron leaves the inner sanctuary, walks through the holy place and hands the vessel full of the bullock’s blood back to one of his sons (probably Eleazar). He blinks his eyes in the morning light. Though his adrenalin is pumping, he is still tired. The ceremonies of the day had actually commenced at sunset the night before. His fasting had begun then and the night had been spent in a sleepless watch as he meditated and prayed to the Lord. He inspects his robes quickly, making sure that no blood has gotten on them. They must remain unspotted throughout the entire ceremony. His dress in order, he heads toward the gate.
The congregation awaits him outside the court with the two goats they have chosen for their sin sacrifice that day. These two goats represented a singular sacrifice, but because of all that the sacrifice was required to cover, just one goat wouldn’t do. The people had taken great care in choosing these goats, making sure that they were without blemish. The goats were of the same age and could have been twins had they not been kidded by different dams. Aaron approached. the animals. Taking a rope leash in each hand, he leads the goats “as sheep for the slaughter” through the gate of the courtyard. Near the altar of burnt offering sat an urn with two identical gold pieces—identical save for their engraving. One had “for YHWH” written on it, the other “for Azazel.” Aaron let go of the leashes and put his hands into the urn. Retrieving a lot in each hand, he placed one on each goat, thus sealing their fate.
The goat upon which was placed “for Azazel,” the scapegoat, was turned to face the people after its presentation to the Lord. In temple times, a scarlet cloth was tied to its horn. Tradition has it that when the sacrifice of the goat “for YHWH” was fully accepted, this scarlet cloth turned white in fulfillment of the promise contained in Isaiah 1:18. But this same tradition also tells us that during the forty years that preceded the destruction of the second temple, this miracle never occurred again. The reality having come in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lord no longer bothered Himself with the animal sacrifice. This goat would shortly be led out into the wilderness “by the hand of a fit man.”
Aaron took the goat “for YHWH” and slit its throat near the altar, catching its blood in another vessel. With this blood, he entered once again into the holy of holies and sprinkled it in the same manner that he had sprinkled the blood of the bullock. The blood of the bullock atoned for the sins of the priesthood. The blood of the goat atoned for the sins of the people. It was this goat, the sacrificed goat, which atoned for their sins. This means that the sins, transgressions, and iniquities that the scapegoat bore into the wilderness were sins that had been atoned for.
The Cleansing of the Place
Once the sins of the priesthood and the people were atoned for, all that remained was the cleansing of their defilement of the holy sanctuary itself.
16 And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
18 And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.
19 And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
Blood has been sprinkled in the holy of holies, atoning for the sins of the people, the priesthood, and the place. Now Aaron moves into the holy place (verse 16) and sprinkles the veil seven times with the bullock’s blood and seven times with the goat’s blood. Once this is done, he mixes the two and with this concoction anoints the horns of the golden altar of incense to cleanse it. “And he shall go out unto the altar” (verse 18) tells us that he then went out of the holy place into the courtyard where “the altar that is before the Lord” sat, the altar of burnt offering.
Aaron took the mingled blood of the bullock and the goat and put it upon the four horns of the brazen altar. He sprinkled it seven times and then poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar on the west side. The altar of burnt offering and the courtyard in which it stood was thus cleansed of the defilements brought to it by the priesthood and the people.