The Day of Atonement / Yom Kippur:
This is perhaps the most important chapter in Leviticus. It is the most solemn day of the year in the Jewish calendar. It is the only day mandated by Jewish law to fast. The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur is the “reset button” for the Jewish liturgical year. Yom Kippur is the day to remove and destroy impurity for the nation for the year. It is the reset button to get the Israelites back to square one in terms of ritual purity. This is the day to restore everyone and everything (people, priests and Tabernacle) to the original sanctification. It is the day when Yahweh allows the Israelites to, in effect, start over again. This is the New Testament equivalent to the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. Once the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple, and then later, the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, Yom Kippur morphed from ritual purification to the atonement of sins of the people. Yom Kippur became became associated with the forgiveness of sins rather than ritual purifications. This is the only day of the year when someone could enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. In this case, is was the High Priest who could enter the Holy of Holies. The blood of the sacrifice was applied to the people just as in the Theophany from Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19) to re-enact the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 24). Yom Kippur was the yearly renewal of the Sinai Covenant. The blood was applied to the people and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.
God Appears in Human Form?:
On Yom Kippur, Yahweh would “ra’ah” or appear in a cloud over the Mercy Seat. Other instances of this Hebrew word (Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; etc.) that God would appear in human form on the Mercy Seat; that is, the High Priest Aaron would see God in human form echoing each year the face to face meeting on Mt. Sinai in the Theophany.
Ark of the Covenant / the Mercy Seat / God’s Throne Room:
The Ark of the Covenant had two cherubim with folded wings that acted as God’s footstool. This is the Mercy Seat or the Purging Seat where God dwelt with Israel in the Meeting Tent. On Yom Kippur, the one day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, he would sprinkle blood seven times on the Mercy Seat. This was a means of expiation and purgation; originally for making Israel ritually pure, but later, for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ blood and His Cross, of course, are the ultimate fulfillment of Yom Kippur and the Day of Atonement, and the forgiveness of sins. With God in, visible form, sitting on His throne seat, this, in fact, is a kind of “throne room scene” of God here on earth. The Throne-room of God from Heaven is now making an appearance on earth; “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Once a year, God would remove all impurities from the Israelites, but later, it is seen as forgiving all sin. It is the true “reset button” to make all things new. Each year, no matter what happened, Israel could start over again on Yom Kippur. The merciful God from His “Mercy Seat,” or “purgation seat”, forgives all of Israel’s sins. Everything would be restored to its original condition. This is a “statute forever,” perhaps foreshadowing Baptism and Reconciliation (which continued it into the New Covenant times). In Levitical terms, the Day of Atonement restored equilibrium to the Israel nation and made them new again in ritualistic purity and cleanliness. [In Baptism, Christians are washed clean of original sin and made anew in the Blood of Christ, new creations; similarly, in Reconciliation, we are forgiven our sins, and made anew in the forgiveness of Christ.]
The Two Goats / Azazel and the Sacrifice Goat:
On Yom Kippur, two goats were chosen: one would be sacrificed, and one would be sent off into the wilderness bearing the sins of the nation, this is the Azazel goat. The Azazel goat is where the notion of a “scapegoat” comes from, ie, the goat that bears the sins of someone else. The first goat is a sin offering for the Lord and is slain. The second goat, the Azazel goat, is an expiation, a purging of the impurities, or later, the sins, of the nation of Israel. The High Priest, the representative of the nation, laid his hands on the goat, a symbolic transfer of impurities and guilt, and then, the Azazel goat was sent off into the wilderness, presumably to its death. The wilderness and the desert were the place of the demonic, wildness chaos, sin and death. It was the opposite of the Tabernacle, God’s place, the new Eden. Everything outside the Tabernacle was wilderness, desert, chaos, sin, and death. [When Jesus is about to begin His ministry, He immediately heads out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted by the devil.] Here, the Azazel goat is banished into the desert to take away Israel’s impurities and sins from the camp of Yahweh and the nation. The Azazel goat removes impurities out of the sacred space of the Temple into the place it belongs, the demonic geography of the wilderness. The goat is the vehicle for the removal of those impurities.
As a matter of note, the term Azazel appears also in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q180), where Azazel is a demon; in fact, the leader of the fallen angels that sinned in Genesis 6:1-4 and 1 Enoch. Thus, once a year, the High Priest would lay hands on the Azazel goat, and confess all the sins of the nation of Israel, symbolically transferring the sins of the nation to the Azazel goat. The Azazel goat would then bear the sins (impurities) of Israel away from Yahweh’s sacred space of Israel and the Tabernacle, off into the godforsaken land of the desert wilderness. The wilderness imagery is one of supernatural evil, non-holy ground; non-sacred space outside the Tabernacle. It was a place spiritually sinister with forces of chaos and death, where the pagans offered sacrifice to goat-demons. The Azazel goat would possibly be driven off a cliff too, in effect, the impurities and sins of the nation would never make it back.
Christianity and the Cross:
The first sacrificed goat would in the New Testament make Christians fit for God’s presence. The second goat, the Azazel goat, would remove sins from Christians. In the New Testament, Christ fulfills the type of each goat. Christ makes us fit to be in God’s presence, and removes sins from our lives. Christ is the goat sacrificed for our sins on the Cross. He is also the goat where our sins are laid upon His body and He bears them away from us. Christ becomes sin for us, by bearing our sins. Azazel is the ultimate embodiment of evil, as the leader of the fallen angels/demons, who led the world astray. This is reminiscent of Christ being foreshadowed by the bronze serpent raised upon the pole. The serpent (as the serpent from the Garden of Eden, who led mankind astray into Original Sin) was raised upon the pole, and all who looked upon it were healed. Similarly, the demonic Azazel goat has the sins of the nation cast upon it. It is Christ, who takes on sin for our sake, who is sacrificed and carried sin away from us. This is the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, who is pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, and by His “stripes” we are made whole. Christ’s atoning death on the Cross is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. The goats of the Day of Atonement are just prefigurements of the real atoning death of the Messiah, the Son of God, to come. Jesus is the true, sacrificial atonement. Good Friday is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which was just a prefigurement of the Cross. Jesus’ death on the Cross is the true “Reset Button” for all Christians and believers. We are made new creations in Christ and His Cross. His sanctifying grace flowed forth as blood and water from His side, and perpetuated in perpetuity in through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.