In its present context this chapter describes an annual sanctuary purification rite that occurs every fall, on the tenth day
of the seventh month (September‐October), accompanied by the people's fasting (v. 29; 23.26–32
). It may have originally been a sanctuary purification rite, not connected to a particular day nor requiring fasting (
are not original to the chapter, and are part of the Holiness tradition found mainly in chs 17–26
). Thus it makes sense that the ceremony, in vv. 1–28
, is prescribed immediately after, and contains a reference to, the death of Aaron's sons in Lev 10.1–7 (cf. 16.1; see 11.1–15.33n.; Num 7.1–89n.). The sanctuary needed purification because the priests’ corpses had polluted it (cf. Lev 10.4–5; Num 19
). Cf. Ezek 45.18–20
Mercy seat, see Ex 25.17–22n.
Cloud, see Ex 40.34–38n.
The primary goal of the sin offering is to achieve “atonement” (Heb “kipper”; cf. the noun “kippûr,” “atonement,” as in the
later Jewish term for the occasion, “Yom Kippur,” based on a similar term in
). With the sin/purification offering, the Heb verb refers to the removal of impurity from certain sanctuary furniture and
locales caused by sin and severe personal pollution (Ex 30.10; Lev 6.23; 8.15; 16.16,18,20,27,33; cf. Ezek 43.20, 26; 45.20; see Lev 4.1–35n.
). The focus of the chapter is thus on the purification of the sanctuary, not, as in later times, on repentance of the individual.
“Kipper” should therefore be translated as “purify” or “make purification on behalf of.” When used in a summary fashion in
sacrificial contexts, the term appears to indicate that all negative effects of the sin or personal pollution have been resolved,
and thus carries the notion of “appeasement” (Num 17.11; 25.13; cf. Ex 30.15–16; Lev 17.11; Num 31.50
). Other sacrifices, except for the well‐being offering, may also achieve atonement (the burnt offering, Lev 1.4; cf. 14.31; 15.15; Num 6.11
; the guilt offering, Lev 5.16; 14.21; 19.22; Num 5.8
Tent of meeting, see 1.1n.
Azazel, meaning “angry/fierce god,” probably a demonic figure (cf. 17.7
), in contrast to the LORD, i.e., Yahweh. This is the “scapegoat” of older translations.
The first part of the verse might be alternatively rendered: “Thus shall he purify the sanctuary from the impurities of the
people of Israel and from their rebellious acts, including all their sins.” On rebellious acts, i.e., deliberate sins, in
the scheme of the sin offering system, see 4.1–35n.; cf. Num 15.30–31n.
And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, now that the inner room of the tent has been purified (vv. 11–16a
), its outer room is purified. The procedure is not spelled out, but is probably similar to that in
4.5–7,16–18 (cf. Ex 30.10).
The open‐air altar, a third locale of the sanctuary area, is here purified. Horns, see Ex 27.2n.
Both his hands, this gesture transfers sins to the head of the scapegoat (cf. 24.14; Num 27.18,23
, where apparently two hands are used for transfer). This differs in form and meaning from the one‐handed gesture that precedes
the slaughtering of sacrificial animals (see 1.4; 3.2; 4.4
; this gesture is not found with birds or grain offerings), which may seek to identify the animal as belonging to the offerer
who brings it (cf. Num 8.5–26n.). This scapegoat ritual is somewhat redundant with the earlier purification rituals, but the
purity of the sanctuary was so significant that redundancy was sensible. Though the goat to Azazel is part of a purgation
offering complex (cf. Lev 16.5
), it is not sacrificed or killed according to the biblical text, though further development of this ritual in early rabbinic
literature assured that the scapegoat would die, so it could not return with the sins.
Deny yourselves, in addition to abstaining from food and anointing (Dan 10.12
), sexual intercourse may be prohibited (2 Sam 12.15–24
). These verses derive from the Holiness School (see Introduction), which viewed Yom Kippur in terms that are broader than
the Priestly Torah described in vv. 1–28
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