Under the Law of Moses, Israel was to annually observe the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month.
The seventh month of the religious calendar (September-October) held three significant events:
- Feast of Trumpets (day 1)
- Day of Atonement (day 10)
- Feast of Tabernacles (days 15-21)
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to make atonement for the sins of Israel and enter behind the veil of the most holy place to meet with GOD.
According to Leviticus 16, before entering the tabernacle / temple, the high priest was to:
- Offer a young bull sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering
- Bathe with water
- Put on special priestly garments
- Take 2 kid goats from Israel as a sin offering and one ram as a burnt offering
- Offer the young bull as the high priest’s sin offering to make atonement for himself
- Present the two kid goats to the LORD at the door
- Cast lots: one goat for the LORD and one for the scapegoat
- Offer the one goat to GOD to be used as a sin offering for Israel
- Present the scapegoat alive to GOD to make atonement for it
- Take a censer with burning coals from the altar, add incense, and take it behind the veil, along with some blood from the bull sin offering
- Sprinkle the bull’s blood on the east side of the mercy seat seven times
- Kill the goat which was Israel’s sin offering
- Carry blood from the goat sin offering behind the veil
- Sprinkle the goat’s blood on the east side of the mercy seat seven times
- Place blood from the sin offering upon the four horns of the altar
- Sprinkle blood upon the altar seven times for the sins of Israel
No one else was allowed in the tabernacle during this process.
Once the atonement process was complete, the high priest was to place his hand upon the scapegoat, confess over it the sins of Israel, figuratively transferring those sins to the scapegoat. A chosen man would be responsible for releasing the scapegoat into the desert.
Then the high priest was to go back inside the tabernacle and remove the special priestly garments, wash with water, and put on his regular priestly clothes. He then offered burnt offerings upon the altar to make atonement for the sins of himself, his house, the people, and in matters concerning the priests.
Remains of the sacrificed animals were carried outside the camp and burned. The one who burned them then washed and returned to camp.
The Day of Atonement was to be a special Sabbath:
29 “This shall be an ordinance forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a resident alien who dwells among you. 30 For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord. Thus you shall be clean. 31 It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths, a rest for you, and you shall humble your souls. It is an ordinance forever. 32 So the priest who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments. 33 Then he shall make atonement in the most holy place, the tabernacle of testimony and the altar; and he shall make atonement for matters concerning the priests and all the congregation. 34 So this shall be an ordinance forever for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins; and he shall do this once a year,” as the Lord gave orders to Moses.Leviticus 16:29-34 OSB
Punishment for ignoring this special day was severe:
26 Moreover, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “Also, the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall humble your souls and offer a whole burnt offering to the Lord. 28 And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For any soul who is not humbled on that same day shall be utterly destroyed from among his people. 30 Any soul who does any work on that same day, that soul shall be destroyed from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work; this is an ordinance forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 32 It shall be a Sabbath of Sabbaths for you, and you shall humble your souls; from the ninth day of the month, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbaths.”Leviticus 23:26-32 OSB
While the Israelites weren’t commanded to travel to Jerusalem for the Day of Atonement, those present at the tabernacle / temple were to hold a special assembly:
7 ‘On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall afflict your souls; and you shall not do any work. 8 You shall offer whole burnt offerings, burnt offerings as a sweet aroma to the Lord: one young bull from the oxen, one ram, and seven male lambs in their first year—be sure they are unblemished, 9 with their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for each young bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 10 and one-tenth for each of the seven male lambs, 11 and one young male from the goats as a sin offering to make atonement for you, in addition to the sin offering of atonement and the regular whole burnt offering, with its grain offering and drink offering, according to the interpretation, as a burnt offering of sweet aroma to the Lord.Numbers 29:7-11 OSB