The “young bull as a sin offering” was in addition to the two goats used as a sin offering for the nation on Atonement. The law of sin offerings specifies that the offering of a young bull would cover the high priest's sin (Leviticus 4:3). Of the four sacrificial animals in Leviticus 16, three of them were used for sin offerings. The three animals did not represent three different personalities, but each pointed to the Messiah in a distinct aspect or role. We may consider one or more of these animals extraneous, but God had specific reasons for each part of this ceremony. Each animal had a common fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This sin offering for the high priest held a more meaningful purpose than the one outlined in Leviticus 4. In a typical sin offering for the priest, the blood was sprinkled “seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil of the sanctuary” (Leviticus 4:6). The priest also put blood on the horns of the incense altar and poured the rest at the base of the altar of burnt offering (verse 7). The blood thus provided a covering—an atonement—for those areas of the high priest's service that God considered defiled through his sin.
But on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place with a cloud of incense. He did not stop at the veil, but instead went farther and sprinkled blood on and in front of the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).
The mercy seat—where God said He would meet and speak with the leader (Exodus 25:22; 30:6)—was the point of intersection between God and Israel, through her representative. On the day when atonement was made for the nation, the cleansing began with the sacred meeting place between God and man. The first account to be settled was between God and the high priest (including his house), setting the stage for the remaining atonements.
After cleansing the mercy seat (including the ground in front of it), the blood of the bull purified the incense altar (Leviticus 16:18-19). Incense is a symbol of prayer, yet even prayer can be an abomination to God because of sin (Proverbs 28:9). Thus, the priest's instruments used in the worship of the Holy God had to be cleansed because of the defilement of sin.
David C. Grabbe
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