TODAY’S READING: Leviticus 16–18
The Day of Atonement was the most important day of the whole year. Jehovah instructed Moses that the high priest should not come at just any time into the holy of holies (Lev. 16:2); he should come but once a year only. This “once a year only” was indicative of the “fullness of time” when global atonement would be made for all peoples. It is also indicative that in this most critical passage on atonement, God takes pains to mention four times (16:29; 17:8; 10, 12) that all are invited, even strangers (those from other nations). “Foreigners and Gentiles were expected to come to worship the Living God because of the nature, power, and saving qualities of the Name of God. It was expected that God would hear and respond to their prayers just as effectively as he would listen to and answer the prayers of Israelites. Indeed, God was Lord over all the earth.” The God of all the nations makes it clear from beginning to end that all peoples are part of His atoning plan.
Scriptural images of atonement include Socinian (atonement as example), moral influence (atonement as love), governmental (atonement as justice), ransom (atonement as victory), and satisfaction (atonement as propitiation)—and all have valid aspects. The heart of atonement, however, is expressed in this passage, the one day of the year where everything stopped and all Jehovah’s people focused singularly on God’s wrath being appeased through penal substitution. Because the penalty for sin was death and no man or woman could bear the penalty, Jehovah transferred the guilt onto the scapegoats—one was sacrificed on the altar and the other released into the wilderness (16:9–10). In this action we see both propitiation (the slain goat appeased the holy wrath of Jehovah) and removal [the released goat carried the sins far away, a picture of “as far as the east from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12)].
Smack in the middle of the wonder of atonement, Jehovah not only insists on reminding us that the provision is for all peoples, but also that His people cannot be like all peoples. No more sacrifices should be offered to “goat idols” (se’irim). The Israelites were prohibited from sacrificing to these goat idols, these demonic/devilish evils. The people of God were not allowed to imitate the idolatry of Egypt or Canaan or of any nation where they would be commissioned (18:1–3). The people of God were called out from the nations and commissioned into the nations to be unlike the nations.
It is not coincidental that on the heels of atonement being provided for all peoples comes the stringent warning against sexual sin, so prevalent among all peoples. Leviticus 18 warns against any sexual perversion including homosexuality and abortion (vv. 19–23). God calls these practices perverse (v. 23) and warns that they defile the land to the degree that the land itself will eventually vomit out the practitioners (v. 25). “Holiness was a task. That is, Israel was to live out in daily life the practical implications of their status as God’s holy people. ‘Be what you are’ was the message.”
God’s missionary people are to be holy and sexually pure. God will not countenance sexual sin among missionaries. God will not listen to missionary prayers from perverted intercessors. God will not bless missionary dollars from unclean hands and hearts. God’s missionary people live in an age that worships the goat-idols, that bows before the demons of sensuality. There must be nothing of that practice or spirit about us, not if we are to represent Jehovah to the nations. If God’s missionary people are involved in anything sexually unholy, He will vomit us out of His missionary team. We cannot with God’s favor communicate atoning truths if we do not live them daily.
 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel As a Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000. 24–25.
 Se’irim is the literal translation for “demons” in Leviticus 17:7. It is interesting that the goat is now linked with devil worship today.
 Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. 372.