The description of how the priest is to atone for himself and the nation at large is given in Leviticus 16. The process is quite complex and follows 13 steps which map to the tribes. Each step in the ritual, then, acts out or reveals the main aspect of that tribe. What better way to atone for each of the tribes.


The Leviticus 16 passage has an opening and closing thought that frame the ritual itself. Here's the beginning of the passage.

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. The LORD said to Moses: "Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. (Leviticus 16:1-2 NIV)


The ritual itself, which maps to the tribes, sits in the middle of the passage, from verse 3 through 28.

Tribe Step Characteristic
Judah 1) High priest chooses young bull and ram. Planning
"This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. (Leviticus 16:3 NIV)
Reuben 2) Washes and dresses. Intimacy
He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. (Leviticus 16:4 NIV)
Gad 3) Goes into crowd to receive goats and second ram. Going
From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. (Leviticus 16:5 NIV)
Asher 4) Needs to atone self and family. Purifying
"Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. (Leviticus 16:6 NIV)
Naphtali 5) Lot cast to discover god's goat. Certifying
Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats -- one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. "Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. (Leviticus 16:7-11 NIV)
Manasseh 6) Lot cast to discover scapegoat. Recursion
(see Joseph)
Simeon 7) Makes cloud in holy of holies. Counseling
He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. He is to take some of the bull's blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover. (Leviticus 16:12-14 NIV)
Levi 8) Atones nation. Atoning
He is to take some of the bull's blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover. "He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull's blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Leviticus 16:14-16 NIV)
Issachar 9) No one else in tent. Working
No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel. (Leviticus 16:17 NIV)
Zebulun 10) Removes defilement. Starting
"Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull's blood and some of the goat's blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (Leviticus 16:18-19 NIV)
Joseph 11) Confesses over and sends away scapegoat. Discerning
"When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites -- all their sins -- and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. (Leviticus 16:20-22 NIV)
Benjamin 12) Burns rams. ?
"Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar. (Leviticus 16:23-25 NIV)
Dan 13) Burns bull and goat outside the camp. Separating
"The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. (Leviticus 16:26-28 NIV)


And here's the close of the chapter.

"This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work -- whether native-born or an alien living among you -- because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community. "This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites." And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Leviticus 16:29-34 NIV)


Judah has Selection Day. It's the 10th day of the 1st month, the day a lamb is selected for the Passover meal. It's a day where the Passover is planned ahead of time. Here in the atonement ritual the pattern is the same. The priest has to select or raise or decide where to buy or how to acquire a young bull and a ram before the ritual itself ever begins. This planning ahead is smack in the middle of Judah's special ability as a tribe.

Reuben has a theme of intimacy. Intimacy meaning closeness or transparency in a relationship. The second step in the ritual involves the high priest taking a bath. Being naked for a bath is, well, intimate, or personal. Then the priest dresses for the ritual. This too, is a private or at least personal act.

Gad has a theme of going and plundering or receiving things. This idea of "raiding" (as his dad called it) shows up when the priest leaves the immediate area of the tent to go into the crowd and receive the goats and the ram.

Asher has many passages that correlate him with oil. One aspect of oil that I think is also a main characteristic of Asher is the aspect of purity. If oil is not pure it will not burn well and the lamp will not give it's light. In the ritual the issue is purity. The priest must first atone for himself before he can atone for the nation. This is a little bit like getting the plank out of your own eye before helping your brother with the speck in his. The priest needs to be in right standing with God himself before he can make much in the way of a request for the rest of the country.

Naphtali has "beautiful words" according to Jacob in Genesis 49. Words, we know, are just labels, not the reality or thing itself. Naphtali's holiday is First Fruits, the day you offer a sample of the crop to get a sense of what the whole crop will be like. His tabernacle item is the incense altar, the place where the incense is burned to create a smell, or sense. Naphtali has to do with sensing or smell. His gate of the city is the dung gate, a smelly place. So in this ritual his part is the act of casting lots to find the scapegoat. Note that the scapegoat is already determined, by God, but unknown by the priest. So he casts two lots, one on each goat, and they both agree that one is the scapegoat and the other is the sin offering. The process reveals or gives the priest a sense of what happens to each animal, but it is not the step of letting the scapegoat go or the act of making the offering, just the act of putting a word or label on each, of sensing what's already happening in God's plan, of realizing what's going to happen.

Manasseh is often pictured as a miniature of the whole. Recursion is the term for this. Here Manasseh lands on the step when the priest offers the bull to atone for himself and family. Later, Levi will offer the goat on behalf of the whole nation. So this first round of atonement, the smaller of the two, appears to be Manasseh's recursive use of the larger story.

Simeon is the son Jacob did not want to enter his counsel. So for his step of the ritual the priest takes coals from the altar, and some incense, and puts them on the incense altar inside the veil such that a cloud of smoke is created between the priest and the mercy seat where God sits. The result is even though the priest enters this innermost room of the tent he still has visual separation from God. Amazing.

Levi is the tribe whose holiday is the Day of Atonements. So it's not a big surprise that his step of the ritual involves taking the blood of the goat into the innermost room to atone the tribes.

Issachar has a pattern of "working" or "bearing burdens" elsewhere in Scripture. At his point in the ritual the passage rests from the regular definition of what the priest does to say that no one else should be in the tent when this is all happening. In other words, no one else should be doing any work. So even Issachar, the hard worker, should take a break for this ritual.

Zebulun has a theme of origins. In the ritual we're told that the act of atoning with blood removes "defilement" from the tent and the surrounding courtyard. You might miss how this relates to Zebulun if you did not know the spelling of defilement in the original language. The spelling tells us the definition of the word, or it's concept space. That's another story, but the definition of defilement is something that is "twisted from the start." So to remove defilement is to remove something that has an origin or beginning from some time ago. This step of the ritual is exactly in Zebulun's concept space.

Joseph is the tribe that led most of Israel. He's also identified as the "brow" or "forehead" in Scripture. In this step the priest places his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confesses the sins, iniquities and transgressions of the nation. Then a helper takes the goat into the wilderness and lets it go, thus carrying the sins of the nation away from them. The two steps probably picks up something about Ephraim and Manasseh, but in any case the placement of the hands on the head of the goat and the ability to articulate the actual sins and iniquities and transgressions of all the tribes is something that goes along with Joseph since he's ultimately the tribe that becomes a "community of nations."

Benjamin sits on the step where the rams are sacrificed as a burnt offering. I'm not sure why this relates to Benjamin.

Dan sits on the last step of the ritual which involves removing the young bull and the goat to a burn pile outside the camp. Dan is the tribe that had trouble taking land, eventually pushing back the sea instead of other peoples. A clever answer anyhow. This step plays to Dan in that it involves doing something on the periphery or outside the camp.