Yom Kippur Revisited
Yom Kippur/The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 23:27-32 says that Yom Kippur follows the Feast of Trumpets on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Yom Kippur is the Hebrew for “Day of Atonement.” After its observance, there are four days of preparation for the next festival beginning on the 15th day of Tishrei.
Leviticus 23:27-32 appoints for Israel a national day of “afflicting your souls,” person by person, family by family. Leviticus 16 outlines the labors of the high priest on that day. His work is solemn and bloody as he pours out the lifeblood of innocent animals to cleanse the Most Holy Place of the defilement his sins and Israel’s sins have brought there. He must put off the splendid priestly garments he wears at all other times and become humbled before God. The entire 24-hours is ablaze with the unrelenting fire of burnt offerings on the altar of sacrifice. A young bull, seven lambs and one ram follow the lamb which burns on the altar in the morning (Numbers 28:4-8; 29:7-11). The high priest trembles as he enters the Most Holy Place with the smoking scented coals from the altar of sacrifice. If his sins and the sins of his people have reached this holiest of sanctuaries, have they reached the Heaven of heavens? Is the cloud sufficient to shield him from the judging gaze of a holy God? Were the bullock and the goat whose blood he must sprinkle at the mercy seat truly unblemished? Is seven times enough for all the iniquity in Israel? Will this blood save Israel from receiving punishment seven-fold? Mercy would be a blessing at this moment. The outer courtyards are empty now; no one was permitted in the courts of the Tabernacle or the Temple while he labored alone before the God of Israel. They were waiting for him, reassured only by the sound of the bells on his hem as he moved about in the Most Holy Place. Would he live to discharge the live goat bearing the sins of Israel far from the gaze of God? As he returns from the Holy of Holies, he hears the collective gasp of relief rise from those who wait in hope outside. The live goat is led away to a wilderness reserved for the spirits of the damned, from which the goat would never return. The goat’s destination is insured by sending the most reliable servant available to attend it. His labors not yet complete, the high priest bathes, changes his garments, and prepares the ram to be the burnt offering for himself, his sons, and for all the people (Leviticus 16:24). This burnt offering is then followed with the regular evening burnt offering, and the high priest is then relieved by another.
Scripture calls this a feast? Not a very festive picture, fasting and contemplating one’s sin. Add to that the gruesome spectacle of blood and fire and smoke, and the scene becomes macabre. Appearances are deceiving in this case. Anyone who thinks upon the character and being of God, His holiness and gracious provision for the Covenant with Him, understands that Yom Kippur is not intended to be bitterly, uncomfortingly grievous. Sin, however, is grievous because it separates people from knowing the God of all joy. The thought of separation from God ought to plague our souls with grief. Nevertheless, while we are making unflattering, unpleasant discoveries about our being and character, yielding to God’s search for things that destroy the deep pleasure of relationship with Him is a true–if pungent–feast for the soul. The more we acquire a taste for God’s extraordinary character, the more often and eagerly our soul will pant for the strong savor of Yom Kippur. Mingled with the bitter tears of our self-exposure and confession, God offers the “Main Course” of His Holy Covenant: reconciliation through the blood of His appointed atoning sacrifice, offered by the priestly mediator of His ordination. If we perform 612 mitzvot and neglect this one, we are guilty of sin in all the other 612. The mitzvot are holy, but we are not holy. Our mere performance of them does not change our character of unholiness in the gaze of a holy God. God alone is holy. He has given this “feast” to the unholy as THE WAY to reconcile them to Him. There is no other way, for God has said: “…it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).
Without the Temple, Israel languishes without the altar of sacrifice, without the atoning blood. Without the Temple and its Scriptural sacrifices, rabbis impose innovations on the feast insisting that the red blood cells each man prevents by his fasting and his good deeds will serve as atonement for his own iniquity.
Another tradition on Yom Kippur is Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre is the Hebrew term meaning all vows. This traditional prayer which annuls all vows taken by the Jewish people, appears to have been introduced by a prominent rabbi in Babylonia during the eighth century C.E. (Christian/Common Era). The prayer ushers in Yom Kippur. Just before sunset on Tishrei 9, in synagogues worldwide, and while Torah is lifted for all to see, the cantor begins the antiphonal prayer:
“All vows, obligations, oaths, anathemas, be they called konam or konas or by any other name, which we may vow or swear or pledge…from this Day of Atonement until the next…we do repent. May they be deemed to be forgiven, absolved, annulled or void–and made of no effect. They shall not bind us nor have power over us [and the vows shall not be considered vows nor the obligations obligatory, nor the oaths oaths.”
Rabbis who understand God’s view of the keeping of vows regarded the tradition as unscriptural and, therefore, unorthodox. The custom grew in acceptance during the eighth and ninth centuries while the emperor Charlemagne was forcing oaths upon Jews in the courts through brutality and torture. Later, during the 13th century and onward, Christian vows were forcibly imposed upon the Jewish people under the brutality of the Inquisition. Christians who understand God’s view of the taking and keeping of vows recognize such coercion as unscriptural and, therefore, unorthodox. Rabbis permitted the dispensation of Kol Nidre arguing that the vow involves the conscience of the one who vows alone, and not any other involved. God alone knows the mind of a man. They reasoned that God could absolve a man of the responsibility of a vow of conscience made to God–especially under duress; but a promise made to another man must be fulfilled. The recitation of Kol Nidre alone was offered as the mitzvah by which a man could be absolved of a vow of conscience. This bloodless “sacrifice” offered by the lips of a sinful man, then, became the reconciliation for a Jew coerced into claiming faith in Messiah Jesus. For a Jew caught “between the Devil and the deep blue sea,” Kol Nidre became the “grace” at Yom Kippur to renounce his Christian “confusion” and be reconciled to a Judaism with no Temple and no Scriptural Atonement.
Just a thought…Perhaps the words of the prayer of Kol Nidre could be valuable for a Jew whose heart desired to break free of the coercions of priest and rabbi in order to pursue the truth of Messiah’s identity in the Scriptures…
THE SPIRIT OF GOD
For disciples of Messiah Jesus—whether Jewish or non-Jewish—Yom Kippur carries with it the weight of the glory of a holy God. We are reminded of our sin and rebellion against God and our offenses against our neighbors. Perhaps the prayer of Daniel the prophet would be a more fitting observance on Yom Kippur for the disciple of Messiah Jesus:
And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You. O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him. And He has confirmed His words, which He spoke against us and against our judges who judged us, by bringing upon us a great disaster; for under the whole heaven such has never been done as what has been done to Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept the disaster in mind, and brought it upon us; for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and made Yourself a name, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly! O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name. –Daniel 9.4-19
For disciples of Messiah Jesus—whether Jewish or non-Jewish—Yom Kippur carries with it the sweetness of Yeshua’s Great Atonement. While we submit to the searching gaze of the Spirit of God, we enjoy the counsel of the Spirit of God who testifies:
“Messiah has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself” –Hebrews 9:26.
“Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself with His own blood, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the New Covenant, by means of death, for the atonement of the transgressions under the first covenant that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” –Hebrews 9:11-15.
“There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Holy Spirit” —Romans 8:1.
For the believer in Messiah Jesus—whether Jewish or non-Jewish—Yom Kippur is personally fulfilled in Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice offered at the Passover in the year when Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Judea and Caiaphas was the high priest of the Temple, under the dominion of Roman occupation. The prophet Isaiah foretold and the record of history documents Yeshua’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension to glory (Isaiah 52.12-53.12).
Israel will enjoy her national atonement when she recognizes her Lamb on that final Yom Kippur to come (Isaiah 66.7-10; Zechariah 12.10-14). We who know the terror of that final Yom Teruah to come ought to persuade our Jewish dear ones of Messiah’s Great Atonement: that they might know LIFE in Yeshua!
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; ‘May they prosper who love you’.” –Psalm 122.6
High Holydays—A Season of Remembrance, Awe and Rejoicing, from DISCIPLING THE MESSIANIC BELIEVER, first edition pp. 389-395, copyright 1991, 1995, 2003, Patricia Stachew, Stillwaters Publications, Reston, VA. All rights reserved.