The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you; and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:26–28)
*Note: This blog post has been adapted from two eNews articles by Koinonia House:
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may be the most important holiday of the Jewish year. It is observed on the 10th of Tishri, which this year starts at sunset tonight, Friday, September 29. All day Saturday, Jews will forgo work, and fast for this holy and solemn day of repentance and reconciliation.
According to Leviticus 16, the high priest could not enter the “Holy of Holies” any time he chose. When he did enter, precise, detailed instructions were followed for the sacrificial ceremony. Along with the people of Israel, the high priest and his household also needed reconciliation with God. A total of 16 separate sacrifices were offered (Leviticus 16:5–29; Numbers 29:7–11).
On this special Day of Atonement – the only day – that the high priest was allowed to enter the “Holy of Holies,” he did so only after elaborate ceremonial washings, offerings, and associated rituals. After bathing, he put on linen clothes (rather than his sacred vestments), and then chose for himself and his household a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. From the congregation he took two goats as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. He then had the two goats placed at the entrance of the tent of meeting where he cast a lot, assigning one goat for Yahweh and “one for Azazel.”
The goat assigned by lot to Yahweh was sacrificed as a sin offering, but the other goat was placed before the Lord alive in order to reconcile. An indispensable detail of this ceremony was the placing of the live goat before the altar of burnt offering. Leaning with his two hands on the head of the animal, the high priest confessed all the sins of the Israelites, symbolically placing them on the head of the goat. This goat was dedicated as a scapegoat (Leviticus 16:20–22) bearing the guilt of Israel’s sins. Then an appointed person took the animal into the wilderness outside the camp of Israel, where he set the goat free.
Many aspects of the Old Testament feasts were prophetic (e.g., the scapegoat pointing to the Messiah). Since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans, the God–centered observances of the Torah have tragically been replaced with a man–centered, good works system of appeasement through prayer, charity, and penitence.
Yom Kippur traditionally ends with one long note of the Shofar, a musical instrument usually made from a ram’s horn. The significance of the ram’s horn is traditionally rooted in Genesis 22. Here God commands Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” God calls Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a test of his faith. After God halts the sacrifice at the last minute, Abraham notices a ram trapped by his horns in a nearby thicket, and offers the animal instead as a sacrifice.
It’s interesting to note that this is the first occurrence of the word “love” in Scripture. This strange event foreshadows Christ’s death on the cross as a substitutionary offering for our sins. It may have even taken place at the very same spot where the “only begotten Son” of God was later crucified.
Those of us who follow Jesus, placing our trust in Him for our salvation, are now able to enter behind the veil of separation and stand in the presence of God in the “Holy of Holies.” We have forgiveness of sins because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. He is our scapegoat! His blood was spilled for our atonement! Because of Him we are cleansed and made holy before God.
Violence and anger persist in our sin–stained world, but God provides a sanctuary of protection for us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. During Yom Kippur, Jews may mourn and repent of their sins, but the sacrifice has already been offered to pay for their sins. Jerusalem may be a “cup of trembling for all nations,” but it will one day hold the throne of the Messiah, Jesus Christ!
Peace & Joy!