In less than a week, those of us observing the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) will be in the midst of a 24 hour period of time that is among the most important and holy days of the year on God’s sacred calendar. However, because of the nature of what God asks us to do on Atonement, we can sometimes view it as a distraction from the hustle and bustle of travel plans, packing, and festival preparations for the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Let’s face it – it’s much more appealing to think about and to make plans for our feasting than it is for our fasting, but let’s take a look at how God issues this command to keep the Day of Atonement.
Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:27-32)
Now, that doesn’t sound like a day that should be taken lightly, or viewed as something that we just have to endure on the way to Tabernacles. I must confess, though, that there have been years when I’ve done that.
Blessed and Distracted
It is very important that we don’t allow the Day of Atonement to be overshadowed by our busy lives. We are a blessed people, and it’s very easy for blessed people to take for granted those three square meals a day, and all of the comforts of our lives. A couple of months back, I started keeping up with the world population clock, and related statistics … about 7 billion 264 million right now. And it can be sort of humbling just to sit for a few minutes and watch the physical growth of God’s family, and to realize that if you make more than 10 American dollars a day, you are more richly blessed, materially at least, than 80% of those 7 billion people.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.
Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (Deut. 8:7-14)
God told the children of Israel this before they entered the promised land, and it is just as true for us today. When you are as richly blessed as we are, with daily sumptuous meals, soft beds, hot baths, and comfortable homes, it’s easy to take for granted what God has given to us, and, it can be a bit irritating to have to give up those blessings, even if it is just for one day.
But it seems to be very important to God that we approach the Day of Atonement with due respect, and set it aside just for Him and His Son. So what are we to do with the days leading up to the Day of Atonement? How are we to prepare?
Sabbath of Return
According to Jewish tradition, the 10 days between the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah, also called Rosh Hashana as the civil New Year) and the Day of Atonement are known as “the Days of Awe.” They are a time of self-reflection, repentance, and penitence for sins committed during the previous year.
The weekly Sabbath that falls during these Days of Awe, between Trumpets and Atonement, is called shabbat shuva, or the Sabbath of return. Traditionally, the scripture that is read on this Sabbath is Hosea14:1-2. The sentiments behind these traditions seem very similar to the way we’ve always viewed Passover preparation, and may be worthy of consideration as we go through the next week and prepare for the fast.
O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” (Hos. 14:1-2)
The world around us becomes more complicated by the day. We rush about trying to make a living, and raise a family, and we can wear ourselves out with all the distractions of life, and the atrocities we see in the world around us. That whole package can come between us and God, and then the bedrock, spiritual principles that should govern our lives can be eroded away.
Our relationship with the Godhead should be the most important thing in each of our lives. As a truly loving God, He gives His people several wake-up calls each year in the Holy Days to remind us of what is truly important in life. The Day of Atonement paints a vivid picture centered mainly on the activity of the high priest, who in the Old Testament entered the Holy of Holies once a year on this day with the blood of a goat. Now in the New Testament church, what a wonderful blessing it is to have Jesus Christ Himself as our High Priest and mediator as we spend this week preparing for the Day of Atonement.
But Christ 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 Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse 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 redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:11-15)