The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was observed on this past Saturday. Though this holy day has passed for this year, there are still lessons we as Christians can learn from that day. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of blog posts titled “The Tapestry of Pentecost,” which was basically a description of the many “threads of truth” that God has woven together into His Holy Word that produce a wonderful and meaningful picture of that particular Day in the great plan of God. I’d like to do the same thing with Atonement today, and in a post next week as well.
As is our custom when discussing the holy days, let’s begin in Leviticus 23.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “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. 23:26-32)
Thread one: Return to God
The Hebrew word for “day” is yom (H3117) and “atonement” is kippurim, (H3725). Thus, the Jews call this day Yom Kippur. Kippurim is a masculine plural noun, referring to the act of reconciliation. Webster’s defines “reconciliation” this way: “The process of making consistent or compatible.” To reconcile is a process by which two people are caused to become friendly or peaceable again. It also means to compose, or settle a quarrel; to bring into agreement or harmony, make compatible or consistent, and to restore.
So, Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement – is first and foremost a day of reconciliation and restoration to peace, friendship, and harmony FROM a state of enmity, or estrangement. The overall principle behind the need for Atonement can be seen in Romans 7 and 8, as Paul describes his own nature (and the nature of all mankind), and where that nature took him. Knowing as we do the history of Paul as it is described in the book of Acts, and his conversion from Saul, the fire-breathing, hate-filled Pharisee into Paul the Apostle, no one could argue that Paul was not a completely “converted man.” And yet, in Romans 7, Paul says this about himself, more than 20 years after his conversion in Acts 9 …
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:14-25)
These words, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” are where the process of Atonement really begins. It is the realization that we need someone outside of ourselves, someone bigger, more powerful, and more competent, – an ever-present “big brother” – to intercede and to cover for us. Someone to pay the ransom price for our lives and wash away all our failures.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:1-8)
Our natural minds are at odds with God, and we have need of Atonement – a reconciliation with the mind of God.
Thread Two: Focus on What’s Important
Let’s hearken back to Leviticus 23 and pick up another thread. The first thing that comes through to me is how important this day is to the Godhead. If you just compare the amount of Biblical space here devoted to the Feast of Trumpets (3 verses) to the space devoted to Atonement (7 verses,) and look at the warnings in verses 29 and 30, the message is clear. This Day is intended to be taken seriously!
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. (Lev. 23:29-30)
It is of the utmost importance that we don’t let our busy, and very blessed, lives overshadow the Day of Atonement. This is what we talked about last week, when discussing The Days of Awe that fall between The Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement.
When God brought Israel into the promised land in Deuteronomy 8:7-14, He warned them against letting the good things in their lives distract them from what was really important – a relationship with Him. We are as richly blessed as they were, and fasting on the Day of Atonement can seem like an inconvenience compared to all the good things we usually have. We might even get irritated at having to stop for this solemn day before taking off to celebrate the next holy day, the Feast of Tabernacles. But it seems very important to God that we approach the Day of Atonement with due respect, and set it aside for nothing but its intended purpose.
Leading up to the Days of Atonement, it is Jewish tradition to pause for self-reflection, repentance, and penitence for sins committed during the previous year. The Days of Awe are used to apologize to family and friends for any offenses committed against them, and to forgive any and all transgressions. This year, I decided to adopt that approach, because in the past, I’ve tended to overlook the Day of Atonement during the harried days preceding Tabernacles. And it has helped my focus on Atonement tremendously.
Next post, we’ll take a look at why God wants us to fast on the day of Atonement, and what spiritual effect fasting is supposed to have on us.