Atonement (Le 23)
26 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.
28 And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God.
29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.
30 And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.
31 Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
32 And it shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.
The main theme of this feast, following the feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) and called in Hebrew Yom Kippur, is God dealing with our sin. It appears to find perfect expression in an intentional self-affliction of our souls before God. This suggests that we are to be asking God to show us more of our own sin (Ps 139:23-24), give us repentance from any new sin He reveals in us (2Ti 2:25-26), help us to mourn the evil in ourselves and others (Ps 119:53, 136), and allow ourselves to suffer in sorrow over sin with God for a season. (Lk 19:41-42) So, in this feast, we may find the foundation of God’s command through James:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (Ja 4:7-10)
The call to self-affliction is certainly a healthy one, especially when the call is for a short season; it is good for us to remember that we are all as an unclean thing, that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, that in our humanity we all fade as a leaf, and that our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away from God. (Is 64:6)
God suffers greatly under the constant burden of our pride and sinfulness, so it is indeed appropriate for us to intentionally humble ourselves and meditate on the ugliness of sin, especially our own, as He bids us to. When we are poor in spirit we are acutely aware of our inadequacies; we find it much easier to esteem others better than ourselves and to be extremely thankful for the mercy and loving kindness of God. We ought not ever take Him for granted.
This annual call to self-affliction is also likely a foreshadowing of the fear and misery that shall befall all who continue to rebel against the God of Heaven, who stubbornly refuse to submit themselves to Him, even as they’re being judged. (Re 16:11) The recurrence of this feast in the biblical calendar is therefore an elegant, effective and precious means to focus the hearts of all men on their desperate need of a propitiation for sin, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world, so that they might be spared and find mercy in the judgment for the sake of Christ, and not be ultimately lost and cast away from God.
This feast may be symbolic of God’s final call to judgment, and be a prophetic shadow of God’s final Great White Judgement, His ultimate and comprehensive dealing with sin in the world, where each individual is eternally dealt with according to their representative head: all who remain only in Adam die, while all in Christ are made alive. (1Co 15:22)
The scapegoat ceremony is central to this feast, perhaps depicting the eternal transactions taking place on Judgement Day. The entire congregation of Israel (perhaps symbolic of all humanity) is evidently watching as their national sin is symbolically placed on the head of the living goat and it is led away into the wilderness. This may be a shadow of things to come (Col 2:16-17), emphasizing each individual’s need for a substitution to take their place on the altar before God. The full detail of this ceremony is provided for us in Leviticus 16.
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;
2 And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
3 Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.
4 He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on.
5 And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
6 And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.
7 And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
11 And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:
12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail:
13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:
14 And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
16 And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
18 And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about.
19 And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
20 And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:
21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:
22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
23 And Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there:
24 And he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering, and the burnt offering of the people, and make an atonement for himself, and for the people.
25 And the fat of the sin offering shall he burn upon the altar.
26 And he that let go the goat for the scapegoat shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward come into the camp.
27 And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall one carry forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung.
28 And he that burneth them shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp.
29 And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:
30 For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.
31 It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
32 And the priest, whom he shall anoint, and whom he shall consecrate to minister in the priest’s office in his father’s stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen clothes, even the holy garments:
33 And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.
34 And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.
In light of its apparent significance, is traditional for Jews to view this feast day as the holiest day of the year, something that is not necessarily wrong, but certainly foreign to scripture, and therefore subject to individual preference. Hence, Paul instructs those who prefer one day above another to not judge those who observe every day as equally important, and vice versa. (Ro 14:5)
Additionally, the Jews also view this feast as a time for repentance, yet this is significantly different from the spirit of what Torah commands, and problematic. Repentance is the change of mind and heart that effectively delivers us from the dominion of sin (Ro 6:14), and though there is never a bad time to repent, such turning from sin should never be delayed, for even an instant; it must by all means be sought immediately from God whenever we sense sin abiding in our hearts. We should no more set aside time to repent than we’d set aside time to take antidotes for poison — thinking this way exposes an enmity toward God, and ultimately implies missing His heart in a big way.