Last time we learned where the name Yom Kippur came from and how it’s derived from the holiday of Purim because in the same way Esther put her own life on the line so that her people would be saved from annihilation, the Day of Atonement was about repentance and a substitutionary sacrifice to save the Jewish people from the judgment of God because of their sin.
We finished by saying that the High Priest, who would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement – on the 10th of Tishri – and after much ceremonial cleansing, would sacrifice a bull for his and his family’s sins and then he would bring two goats to the temple.
Why two goats and what happened to them?
One goat would then be sacrificed and the blood would be taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat over the Ark of the Covenant, then the High Priest would leave, put his hands on the living goat to symbolically place the sins of the nation on it while at the same time, confessing the sins of the nation over it and then the goat would be sent out into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people and taking them away. A man was selected to follow the goat for up to seven days to make sure it never returned to the camp, bringing the sin back.
(Just as an aside, there’s a traditional belief within Christianity that the High Priest had a rope tied around his ankle in case God struck him dead while he was in the Holy of Holies and had to be dragged out, however this is not in Scripture and there is no Jewish tradition or historical account of this every occurring, so it’s probably just a medieval legend).
There is a traditional Jewish belief in the Talmud (not Scripture) that says a scarlet cord was tied around the neck of the scapegoat – the goat that was led into the wilderness – that reportedly turned white as the goat was led away from the city. That could symbolise the sin being cleansed. However, for the last 40 years before the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD (which would have been from the time of Jesus’s death and resurrection) the scarlet cord failed to change colour. Again, the Talmud is NOT inspired Scripture, it’s the writings of men, but the fact that Jewish literature specifically points out that the scarlet cord on the scapegoat no longer turned white during the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus up until the destruction of the Temple is very interesting and curious.
His sacrifice of Himself was superior to the sacrifices of bulls and goats, and after Him, no other sacrifice was needed. The Jews may not have realised it, but they certainly had the evidence before them that something had changed.
The role of the people
Yom Kippur is the only ‘holiday’ or ‘celebration’ that specifically requires the affliction or ‘humbling’ of the soul before God, or abstinence, or ‘self denial’ for the purpose of lamentation or grieving over sin. It’s the only ‘holiday’ where fasting is specifically commanded by God from His people in the lead up to it. (Lev 16:29-34, 23:26-32; Num 29:7-11) The fast begins an hour before sundown on 9th of Tishri and lasts for 25 hours until sundown on 10th Tishri. Before the fast begins, a special meal is eaten together, candles are lit and blessings recited and they customarily say ‘Tzom Kal’ – ‘Easy Fast’ or ‘G’mar khatimah tovah’ – ‘May you be sealed in the Book of Life for good’.
This day was also a ‘Shabbat Shabbaton’, a very special kind of Shabbat which was a day of complete abstention from any kind of work, other than to save a life. Life overrules everything else. That’s the heart of Judaism because that’s the heart of God.
The order of celebration for Yom Kippur is significant; it starts with Rosh Hashanah which begins the Days of Awe when the people are required to be in the attitude of self-examination, confession of sin and solemn repentance and remorse over their sin. God commands repentance and that His people return to Him earnestly with all their heart, and then He provides the means of atonement and reconciliation with Him.
Today there is no Temple and the sacrificial order laid out in the Torah is not possible and without a High Priest the focus has now fallen on the individual and personal repentance and a return to God, rather than from a national perspective.
Using Leviticus 23:27 as the foundation, observant Jews implement what they call the Five Afflictions.
1: No eating and drinking
2: No washing and bathing
3: No applications of lotions or perfumes
4: No wearing of leather shoes
5: No sexual relations
Of course, they bathe before the commencement of Yom Kippur, and they’re only fasting for 25 hours, but in short, this is about grief and remorse of body and soul over sin. Sin is very serious! Sin is the most expensive and deadly thing in the universe – it brings death to everything it touches and it cost God His only Son to pay for it!!! We must stop treating sin as though it’s just an ‘issue’ or a ‘problem’…no, sin is deadly and God despises it and He Himself paid the ultimate price so we can be free from it. If dealing with sin is that important to God, surely it should be a priority for us to never indulge in it or explain it away and treat it casually. Sin is deadly and separates us from God and Jesus died in our place so we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. That’s the heart and power of the Gospel.
If we excuse our sin because we weren’t potty trained properly, or because we were picked on at school, we never acknowledge our sin and if we can’t acknowledge our sin and be responsible for it, we never get forgiveness for it either.
In the next program, we’ll look some more at how Jews today celebrate and try to fulfil Yom Kippur.