Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement
God told the people of Israel that one day each year, the high priest was to make atonement for the tabernacle, and it was only at this time when he would be able to enter the Most Holy Place where God’s glory resided. The rest of the people also had a role to play: they were to humble themselves in fasting and prayer. What is this day all about, and what value does it have in the life of we who have put our faith in Yeshua (Jesus) for our atonement?
God tells the people of Israel, “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute” (Leviticus 16:29-31). God set this day aside to be for the atonement of the sins of the people. The high priest would offer sacrifices for himself and the people in order to atone for the sins they had committed. Then he would enter into the inner part of the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence would rest. The high priest would anoint the mercy seat with the blood of the sacrifice in order to make atonement for it.
The phrase “you shall humble your souls” has been interpreted to mean that those who observe the day are to refrain from food and water, marital relations, and showering, from sundown on the ninth day to sundown on the tenth day, as a sign of humility before God. This behavior is accompanied by a mood of repentance and reflection on the sins which one has committed over the past year. Since God commanded no work to be done during this time period, it gives one plenty of time to contemplate and meditate on the changes which God wants to see take place in one’s life. While every day should be a day where we take stock of where we stand with God, the Day of Atonement provides a day specifically set aside by God for this distinct purpose.
God reproves the people through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet on their conduct during this holy day. Apparently the people were only going through the motions of repentance and sorrow over their sins: “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high” (Isaiah 58:3-4). Merely observing this day as if it were a ceremony is not what God desires from His people. He gave His people the Day of Atonement for them to receive atonement for their sins and to spend the day with God so He can reveal what hidden sins or attitudes need to be repented of in the coming year. The Day of Atonement is supposed to be an impetus toward action in the following months rather than a mark on the calendar to be crossed off: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
What value does this day have for believers in Yeshua? We know that Yeshua has paid the price for our sin and we are forgiven by His shed blood, which He brought into the heavenly Holy of Holies of which the earthly is a shadow and reflection. In Yeshua, the true meaning of this day is revealed. Far from meaning the day is now unimportant, the Day of Atonement is renewed in the light of Yeshua. God said that the observation of this Appointed Time was to be a “permanent statute.” If this is the case, then surely this is something we should pay attention to. Even though the actions associated with the tabernacle are not possible in our day and age, the Day of Atonement provides us with a time to rededicate ourselves to God and evaluate where we stand in Him. While the actions of repentance and evaluation of where we are in relationship with God should be a part of the believer’s daily walk, the Day of Atonement is set apart by God for a type of yearly check-up for us to humble ourselves and dig deep into our hearts, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal our shortcomings and where we can draw closer to God in holiness.
The Day of Atonement is a gift from God, and it is to our own spiritual benefit to observe it in the manner God has dictated through Scripture, giving thanks to Him for our High Priest Yeshua, whose shed blood is the only source of atonement and cleansing for our iniquity.