Sheep and Goats grazing on Mount Zion across the valley from the authors’ home
Tuesday evening (September 18) at sundown begins Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. At that time, the entire public Jewish sector of Israel essentially closes down. Leviticus 16:31 and 23:26-32 solemnly command Jews to deny themselves and to abstain from work on this day, with dire consequences if they don’t. Millions of Jews will humble themselves by fasting for 25 hours from both food and water. Except for the occasional non-Jewish driver or an emergency vehicle, the streets of Jerusalem will be free of traffic (In fact, later in the evening and on Wednesday morning many streets will be filled with little children on bicycles and skateboards, enjoying the free space.). Kippur comes from a Hebrew root which means “to cover over; to pacify; to make propitiation; to ransom by means of a substitute.” On this day in Biblical times a goat was slain and its blood sprinkled on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. A second goat, with the sins of the nation confessed over it, was led far out into the Judean desert and released—to “bear away” the sins of the people. It was considered ‘cursed’ (In modern times, a common curse word in Israel contains the word azazel – the Hebrew word translated “scapegoat” in English Bibles into English.).
As the ninth chapter of a First Century epistle written to Messianic Jews emphasizes, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Yet with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 a.d., blood sacrifice in Judaism came to an end. On Yom Kippur all religious Jews (and many non-religious) will spend much of the day in synagogue, confessing their sins, seeking forgiveness and a “Good Signature” in the Book of Life for the coming year. Yet something is missing. A question which rabbinic Judaism has never been able satisfactorily to answer is, “But, where is the sacrifice? Where is the blood?” There are various ways in which its necessity is traditionally explained away; yet many obviously do not find these explanations convincing. Each year, during the days immediately preceding Yom Kippur, a place in Jerusalem’s large shuk (open-air market) may be found reserved for stacks and stacks of coops bearing live chickens. Here an ultra-Orthodox man may be paid to swing a chicken over one’s head as the man or woman recites the following, “This is my substitute, this is my commutation; this chicken goes to death; but may I be gathered and enter into a long and happy life and into shalom.” The bird is then slain and its body given to the poor for food. We do not ridicule those blindly seeking cleansing through this practice. Yet such sacrifices “which they offer continually year by year,” cannot today, any more than in ancient times, “make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1).
“But where is the sacrifice, where is the blood?”
It is not an uncommon testimony amongst Messianic Jews that awareness of this question arising in a young heart would later be recognized as having been one of the earliest stirrings of the Holy Spirit in preparing the way to discovery of the true Messiah!
As exemplified by the two goats, both a blood sacrifice for sin, and a “sin-bearer” were necessary. Yochanan (John) saw Yeshua coming to him as he was immersing in the Jordan River those who had repented for sins; and he called out, “Hineh! Seh haElohim ha’noseh hatat ha’Olam!’—“Look! The Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world.”
King David certainly understood this necessity. Psalm 32 begins, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the [child of] Adam to whom YHVH does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” The Hebrew used here for “forgiven” is n’sui—which means “borne” or “carried” away. For all of the “children of Adam” to be freed from the penalty of their iniquity, and from the power of its deceitfulness working within, their sin must be covered by the blood of the Lamb, their transgressions “borne away” by the same Lamb—the Lamb provided by the Father, the “Son” who is One with the Father!
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people…
He will provide atonement for His land—His people”
Deuteronomy 32:43 (See this week’s Torah Portion below.)
On Yom Kippur, there will be a reading in Synagogues from both the Torah and the Prophets. In addition, on the afternoon of Yom Kippur the Book of Jonah will be read:
Wednesday afternoon: Book of Jonah
*Isaiah 57:14-15 (ESV). “And it shall be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.’ For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”
*Isaiah 58:1. “Cry aloud, spare not Lift up your voice like a shofar; Tell my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
*Isaiah 58:6-8 (NKJV). “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
*Isaiah 58:12. “Those from among you shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell in.”
The prophet Jonah is read in Synagogues on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Perhaps the most important reason is that the book specifically points towards God’s love for the Nations, and towards the truth that His message of repentance for sins, atonement, and forgiveness extends not only to Israel, but to all B’nei Adam (Children of Adam). From the start, a part of Israel’s special call has been that through her will come forth a “Light to the nations”, and in her “all families of the world will be blessed”. As with Jonah, it is God’s charge to Israel today to share the Good News of God’s provision of the Lamb—of atonement for sin–outside her own borders, even to her enemies!
*That during this time of soul searching, the Holy Spirit of God would move on Jewish hearts around the world, convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment—and in kindness leading to repentance, life and freedom.
*That in that kindness would be revelation that it is impossible to atone for one’s own sin or to be made righteous by one’s own efforts.
*That there would be revelation about the blood of Messiah, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life—that there would be understanding of how the blood of bulls and goats in the past (or of a chicken today) is not enough.
*That the re-awakened Body of Messiah in Israel—Messianic Jews and Believing Arabs—will hear God’s call to love our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us. That we would recognize and obey His call when He sends us forth, like Jonah, from this land to deliver His message of salvation abroad.
*For Israel’s protection from her enemies during this weekend. The Enemy hates this day and what it signifies. 45 years ago Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, even while most of the nation was in the synagogues, seeking to confess their sin.