“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.” Lev 23:27. The nation of Israel is about to enter the most solemn day on its annual calendar, the Day of Atonement, and we wanted to share that special sense with our friends from the nations.
The issue of sin and man’s need for atonement is unique to the Judeo Christian understanding of man’s relationship with God. No other religion or ideology addresses the reality of sin (our offense against God’s holy character and perfection) with such gravity. Sin and sacrifice are key themes starting with man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter three to the slain Lamb in the heart of heaven in Revelation chapter five. Likewise, no other religion offers the ultimate solution to the dilemma; namely, atonement. We are reminded of these truths as we arrive to the sixth feast of the Lord, the Day of Atonement, on the tenth day of the seventh month of the biblical year.
Repentance and forgiveness are part of the protocol of reconciliation when there is a breakdown of relationship because of a violation, but according to God’s law, forgiveness is not cheap. A price has to be paid and restitution must be made in order to cover the offense and satisfy the debt. But how can man “pay” God for a moral failure against His holy nature and standard? Can a fallen and compromised creature offer anything of value to the perfect and eternal Creator in order to undo his debt of sin? Confronting the pagan practices around him, the prophet Micah expressed this very question long ago saying, “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Micah 6:6-7. No gift, no blood sacrifice, nor even a human life is sufficient to erase man’s sin against the Creator. There must be a better solution, but what?
The Day of Atonement is God’s annual reminder to His people that our need to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father is real, and that a genuine and lasting solution will come. One day a year the nation of Israel was commanded to observe a total rest and afflict their souls by denying the appetites of the body as a token of their repentance. Since none have fulfilled the law of innocence, none are exempt from the law of repentance.
While the nation was in a Sabbath rest, afflicting their souls (denying themselves pleasantries), Aaron (and all High Priests after him) selected one goat for the Lord’s sacrifice and a second one to be the “Azazel” (representing the place of condemnation and judgement). The Azazel goat had the sins of the people placed on its head and sent into the wilderness to perish guilty and condemned. The second goat, the Lord’s sacrifice, was killed as a sin offering and the blood was taken by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies to be sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant of God. The High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of an innocent sacrifice only once a year in order to secure God’s atonement for the sins of the entire nation for that year, and that day is today. (Leviticus 23, Leviticus 16, Hebrews 9).
While the English word “atonement” occurs more than 80 times in the Bible, its Hebrew root word, KOFER (כֹּפֶר) appears only 17 times, with the first appearance being Genesis 6:14 where God commanded Noah to build an Ark. “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover (KOFER) it inside and outside with pitch.” The word KOFER in this context meant to cover over something, to expiate, to pacify and to soothe. It also means to appease, to forgive, and to atone for. As Noah “covered over” the rough wooden planks with pitch to bind them together, seal and waterproof them, likewise the atonement of God covers over and puts away our sins. What Israel seeks to find each year as we arrive to the Day of Atonement, God, in His love and mercy, provided in the offering of His Son as the perfect, acceptable and eternal sacrifice to conquer sin once and for all.
Thanks be to God who by His grace, has provided an eternal covering for our faults and shortcomings, an atonement for all, when He offered the sacrifice of Messiah. And thanks be to Yeshua, who came to Earth in order to become the blameless sacrifice, acceptable before God, to undo the deadly consequences of the sins of all His children for time immemorial and all eternity.
From Israel, I wish you all a blessed Day of Atonement.