Believing I was born on the Day of Atonement, my mother, Rosemary, named me after John the Baptist. If I took the surname, Rosamond, I would be ‘The Gift of God – The Rose of the World’.
Unto my family I have been the Scapegoat. They commit the crimes, I do the time. This family tradition goes way back because there is a Roth in our family, and a family full of alcoholics renders most members – BLAMELESS – but the Scapegoat. Take for instance my trip to the desert where someone peed in the back seat of the rental car I paid for. When questioning the person I last saw driving that car, he said;
“Maybe you peed in that back seat!” and then he laughed.
There is no escaping the truth that The Christ supplanted the Day of Atonement, but, is this what Jesus or God intended? The temple system was set up for this very imporant day. If the Romans destroyed, or defiled the temple, then another WAY would be sought that would simplify the ritual of Atonement. I believe John the Baptist was GIVEN a new system ordained by an ancient sect of Levites who had been cast out by the reforms of Hezikiah – who smashed the Nehushatans on the heights. Apparently, the brazen serpents on a pole was a symbol of rebirth and repentence, they placed all over Israel so God’s Children could have a LOCAL place to confess their sins, and be refreshed. These places were in competition with the temple system. Satan Paul pits Jesus against his cousin John and raises the Christ as the Nehushtan. Paul then creates a new system for the Day of Atonement for Gentiles – that excludes the Jews – who were not buying it.
I have come to destroy Paul’s Corpse on a Stick that begs for drunks to come close and ignore the Nazarites of John. I have come to take down that Jew from their evil Gentiles cross!
Thirty million Evangelicals of Darby and LaHaye believe the temple must be rebuilt as it was in the time of King David. This means THEY WANT the Day of Atonement to be practiced as it has not been practiced for over two thousand years. This means THE SCAPEGOAT must be cast into the wilderness with all the sins of God’s Children – and not the sins of Christians – put upon his head.
I am the Holy Spirit of the Day of Atonement! I have come to expose this evil deception where many Christians believe God and Jesus are going to trick and decieve the Jews into building a new temple, begin sacraficing animals again, then in rush the chosen elite of Satan Paul carrying bloody corpses on sticks! God is not a tricky deity, full deceit.
Jon the Nazarite
GOD’S FESTIVALS IN SCRIPTURE AND HISTORY VOLUME II: THE FALL FESTIVALS
THE DAY OF ATONEMENT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A fundamental human need is to be free, not only from external oppression, but also from the internal burden of sin. Sin alienates us from God and fellow-beings, causing us ultimately to experience eternal death., “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The Good News of the Gospel is that God through Jesus Christ has made provision to cleanses us from sin and to restore us to a harmonious relationship with Him.
This marvellous truth was taught in Old Testament times typologically especially through the annual celebration of the Day of Atonment (Yom Kippur), which fell on the tenth day of the seventh month, known as Tishri. This was the most solemn Holy Day of the religious calendar of ancient Israel. The Bible calls it Shabbat Shabbaton, “a Sabbath of Sabbaths” (Lev 16:31). The reason for this special designation is apparently to be found in the fact that the day celebrated not only God’s creation, but also His new creation through the provision of atonment. On the Day of Atonment, writes Naphtali Winter, “Man, the pinnacle of God’s Creation, for whom everything else was created, stands newly created after having received atonment.”1
The Day of Atonment was a gracious day each year when all the Israelites could experience a new beginning by being cleansed from their sins and restored to fellowship with their Maker. “On this day shall atonment be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord” (Lev 16:30). What a marvellous provision God made for His people to experience an annual cleansing and a new beginning through His atonment! This was truly the Gospel in types which finds its antitypical fulfillment through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Co 5:17). The ultimate fulfilment of the precious promise of the Day of Atonment will be realized at Christ’s Return when He will dispose of sins and make all things new.
The concept of atonment is found in other religions as well. What is unique to the Biblical Day of Atonment is the setting aside of one day each year for the people to experience freedom from the crushing isolation of guilt and a new reconciliation with God.
In ancient Israel the Day of Atonment represented the conclusion of the judgment that began ten days earlier on the first day of the seventh month, with a massive blowing of trumpets (Feast of Trumpets). We noted in chapter 2 how the destiny of each person was decided by the heavenly court during the ten days preceding the Day of Atonment. The latter was the day when the people prepared themselves with fasting and prayer to hear their verdict. “On Yom Kippur,” writes Rabbi Irving Greenberg, “the ritual trial reaches its conclusion. . . . The people finally drop all their defences and excuses and throw themselves on the mercy of the court, yet the same people never loose the conviction that they will be pardoned. This atonment is by divine grace; it is above and beyond the individual effort or merit.”2
Greenberg explains that Yom Kippur “goes beyond the elimination of sin to the renewal of the individual. Habit and conditioning often combine with the structure of individual life to keep the person torn between evil and ethic, between apathy and ideal, between inertia and desire for improvement. Against these powerful forces which proclaim that humans cannot change, Yom Kippur teaches that there is capacity for renewal and unification of life.”3 This “capacity for renewal” is found, however, not in inner human resources, but in God’s willingness to forgive us and cleanse us of our sins (1 John 1:9).
The promise of moral cleansing and renewal of Yom Kippur embodies the hopes and aspirations common to both Jews and Christians. An understanding of how the cleansing and renewal was accomplished typologically in the Old Testament through rituals Day of Atonment, enables us better appreciate its antitypical fulfilment accomplished through Christ’s atoning death, heavenly ministry and Second Advent. We noted in chapter 1 that the Feasts of Israel typify the unfolding of redemptive history from Passover, the Feast of Redemption, to Tabernacles, the Feast of the ultimate Restoration of the new earth. The Day of Atonment plays an important role in the consummation of redemptive history because it foreshadows God’s plan for the final disposition of sin and the creation of a new “earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).
Objectives of this Chapter. This chapter examines the meaning, function, and ritual of the Day of Atonment in the Old Testament. The study is divided into three parts. The first part focuses on the defilement and purification of the sanctuary. We shall seek to understand how the sanctuary was defiled through the symbolic transference of atoned sins into the Holy Place and why were sins kept in the sanctuary until their removal on the Day of Atonment. This study of the symbolic transferance and removal of sins is vital to understand their antitypical fulfilment in the heavenly sanctuary.
The second part examines the major rites of the Day of Atonment. Special attention will be given to the sacrifice of the Lord’s goat and to the rite of Azazel, the scapegoat. We shall see that the rituals of the Day of Atonment have important implications not only for the universe in general, but also for God’s professed people in particular.
The third part surveys the transformation over the centuries of the Day of Atonment. We shall see that with the destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70, the glorious ritual of the Day of Atonment disappeared, yet its meaning and message remained for the Jews. The rabbis substituted for the sacrificial offerings of the Day of Atonment, three key practices: prayer, charity, and repentance. In closing we shall reflect on how the Day of Atonment holds the hope of regeneration and restoration especially for Christians who believe that Christ is the antitypical High Priest who “has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, but into heaven itself” (Heb 9:24) to make expiation for our sins.
PART I: THE DEFILEMENT AND
PURIFICATION OF THE SANCTUARY
The Name and Date of the Feast. The Biblical name for the Day of Atonment is Yom Hakippurim (Lev 23:27; 25:9), which is usually translated as “Day of Atonment.” This Holy Day has been called by different names throughout the centuries. In view of the fact that the day was characterized by strict fast, it was often called “The Day of the Fast,”4 or “The Great Fast,” or simply “the Fast,” as in Acts 27:9.5
The importance of the Day of Atonment is revealed by the fact that in the Talmud the name was shortened to simply “The Day.” Being the Holy Day par excellence of the cultic calendar, it could simply be called “The Day.” In fact, the Aramaic version of this name, “Yoma,” was given to the Talmudic tractate which describes in detail the rituals of the day. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, calls it hemera exilasmou, that is, “the Day of Expiation.” The same rendering is found in the Latin translation, Vulgate, dies expiationum or propitiationis, “Day of Expiation” or “Propitiation.”
God ordained that the cleansing of the Day of Atonment should fall on the tenth of Tishri, that is, after the ten days of repentance ushered in by the Feast of Trumpets. It is significant that the cleansing of the Day of Atonment is preceded by the repentance of the Feast of Trumpets and is followed by the rejoicing of the Feast of Tabernacles. The spiritual lesson is evident. The children of Israel could only rejoice after they had repented of their sins and experienced the cleansing and renewal of redemption. We shall see that the sins cleansed on the Day of Atonment, were those which had been confessed, repented, and forgiven prior to that day.
The two major rites of the Day of Atonment were (1) the purification of the sanctuary, priesthood, and people (Lev 16:16-19, 30, 33, 34), and (2) the expulsion of Azazel, the scapegoat, with all the sins of the Israel (Lev 16:10, 20-22). The purification rites prescribed for the Day of Atonment presuppose a prior defilement/pollution of the sanctuary. This poses some fundamental questions: What caused the defilement of the sanctuary in the first place? How were the sins of the penitents transferred to the sanctuary? Why was it necessary on the Day of Atonment for the sanctuary to be cleansed of the sins already pardoned during the year? Was the forgiveness granted through the sacrificial offerings of the daily services partial and inadequate? We shall briefly address these questions before reviewing the major rites of the Day of Atonment.
The Sanctuary is God’s Dwelling Place. Israel’s sanctuary could be defiled by only one source, namely, the sinful acts of the people. This stands in sharp contrast to pagan sanctuaries which could be defiled by demonic incursions.6 Sin defiled the sanctuary because Scripture views the sanctuary not as impersonal place, but as the abiding place of God Himself. “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). Repeatedly the Old Testament speaks of God sitting “enthroned on the cherubim” (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 King 19:15; 1 Chron 13:6; Is 37:16; Ps 99:1; 80:1). The cherubims stood over the mercy seat, that is, the lid of the ark, which represents the throne of God (Jer 3:15-16).
The sanctuary is the seat of God’s government which is based on justice and mercy. Justice is represented by the Decalogue, known as “the two table of testimony,” placed inside the ark (Ex 25:16; Ex 31:18), and mercy by the cover of the ark, known as the “mercy seat.” “The ark that enshrines the tables of the law,” writes Ellen White, “is covered with the mercy seat, before which Christ pleads His blood in the sinner’s behalf. Thus is represented the union of justice and mercy in the plan of human redemption. This union infinite wisdom alone could devise and infinite power accomplish; it is a union that fills all heaven with wonder and adoration.”7
Sin defiles the sanctuary because it is a transgression of the principles of God’s government. When God’s principles are transgressed the sanctuary is morally defiled by the objective reality of sin. A holy God cannot excuse sin, but He can and will forgive penitent sinners (Ex 34:6-7). Both forgiven and unforgiven sins defiled the sanctuary, because they were figuratively deposited in the sanctuary until the Day of Atonment when God dealt with them accordingly. It is informative to note how the transferance of sins to the sanctuary took place, and why they were kept there until the Day of Atonment.
Defilement of the Sanctuary by Defiant Sins. There are few passages in the Old Testament that explicitly mention the defilement of the sanctuary by wilful and defiant sins that were never confessed. For example, God ordained that child sacrifice to Molech was to be punished with death, because “he has given one of his children to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name” (Lev 20: 3; cf. Ez 23:29). By following “all the abominations of the nations,” the Jews “polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem” (2 Chr 36:14; cf. Jer 7:30; Zeph 3:4).
Abominable sinful acts defiled the sanctuary, though such sins were not transferred into the sanctuary complex by means of any ritual. The reason is that these unpardonable sins defiled “the land in the midst of which I [God] dwell” (Num 35:34). The defilement of the land was tantamount to the defilement of the sanctuary, because God dwelt not only within the sanctuary but also among His people in the land. The expressions used in Leviticus 20 to describe the death sentence for those guilty of a variety of defiant sins, reveal that the sanctuary could be defiled by the contamination of the land (Lev 20:3).
Wilful, unrepented sins could not be expiated by a substitutionary animal sacrifice (1 Sam 3:14; cf. Is 47:11).8 The people who defiled the sanctuary by their defiant sins, could not be cleansed even on the Day of Atonment, because their sins had not been confessed and atoned for prior to that day. In such cases the defilement of the sanctuary was cleansed by the punishment of the sinners themselves who were “cut off” from the people (Lev 23:29; cf. Num 35:33-34). When rebellious conduct developed into national apostasy, it was punished by natural disasters, foreign invasions, and captivity, but it was never atoned through the sacrifices of the sanctuary system.
Defilement of the Sanctuary by the Blood of Forgiven sins. The sanctuary was defiled also by the sins which were confessed and atoned for through the daily sacrificial system. These sins were symbolically transferred into the sanctuary through the manipulation of the sacrificial blood, or in some cases through the eating by the priest of the flesh of the sacrifice. The blood of the sacrifices offered for penitent sinners defiled the sanctuary, because it was used to symbolically carry their sins into the sanctuary where they were kept until the Day of Atonment. The sacrificial system operated on the principle of substitutional interchange (cf. Is 53:10-11).
On the one hand the purity of the sacrificial animal (Lev 4:3, 23; Num 19:2) was transmitted symbolically through the blood rites to the impure, sinful person. On the other hand, the sins of the penitent sinners were transmitted to innocent animals by confession and the laying on of hands on their heads. In turn the sins assumed by the animals were brought into the sanctuary through the manipulation of the blood or the eating of the flesh by the priest. The result was that the sanctuary was defiled by the sins deposited there and needed to be cleansed on the Day of Atonment.89
The function of blood in the Old Testament sacrificial system was equivocal, since it was both a cleansing and defiling agent. The blood of sacrifices purified penitent sinners defiled by sin, yet the same blood defiled the sanctuary because it symbolically carried there the sins which had been atoned for. The daily accumulation of sins deposited in the sanctuary necessitated its annual cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonment.
“During the year,” as Alberto Treiyer points out. “the blood was deposited in the place which God had sanctified with His glory–His sanctuary (Ex 29:43). In this manner sin was transferred to the sanctuary complex and contaminated it. At the end of the year, on the Day of Atonement, the paradox of the substitutional principle operated again, and the blood became the element for the purification of the sanctuary from all the sins which had contaminated it to that point. Then in the figurative ritual the sins were blotted out totally from Israel.”10 This process of transference of sins into the sanctuary where they were symbolically kept until the Day of Atonment when they were disposed of in a final and permanent way, typifies an important aspect of the plan of salvation: the process leading to the ultimate eradication of sin and its effects.
Shortly we will address the question of why were sins deposited and kept in the sanctuary until the Day of Atonment, though they had been atoned for during the daily services. At this juncture we wish to consider briefly how sins were symbolically transferred to the sanctuary.
Function of the Sacrificial System. We already noted that sins were atoned for and transferred to the sanctuary through the sacrificial system. Such system was divinely established as a means to restore a relationship between God and man broken by sin. The sacrifice of an animal functioned as a substitution for the offender, by bearing the punishment of the person to be sacrificed (Ex 32:30; Is 53:6-10). Sin offerings served the double function of cleansing penitent sinners of their sins, and carrying their contamination to the sanctuary. The value of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament lie in the fact that they were prophetic, pointing to “the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Hebrews explains that “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Heb 10:4).
The process of transferring sin from the offender to the sanctuary involved first of all the laying of hands upon the head of the victim and making confession of sin (Lev 1:4; 4:4, 24, 29, 33; Lev :5-6). “The laying on of hands on the head of the victim symbolizes, together with the confession of sins, a transfer of sin from the offerer to the victim. The victim ‘carries’ the offerer’s sin, and is his substitute, as the sacrifice takes the place of the sacrificer.”10
The rite of the laying on of hands fulfilled a double function. On the one hand it removed the sin from the guilty person or group and made them clean. On the other hand it transferred the sin of the offerer to the sacrificial animal who in turn carried it to the sanctuary. The latter process needs further clarification.
The Rite of Blood Manipulation. Sins were symbolically carried into the sanctuary through the rite of blood manipulation or through the rite of eating sacrificial flesh by the priests. Through these rites the sanctuary (that is, God) assumed accountability for the sins of repentant sinners who had confessed their sins and placed them upon the Lord through the mediation of the priests.
The rite of blood manipulation is described in Leviticus 4:1-21. The sin offerings for an individual (Lev 4:1), “the anointed priest” (Lev 4:3), and the whole Israelite community (Lev 4:13-21), required the slaying of a “bull without defect” (Lev 4:3) after the laying on of hands. Then the priest handled the blood according to this specified ritual: “And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting; and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the Lord which is in the tent of meeting, and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the door of the tent of meeting” (Lev 4:5-7).
The blood that was brought into the Holy Place for sprinkling against the veil and upon the horns of the altar of incense, served to symbolically transfer into the sanctuary the sins which had been atoned for. There the sins remained until the Day of Atonment, when the sanctuary was cleansed of the accumulated sins of the people. This blood ritual of the daily services was not “a ritual detergent for purging the sanctuary,”11 because it is explicitly stated that “the priest shall make atonment for them [the people]” (Lev 4:20), and not for the sanctuary. By contrast, it is explicitly stated that on the Day of Atonment the blood ritual served to cleanse the sanctuary (Lev 16:16) as well as the altar of burnt offerings (Lev 16:18-19).
The Rite of Eating Sacrificial Flesh. A different blood ritual was used in the case of a sin offering for a leader (Lev 4:22-26) and the common Israelite (Lev 4:27-35). In these instances the blood of the sin offering was not brought inside the sanctuary for sprinkling against the veil and upon the altar of incense (Lev 4:25, 30), but was sprinkled only on the altar of burnt offerings located in the court. “The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering” (Lev 4:25). In this case the transferance of sin occurred by the eating of the flesh by the priest in the sanctuary.
Leviticus 10:17-18 suggests that when the blood of a sacrifice was not brought into the sanctuary, the priest had to eat some of its flesh in the sanctuary. Moses inquired of Aaron and his sons, saying: “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonment for them before the Lord? Behold, its blood was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary. You certainly ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded” (Lev 10:17-18).
The reference to the earlier command seems to go back to the instruction given in Leviticus 6:26, “The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it; in a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting.” The purpose of the eating rite is explicit, “[It] has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonment for them before the Lord” (Lev 10:17). By eating the sacrificial flesh the priest became the carrier of the sin which had been symbolically transferred from the sinner to the sacrificial victim. The Lord stated: “You shall bear iniquity in connection with the sanctuary” (Num 18:1). It must be remembered that the priesthood was an integral part of the sanctuary. Consequently, whatever affected the priesthood affected the sanctuary also. However, since the priests could not atone for sin with their own life, they needed to bring a sin offering that provided for the transferance of sin to the victim whose blood was then sprinkled in the sanctuary (Lev 4:6).
Summing up, all repented and confessed sins were transferred to an innocent victim by the laying on of hands. Through the sacrificial rites the guilty sinners were forgiven and cleansed, but their sins were not nullified. The sins borne by the sacrificial victim were transferred to the sanctuary either through the ritual of the blood sprinkling in the Holy Place or through the eating of the sacrificial flesh by the priest in the sanctuary complex..
Two Phases. The transferance of sins by means of sacrificial offerings, taught something more than a simple recording of sins. It taught that even when God forgives His people of their sins, the consequences of their sins were not immediately eliminated. One must wait until the forgiveness granted by God is reviewed and vindicated before the heavenly court, so that the character of God would be vindicated from all accusation (Rev 15:4; 1 Cor 4:5) when He disposed of the sins of His people on the Day of Atonment.
The daily transferance of the atoned sins of Israel into the sanctuary resulted in the defilement of the sanctuary. The day of atonment was the annual day of cleansing of the sanctuary from the accumulated sins of Israel. The two stages process of dealing with sins, first by removing them from the penitent through the daily sacrificial services and then by removing them permanently from the sanctuary at the annual Day of Atonment, typologically represents the two phases of Christ’s redemptive ministry.
Ellen White alludes to these phases, saying: “The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonment; so in the type the blood of the sin offering removed the sin from the penitent, but it rested in the sanctuary until the Day of Atonment.”12 We shall review the rites and services of the Day of Atonment in the second part of this chapter.
What Was Cleansed on the Day of Atonment? Scholars have great difficulty in determining the reason for cleansing the sanctuary on the Day of Atonment. According to some the Day of Atonment dealt with sins which had not been atoned during the year and thus had accumulated until that day.13 Others maintain that the cleansing of the Day of Atonment was for the whole nation, while the cleansing of the daily services was only for the individual.14 Still others suggest that the cleansing of the Day of atonment had to do with deliberate sins or sins of ignorance.15
What militates against these theories of a limited atonment, is the inclusive nature of the cleansing accomplished on the Day of Atonment. The expression “all their sins” is used twice in Leviticus 16:16, 34, to describe the inclusive nature of the cleansing of the Day of Atonment. This suggests that “all the sins” that were brought into the sanctuary during the daily services, were removed from the sanctuary on the Day of Atonment.
A basic reason for the conflicting views regarding the cleansing of the Day of Atonment, is the failure to differentiate between the atonment made for the individual during the year and the atonment made for the sanctuary on the Day of Atonment. It is important to underscore that all the sacrifices for sins offered throughout the year were intended to atone for the individual, and not for the sanctuary. There is never a mention of daily sacrifices offered to atone for the sanctuary. The atonment of the daily sacrifices is always for the individual, as indicated by the recurring phrase, “The priest shall make atonment for him, and he shall be forgiven” (Lev 4:31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13;12:6-8).16
By contrast, the sacrifice and blood ritual of the male goat offered on the Day of Atonment served to cleanse the sanctuary. The cleansing was accomplished by the High Priest sprinkling the blood seven times first upon the mercy seat in the most Holy Place, and then upon the altar of burnt offering in the court (Lev 16:16-19). “Thus he shall make atonment for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Lev 16:16). The altar of burnt offerings was also sprinkled with blood seven times in order to “cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleanness of the people of Israel” (Lev 16:19).
Both passages distinguish between the object and reason for the atonment. The object of the atonment is the holy place and the altar of burnt offering. The reason is the uncleanness of the Israelites. These meanings are evident in Hebrew where the verb kipper, usually translated “to atone” or “to cleanse,” is followed in the first instance by the particle ‘et, which is the sign used in Hebrew to indicate the direct object, that is, the sanctuary, and in the second instance by the preposition ‘al, which expresses a relational sense, that is, with respect to the people of Israel. The syntactical construction indicate that the direct object of the atonment is the sanctuary, while the beneficiaries are the Israelites.17
Another good example is found in Leviticus 16:33 where both constructions occur. “And he shall make atonment [kipper + ‘et, direct object sign] for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonment [kipper + ‘et, direct object sign] for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonment [kipper +’al, with respect to] for the priests and for the people of the assembly.” The meaning is clear. The ritual of the Day of Atonment cleansed the sanctuary with respect to the uncleanness of the Israelites, which had been transferred to the sanctuary during the daily services.
Alberto Treiyer rightly points out that “The distinction between the daily ritual and that of the Day of Atonment is emphasized further in the use of kipper and ‘et, the sign of direct object, used only in the final purification or cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonment. It clearly indicates that it is the sanctuary itself that is to be cleansed on the Day of Atonment. In the daily sacrificial rituals the sins and impurities of individuals were atoned for and transferred to the sanctuary. The Day of Atonment now focuses upon the cleansing of that sanctuary.”17 Summing up we can say that the daily rituals transferred sins to the sanctuary, while the yearly ritual of the Day of Atonment removed the accumulated sins away from the sanctuary.
Reasons for Transferring Sins into the Sanctuary. The foregoing survey of the process of transferance of pardoned sins from the penitent into the sanctuary by means of the ritual of the blood or of the eating of the flesh, raises some fundamental questions. Why were sins symbolically transferred and recorded in the sanctuary after they had been repented, confessed, and atoned for through the sacrificial offerings of the daily services? Was the forgiveness granted through the daily sacrificial services only partial or conditional? Why did God wait until the Day of Atonment for cleansing the sanctuary and thus disposing of the accumulated sins in a final and permanent way?
The Bible does not provide explicit answers to these questions. This is not unusual because we have found the same to be true with the Feast of Trumpets where no explicit reason is given for the command to blow trumpets on the first day of the seventh month. Often the Scripture assumes that the reader understand the reason for certain divine ordinances.
In seeking to comprehend why the sins atoned for during the daily rituals were symbolically transferred to the sanctuary where they were kept until their removal on the Day of Atonment, we need to understand the typological function of the Day of Atonment in the overall plan of salvation. Our study of the typology of the feasts has shown that the Spring Feasts typify the inauguration of redemption while the Fall Feasts its consummation.
The Day of Atonment plays a vital role in the consummation of redemption, because it typifies the final cleansing and complete disposition of sin to be accomplished by Christ at His coming. This final disposition of sin is preceded by the heavenly judgment which was typologically announced by the Feast of Trumpets. Our study of the Feast of Trumpets has shown that the trumpets were blown in a massive way during the ten days preceding the Day of Atonment to call people to repent and stand trial before the heavenly court that would review their life of the past year.
Record of Sins Kept for pre-Advent Judgment. The fact that a judgment process preceded the cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonment, suggests that the record of forgiven sins was kept in the sanctuary because such sins were to be reviewed by the heavenly court during the final judgment typified by the Feast of Trumpets. This review done by the heavenly court, entailed also a review done on earth by God’s people who were called to examine their lives and repent of any sins which had not been forsaken. The outcome of this judgment process was the final disposition of sins on the Day of Atonment.
All of this points to a corresponding activity in the heavenly sanctuary. Just as the confessed and forgiven sins of the Israelites were transferred into the sanctuary where they remained until their final disposition on Day of Atonment, so the confessed and forgiven sins of believers today are recorded in the heavenly books where they remain until their final disposition on the Day of Christ’s coming. Also, just as the sins of the Israelites were symbolically transferred and recorded in the sanctuary throughout the year in order for them to be reviewed by the heavenly court during the ten days inaugurated by the Feast of Trumpets, so our sins are recorded in the heavenly books, in order for them to be reviewed by the heavenly court during the pre-Advent judgment. “Thanks to this kind of record,” writes Alberto Treiyer, “God can not only forgive His people when they repent of their sins, but also vindicate them in the final judgment, without lacking justice (cf. Rom 8:31-34). In this way, God Himself is vindicated in His verdict (cf. Rev 15:3-4).”19
In the previous chapter we noted that God keeps account of the sins of humanity which are recorded in the books of heaven. The Bible often speaks of “books” as the method of divine record-keeping (Ex 32:32-33; Dan 7:10; 12:1; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27), obviously because electronic methods of data storage were unknown in those days. God uses well-known earthly imageries to reveal unknown heavenly realities. The record of our forgiven sins kept in heaven represents the counterpart of the record of forgiven sins kept in the sanctuary. The latter was a type of the heavenly reality.
The divine records of our forgiven sins are open for investigation during the pre-Advent judgment which was typified by the ten days judgment process inaugurated by the Feast of Trumpets. The function of this investigation, as we have seen in the previous chapter, is to enable heavenly beings to verify the justice of God’s judgment manifested in His decision to save some and condemn others.
God is Willing “to Go on Trial.” Obviously, God is not morally obligated to go “on trial” before the universe, because whether the universe accepts or rejects the justice of His judgments, this does not affect His Sovereignty. God would still be the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe. Yet God has chosen to go “on trial” before His moral universe, because He operates on the principle of love and freedom of choice. It is love that motivates God to submit the records of His judgments to the scrutiny of moral beings who exercise their freedom by examining God’s judicial actions. The outcome is that moral beings deepen their trust in God by verifying, validating, and vindicating the justice of His judgments.
This trust is expressed by the redeemed—represented in Revelation as standing beside a sea of glass—singing: “Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are they ways, O King of the ages! Who shall not fear and glorify they name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for they judgments have been revealed” (Rev 15:3-4). It is noteworthy that the reason given for the universal acclamation of the greatness, justice, and truthfulness of God is the fact that His “judgments have been revealed” (Rev 15:4). NIV).
The Last Call to Repentance. The record of forgiven sins was kept in the sanctuary, not only to offer an opportunity to the heavenly court to review them before their final disposition on the Day of Atonment, but also to provide a last opportunity to God’s people to review their own lives and repent of any sins which had not been forsaken.
The Day of Atonment represented for the Jews the climax of ten days of intense self-examination and repentance. They were known as “Days of Awe,” or “Days of Repentance.” It is noteworthy that unlike other Holy Days, the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonment, were not linked to remembrance of historical events. These Holy Days were strictly a time for people to make a thorough assessment of their lives. It was a time to verify if the sins which had been confessed and atoned for during the previous year, had also been forsaken. If not, God provided a last opportunity to confess and forsake any lingering sin.
The consciousness of sin was deepened on the Day of Atonment as indicated by the fact that this is the only fast day prescribed in the Mosaic law. “And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you” (Lev 16:29; cf. 23:27, 29; Num 29:7).20 Practically all scholars interpret the phrase “you shall afflict yourselves” as meaning a day of fasting. “The only fast prescribed by the Law,” writes J. Behm in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “was the fast of the Day of Atonment, the great day of national repentance (Lev 16:29; 23:27; Num 29:7). The fast, and complete rest from work, lasted the whole day.”21 Since the Day of Atonment was observed as a strict day of fasting and prayer, the day came to be called “The Fast” (Acts 27:9).
The Day of Atonment was a day of fasting to show godly sorrow for sins. Fasting was designed to predispose a person to repentance and self-examination. This was God’s last call to confess and forsake sin. While the court in heaven was reviewing the records of forgiven sins and reading itself to issue the verdict, God’s people on earth were summoned to do their own reviewing of their lives and repent of any lingering sin. In a sense the penitent attitude of believers on earth serves to vindicate the justice of God’s judgment before the heavenly court.
It is noteworthy that in Revelation the announcement that “the hour of his judgment has come” (Rev 14:7) is designated as the “eternal gospel” (14:6). This means that the time of judgment that precedes the final disposition of sins at Christ’s Return, which is the antitypical Day of Atonment, is not a time of no return, but rather the time when God sounds the last call to repentance.
In the light of the foregoing considerations we conclude that the symbolic transferance and recording of sins in the sanctuary before their removal and final disposition on the Day of Atonment, has a profound meaning and message. On the one hand, it reveals God’s willingness to enable heavenly beings to examine the records of His judgments and thus vindicate the justice of His actions. On the other hand, it represents God’s final summon to His people on earth to repent and put away sin while the investigative judgment is going on in heaven.
It is important to note that the judgment conducted in heaven impacts upon the lives of God’s people on earth. Ellen White brings out this important point, saying: “While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon the earth.”22 Ultimately the cleansing of the sanctuary accomplished typologically on the Day of Atonment, finds its antitypical fulfilment in the cleansing and removal of sin in the lives of God’s people. This process begins now and will be ultimately realized at the coming of Christ.
PART II: THE RITUALS
OF THE DAY OF ATONMENT
Four Elements of the Day of Atonment. Four major elements composed the Biblical institution of the Day of Atonment: “On the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonment; it shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present an offering by fire tot he Lord. And you shall do no work on this same day” (Lev 23:27-28).23
The Day of Atonment was a holy convocation in which God’s people gathered to worship God, trusting in His promise to forgive and cleanse them of their sins. It was a day of affliction, in which the people fasted and prayed for the forgiveness of their sins. The seriousness of the occasion is indicated by the warning: “For whoever is not afflicted on this same day shall be cut off from his people” (Lev 23:29).
It was a day of special offerings. The whole chapter of Leviticus 16 is devoted to the description of the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonment to cleanse the sanctuary of all the accumulated sins of the people. It was a day of no work, a Sabbath of Sabbaths (Lev 23:32), a day in which all secular pursuits were laid aside to give undivided attention to God.
A Warning. The instructions regarding the Day of Atonment in Leviticus 16 are introduced by first recounting the death of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-5), who were punished by death for offering “strange fire” before the Lord. The episode serves as a warning to the High Priest against the danger of being indolent or negligent in performing the annual ritual before the presence of God.
Aaron was warned against entering the Most Holy at any other time, except on the Day of Atonment (Lev 16:2). Only on that day the High Priest was to enter in the Most Holy with much incense in order to cleanse the sanctuary of the sins of Israel. In the Most Holy the High Priest saw the presence of God as a brilliant cloud hovering above the Mercy Seat. This was known as the Shekinah. The Mercy Seat was the cover of the ark where the atonment was made (Ex 25:17-22; 37:6-9).
The Washing and the Garments of the High Priest. The preparation by the High Priest for the ritual of the Day of Atonment was intense. He had to wash, not merely his hands and feet, but his entire body in order to be personally pure while interceding for the people (Lev 16:4). Similarly his clothing were designed to reflect the holiness and purity desired by God. Instead of donning his usual colorful robe, on the Day of Atonment the High Priest wore linen garments similar to those worn by common priests.
“The simple white of his array, in distinction to the ‘golden garments’ which he otherwise wore, pointed to the fact that on that day the High Priest appeared, not ‘as the bridegroom of Jehovah,’ but as bearing in his official capacity the emblem of that perfect purity which was sought by the expiations of that day.”24
According to Numbers 29:7-11, the offerings of the Day of Atonment appear to have been divided in three groups. First, there were the continual burnt offerings which included the usual sacrifices offered in the Temple twice a day. Second, there were the festive sacrifices of the day offered for the High Priest, the priesthood, and the congregation (Lev 16:3; Num 29:8-11). These consisted of a young bull, a ram, seven lambs, and an additional goat for a sin offering, together with the required cereal offerings (Num 29:7-11). The regular and additional sacrifices of the Day of Atonment reveal that God’s forgiveness was available throughout this special day of contrition and repentance. The door of mercy was still wide open throughout the whole day.
Lastly and chiefly, there were the offerings unique to the Day of Atonment. These included a young bullock as a sin offering for the High Priest, his household, and the priesthood, and another sin offering for the congregation. The latter consisted of two goats, one of which was sacrificed and the other sent into the wilderness.
The Sacrifice of the Bull. After completing the regular sacrifices, the High Priest performed the first distinct rite of the Day of Atonment. He took a young bull and offered it as a “sin offering of atonment” (Num 29:11) for himself and the priesthood (Lev 16:6, 11). The sacrifice was similar to the sin offering for the priest (Lev 4:3-12). The difference lay in the blood ritual. While during the daily services the priest dipped “his finger in the blood and sprinkled[d] part of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of the sanctuary” (Lev 4:6), and also “put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the Lord which is in the tent of meeting” (Lev 4:7), on the Day of Atonment the High Priest entered the sanctuary with incense (Lev 16:12-13) and brought some of blood of the bull into the Most Holy where he sprinkled the blood seven times before the mercy seat (Lev 16:14).
The High Priest could enter beyond the veil only once a year with a censer full of burning coals from the outer altar and “two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small” (Lev 16:12). The smoke of the incense covered the mercy seat which was over the “testimony” (Lev 16:12), that is, the Decalogue. The purpose of the incense was apparently to form a protective cloud to shield the High Priest from the direct presence of God.25
When the people outside smelled the fragrance of the incense they knew that at that moment the High Priest stood before the very presence of God. Once the Most Holy Place was filled with the smoke of the incense, the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the bull over the mercy seat, and then again, seven times in front of it (Lev 16:14). The sprinkling of the blood cleansed the priesthood and vindicated them of the responsibility they had assumed for the sins of the people during the year.
The Sacrifice of the Goat. The second “sin offering” consisted of a male goat, chosen by lot from two identical specimen. The High Priest was to “kill the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood within the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat” (Lev 16:15).
“It is curious,” notes Leon Morris, “that there is no mention either of laying on of hands or confession of sins over the goat for sin-offering.” 26 The reason may be that “the Lord’s goat did not serve as a transfer victim to bring sin into the sanctuary, but as a cleansing agent to remove sins from the sanctuary.”27 The latter function does not exclude the possibility that the Lord’s goat sacrificed on the Day of Atonment, served also to atone for sins repented on that day. This is supported by the fact that there is no mention of the laying on of hands on the sin offerings of the feasts (Num 28-29). Apparently there was no laying on of hands on the general sacrifices offered at the annual feasts because such sacrifices were meant to be for all Israelites. Especially those Israelites who could not bring their personal sacrifices to the sanctuary, could appropriate to themselves the sacrifices offered at the annual feasts.
While the sacrifice of the Lord’s goat served to remove from the sanctuary the sins accumulated during the year, there is no reason to doubt that the people were forgiven and cleansed also of those sins repented on that day. This is implied by the offering of regular and additional sacrifices on the Day of Atonment and also by the command that all, including the stranger, were to “afflict” themselves on the Day of Atonment (Lev 16:29). There would have been no point to expect all to humble themselves and repent on the Day of Atonment, if no forgiveness was granted on that day.
The purpose of the sacrifice and blood ritual of the Lord’s goat is explicitly stated in Leviticus 16:16: “Thus he shall make atonment for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins.” The blood ritual performed within the Most Holy, the Holy Place (Lev 16:17) and on the altar in the court (Lev 16:18-19; Ex 30:10), had the purpose of cleansing the uncleanness of the people of Israel by removing their sins away from the sanctuary in a complete and permanent way. This does not mean that the blood ritual was inherently efficacious and removed all sin like magic (ex opere operato). Its efficacy depended upon the penitent attitude of the people, as indicated by the fact that those who refused to “afflict” themselves were “cut off” (Lev 23:29).
The purification rites which cleansed the sanctuary complex and resulted in a cleansed people (Lev 16:30, 33) symbolically vindicated God who is His mercy had assumed accountability for the sins of His penitent people.” In a real sense,” rightly notes Alberto Treiyer, “the sacrifice of the Lord’s goat on the Day of Atonment was in favor of the sanctuary and was an act of vindication for it. In this manner the Day of Atonment was an affirmation of innocence so far as the sanctuary itself was concerned, because the sanctuary was in reality a representation of the throne and government of god. The One who took on the responsibility of all the sins that were deposited therein by sacrifice was the God who lived in it, and now He was being vindicated.”28
The Scapegoat Rite. The third distinct rite of the Day of Atonment was the ceremony involving the second goat, called “Azazel” (Lev 16:8-10) and generally referred to as “the scapegoat.” “Aaron shall lay both of his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness” (Lev 16:21-22).
This ceremony of the live goat took place after the atonment had been made for the sanctuary on behalf of the people through the sacrifice of the bull and the Lord’s goat. In contrast to the rites pertaining to the latters, the scapegoat was not sacrificed and its blood was not shed. There was no blood ritual to make atonment for the sanctuary or for the people.
It is explicitly stated that the goat for Azazel “shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonment over it” (Lev 16:10). The last part of the verse needs some clarification, since no ritual atonment was executed on or through the scapegoat. The expression “to make atonment over it,” may be taken to mean, as suggested by B. A. Levine, “to perform rites of expiation besides it,”29 or in its proximity. The phrase may reflect the fact that “the scapegoat was merely stationed near the altar while the priest took some of the sacrificial blood [of the other goat] for use in the expiatory rites.”30
The timing of the rite of the scapegoat is significant, since it followed immediately the cleansing of the sanctuary with the blood of the Lord’s goat (Lev 16:9). The rite consisted of laying hands upon the head of the goat, confessing over him the sins of the people, and sending him away into the wilderness by an appointed person (Lev 16:21-22).
This is the only time during the rites of the Day of Atonment that hands are laid upon the animal. The significance of the rite is evident. It was a symbolic act that signified the placing of all the sins of the people that had accumulated in the sanctuary, upon the goat, so that they could be taken away into the wilderness. “Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins” (Lev 16:21).
“What is of particular significance here,” rightly notes Gerhard Hasel, “is that the laying on of hands is accompanied by an oral confession of the totality of the sins of god’s people over the live goat. Thus all the sins of the people, from which the sanctuary had been cleansed through oral confession and laying on of hands, were transferred to the live goat for its elimination from the Israelite community. The sending away of the live goat into the desert by the hand of a man who is in readiness’ (Lev 16:21) is an elimination rite that symbolizes the taking away of all accumulated sins of Israel to the wilderness (Lev 16:10, 22).”31
The Identity of Azazel. Few words in the Bible have generated so much controversy throughout the centuries as the word Azazel. Within the context of this study we can only list the various hypotheses.32 Some maintain that the term Azazel is the proper name of the goat himself, meaning “the goat sent out.” 33 This meaning is reflected in the ancient Greek and Latin translations,34 from which derive the corresponding English, French, and Spanish equivalents: “scapegoat,” “bouc émissaire,” “chivo emisario.”
A fundamental problem with this interpretation is that according to the Hebrew text the live goat is consigned “for [or to] Azazel” (Lev 16:8). The parallelism in the text between the goat “for Yahweh” (Lev 16:10) and the one “for Azazel” (Lev 16:10), suggests that Azazel is a being that stands in contradistinction with Yahweh. Since Yahweh is a personal being the same should be true of Azazel. Moreover. if Azazel meant “the goat sent out,” a literal translation of Leviticus 16:26 would read: “and he who lets the goat go to the goat which is going away.” It is obvious that such translation is meaningless.
Other maintain that Azazel is the name of the place where the live goat was dispatched. This view is favored by rabbinic exegetes who gave to the term Azazel the meaning of “rough and difficult place”35 or “the hardest of the mountains.”36 This interpretation does not take into account the contrast in the text between the two goats: one is designated for God and the other for Azazel. Such a contrast demands, as Roland de Vaux points out, “that the second name, like the first, should be the name of a person.”37 Since the only being that could have been placed in antithesis to God is Satan, Azazel has been mostly identified with Satan.
Azazel as Christ. Some Christians, however, have regarded both goats used for the cleansing of the Day of Atonment as representing a single symbol for Christ. The goat that was sacrificed would represent Christ who atoned for our sins through His death, while the goat that was sent to the wilderness with the sins of the people would represent Christ who took our sins and disposed of them permanently.
The Worldwide Church of God has recently adopted the view that the two goats most likely represent Christ, though it still allows for the possibility that Azazel might be Satan.38 This represents a significant departure from the previous unequivocal stance that Azazel represents Satan, who carried away the sins already forgiven as a punishment for his own guilt in instigating them. 39
The identification of the two goats with Christ can be traced back to early Christianity. In his dissertation on The Symbolism of the Azazel Goat, Ralph Levy surveys the interpretation of Azazel in both ancient Jewish and early Christian literature. Levy finds that “in much Jewish interpretation, Azazel is a great fallen angel, perhaps Satan himself. In many Christian writings, the two goats are both Jesus Christ the Messiah.”40
Apparently what led some early Christians teachers to adopt the view that Azazel represents Christ, rather than Satan, was their desire to correct the faulty Jewish understanding of the nature and mission of the Messiah. By interpreting the two goats as symbols of Christ, Christians could show to the Jews that Christ first had to die as the Lord’s goat, and then He “was to go on a long journey [like the scapegoat], just like the man in Jesus’s parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), before eventually returning to his own household.”41 This interpretation served a useful apologetic purpose by explaining “why the Jewish expectations had not come to pass.”42
Two texts are generally used to support the identification of the two goats with Christ. The first is Leviticus 16:5 which says that the High Priest “shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering.”43 The second is Leviticus 16:10 which says: “The goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonment over it.”44
Five major reasons causes us to reject this view. First, as Frank Holbrook points out, “Since the casting of the lots sharply distinguishes between Yahweh and Azazel, it is also evident that these two personages stand in opposition to each other.”45 Second, two animals were never offered at the same time for a single sin offering. A repentant sinner could offer two animals for two different offerings, such as sin offering and burn offering, but not for the same offering.
Third, atonment was accomplished through the sacrifice of an animal, because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). But Azazel was not sacrificed. It was sent into the wilderness where it was abandoned to die.
Fourth, the rite of Azazel began after the cleansing of the sanctuary had been completed. “When he [the High Priest] has made an end of atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat” (Lev 16:20). The mission of Azazel is aimed at the wilderness where he is sent, never to return.
Fifth, the oldest extrabiblical source for the story of Azazel, which is found in the Ethiopic book of Enoch, identifies Azazel as the source of all the corruption and sin on the earth.46 Such a personage in Scripture is clearly identified with Satan.
Azazel as Satan. Most modern authors adopt the oldest Jewish interpretation of Azazel as a supernatural being opposed to God. This view is supported by both Biblical and extra-biblical evidences. Biblically, as we have seen, the parallelism between “for Yahweh” and “for Azazel” (Lev 16:8), suggests a supernatural “being opposed to Yahweh.”47 No subordinate being could have been placed in antithesis to Yahweh, but “the devil himself, the head of the fallen angels, who was afterward called Satan.”48
The extra-biblical support for the identification of Azazel with Satan comes from both etymological considerations and literary sources. Etymologically, many authors see in the name Azazel the root ‘el, which in Hebrew means “God.” Various combinations have been proposed. One that is favored by several scholars is azaz+el, that is, “a fierce god.”49 This interpretation harmonizes with the role of Azazel in Leviticus 16 as a being opposed to Yahweh.
The oldest extrabiblical source for the story of Azazel is found in the Ethiopic book of Enoch which was written sometimes during the two centuries preceding the Christian era.50 Asael (1 Enoch 6:1) or Azazel (I Enoch 9:4-6) is listed as the ninth of the fallen angels who eventually emerges as the leader and cause of evil and corruption (1 Enoch 13:1).
Chapter 10 of 1 Enoch is of most interest to us because here God instructs the archangel Raphael to bind Azazel and cast him in the desert. Verses 4 to 8 read as follows: “And again the Lord said to Raphael: ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot and cast him into darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place him in rough and jagged rocks and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there forever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire. And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things that the Watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.”
Similarities Between Azazel and Satan. Certain elements of this account, such as the binding and sending of Azazel to the desert, resemble the Biblical description of Azazel. Similarly the casting of Azazel into the fire looks very similar to the casting of the Devil in the lake of fire in Revelation 20:10.
Several commentators have noted the similarities between the Jewish traditions regarding the fate of Azazel as found in 1 Enoch and in the Talmudic tractate Yoma, and the eschatological fate of Satan in Revelation 20.51 Ralph Levy offers the following concise summary of the literary correspondence between the two.
“1. In 1 Enoch 10:4 and 13:1 Asael is bound, prior to his judgment, as is Satan in Revelation 20:2-3.
2. In 1 Enoch 10:4-5 Asael is sent through an opening in the desert referred to as ‘Dudael,’ and eventually to a place of rough and jagged rocks. Yoma 67ab has the Azazel goat thrown over a precipice in a rocky place. Revelation 20:3 has Satan the Devil dropped into a pit.
3. 1 Enoch 10:8 gives the reason for Asael’s removal: to prevent his ongoing corruption of humanity. Revelation 20:3 provides a rationale for Satan’s binding and removal as a measure to prevent his deceiving the nations any longer.
4. 1 Enoch 10:8 instructs that ‘all sin’ is to be ascribed to Asael, paralleling the Biblical Atonement ceremony in which all sins of Israel are confessed over the Azazel goat (Lev 16:21).
5. 1 Enoch 10:13 depicts the final fate of Semjaza and his companions (including Asael) as being led off into the abyss of fire for eternal torment, just as Satan is cast into the lake of fire and sulfur, together with the Beast and the false prophet, to be eternally tormented (Rev 20:10).”52
The above similarities are strengthened by the sequence of events in Revelation 19 and 20, and the correspondence of these events with the Day of Atonment. Revelation 19:11-16 describes Christ who comes to execute judgment (“he judges”–Rev 19:11). “He is clad in a robe dipped in blood” (Rev 19:13), a reminder of the blood used by the High Priest on the Day of Atonment to cleanse the sanctuary. Christ does not carry blood like the High Priest, but wears a robe dipped in blood because it is His own blood that cleanses the sins of His people.
The outcome of the coming of Christ is also similar to that of the Day of Atonment. Christ destroys the wicked by His “sword” (Rev 19:21), a reminder of the impenitents who were “cut off” on the Day of Atonment (Lev 23:29). Satan is bound and thrown into “the pit” (Rev 20:3), a reminder of the sending of Azazel into the desert (Lev 16:21). The righteous are resurrected and reign with Christ, a reminder of the cleansing of God’s people on the Day of Atonment which resulted in the jubilee celebration of new beginnings (Lev 25:9).
The association of Azazel with Satan fits the scheme of Revelation 20 and provides a remarkable connection between the Jewish tradition of the fate of Azazel on the Day of Atonment, and its antitypical fulfilment at the Return of Christ.
Objections to Equating Azazel with Satan. The two major objections to equating Azazel with Satan are derived from the two texts of Leviticus quoted earlier. The first text is Leviticus 16:5 where the people are instructed to present to the High Priest “two male goats for a sin offering.” This is interpreted to mean that both goats constitute a single sin offering. This interpretation ignores the context which indicates that the two goats were presented before the Lord for the purpose of selecting which one would be the Lord’s sin-offering goat. Thus the sentence may be considered as an abbreviated summary phrase, which is expanded and clarified later on verses 9-10 and 21.
The second text is Leviticus 16: 10 which says: “Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it.” The expression “to make atonment over it” is interpreted to mean that Azazel atoned for the sins of the people. This interpretation ignores that in the Scripture atonment can be made in a saving sense or in a punitive sense. In a saving sense when the sins of a penitent sinner are atoned for by the substitute’s death of an animal (cf. Lev 4:35, ect.). In a punitive sense when the punishment (execution) of a guilty person atones for his offense (Num 35:33; 25:13). Just as punishment of those who shed blood rendered atonment for the Israelite nation (Num 35:33), so the punishment of Azazel, as representative of Satan’s role in human sinning, rendered atonment in a punitive way.
The expression “to make atonment over it” can also be taken to mean “to perform rites of expiation besides it,”53 or in proximity of it. This meaning is suggested by the fact that, as B. Levive points out, “the scapegoat was merely stationed near the altar while the priest took some of the sacrificial blood [of the Lord’s goat] for use in the expiatory rites.”54 The rite of the scapegoat (Lev 16:21) clearly shows that it was a rite of elimination of sin, because no ritual atonment or expiation was executed over the animal.
We may summarize the five key aspects of the Azazel rite as follows. First, the Azazel rite took place at the conclusion of the ritual of the Day of Atonment, after atonment had been made to cleanse the sanctuary of the accumulated sins of the Israelites. Second, Azazel is not slain and does not function as a sacrifice to expiate the sins of the Israelites, but as a vehicle to remove their sins away from the sanctuary. Third, the laying on of hands and the confession of sins over the scapegoat by the High Priest represents the symbolic transferance of all Israel’s sins that had been deposited in the sanctuary. Fourth, the bringing of Azazel into the wilderness to die represents the permanent removal and elimination of sin. Fifth, the sacrificed goat represents Christ who atones for our sins with His sacrifice, while the live goat represents Satan who will ultimately bear responsibility for all the sins and evil he instigated.
Implications of the Day of Atonment. The Day of Atonment has important implications not only for the universe in general, but also for God’s professed people in particular. The observance of the day served to differentiate between the genuine believers and the false believers. The genuine believers were those Israelites who throughout the year repented of their sins, bringing appropriate sin offerings to the sanctuary, and who on the Day of Atonment rested, fasted, prayed, repented, and humbled their hearts before God.. At the completion of the purification rites for the sanctuary, these persons were pronounced “clean before the Lord” (Lev 16:30).
The false believers were those Israelites who during the year did not repent, thus failing to bring atoning sacrifices at the sanctuary, and on the Day of Atonment they did not desist from their toil nor did they engage in fasting, prayer, and soul searching (cf. Num 19:20) or who chose to sin defiantly against God (cf. Lev 20:1-6). On the Day of Atonment these persons were “cut off” from God people. “For whoever is not afflicted on this same day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people” (Lev 23:29-30).55
The separation that occurred on the Day of Atonment between genuine and false Israelites typifies the separation that will occur at the Second Advent. Both groups professed to belong to the people of God, but the rites of the Day of Atonment revealed who were the genuine and who were false believers. In a similar manner Christ taught through several of His parables that a radical separation will occur at His Return.
Jesus compared this separation to the one that takes place at harvest time between the wheat and the weeds. Since the tares were sown among the good wheat which represents “the sons of the kingdom,” (Matt 13:38), it is evident that Jesus had His church in mind. Wheat and tares, genuine and false believers will coexist in the church until His coming. At that time the drastic separation typified by the Day of Atonment will occur. Evildoers will be thrown “into the furnace of fire,” and the “righteous will shire like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:42-43).
Jesus compared the Advent separation to a shepherd who “separates the sheep from the goats,” by placing the former at the right hand and the latter at the left (Matt 25:32-33). In a similar fashion Christ “will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, . . . inherit the kingdom . . .’” and “to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, . . . into the eternal fire’” (Matt 25:34, 41).
Jesus’ parables and the ritual of the Day of Atonment teach the same important truth: False and genuine Christians will coexist until His coming. But at the Advent judgment typified by the Day of Atonment, a permanent separation will occur, when sin and sinners will be eradicated for ever and a new world will be established. What all of this means is that the rituals of the Day of Atonment find their antitypical fulfilment more in the executive judgment carried out by Christ at His coming, than in the investigative judgment that precedes the Second Advent. After all it is at the Second Advent that will occur the final and permanent separation between genuine and false believers, eradication of sin, and the binding of Satan, all events that were typified by the ritual of the Day of Atonment.
The Final Separation. This typological function of the Day of Atonment as representing the final separation that will occur at the Second Advent is noted by Frank Holbrook, editor of the six volumes symposia on Daniel and Revelation, published by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Holbrook compares Christ’s judgment parables with the parable or object lesson of the Day of Atonment. “Israel’s sanctuary parable and Jesus’ judgment parables teach the same important truth: While probation continues, God’s professed people will always be composed of the true and false. But the final judgment (as in the typical Day of Atonment) will correct the situation and will separate the two.”56
For Holbrook, however, the final judgment typifed by the Day of Atonment consists of both its investigative phase carried out in heaven before Christ comes and its executive phase executed on earth when Christ comes. For the investigative phase Holbrook turns to other portions of the Scripture, because the rituals of the Day of Atonment present “only the essence of the final judgment.”57
Holbrook’s interpretation is reflective of traditional Adventist thinking which in my view cannot be adequately supported by the typology of the Day of Atonment. Holbrook himself acknowledges that the rituals of the Day of Atonment typify the final disposition and eradication of sin. He writes: “The Day of Atonment rituals resulted in a clean sanctuary and a clean people. All ‘evidence’ of sin and accountability had been removed from the sanctuary via the scapegoat and the false Israelites had been ‘cut off’ and destroyed. Because the Day of Atonment accomplished a complete disposition of sin, it is correctly viewed as the foreshadowing type of the final judgment, the divine action which will for ever settle and eradicate the issue of sin.”58
The final judgment foreshadowed by the rituals of the Day of Atonment, can hardly be the investigative phase of the final judgment, because as Holbrook points out, these rituals resulted in a clean sanctuary, clean people, the removal of all ‘evidences’ of sin via the scapegoat, and the destruction of the false Israelites. All of these events are clearly associated with the executive judgment conducted by Christ at His coming.
Conclusion. The Day of Atonment was the grand climax of the religious year in ancient Israel. The rites performed on that day concluded the atoning process of the sins of the Israelites by removing them permanently from the sanctuary. The record of forgiven sins was kept in the sanctuary until the Day of Atonment because such sins were to be reviewed by the heavenly court during the final judgment typified by the Feast of Trumpets. The Day of Atonment was the culmination of the judgment process in which God executed His judgment by giving life to those who had confessed their sins and availed themselves of the divine provision for their atonment. It was also a day of death for impenitent sinners who rejected God’s provision for the cleansing of their sins.
The sacrificial rites of the Day of Atonment provided total cleansing from all the sins of God’s people. The totality of the cleansing is emphasized several times in Leviticus 16 by the expression “all your sins” (Lev 16:16, 30, 34). In contrast to the sacrificial rites of the bull and Lord’s goat, the rite of the scapegoat was non-sacrificial. Its function was to dispose of the sins of God’s people in a desert region where there is no life.
The emphasis of the Day of Atonment on judgment and cleansing, sin and atonment, fasting and prayer, was designed to drive home important lessons to the Israelites. It showed them the seriousness of sin and the divine provision for its eradication through confession, sacrifice, recording, judgment, and final disposition. It taught the Israelites that before their sins could be cleansed and permanently eliminated on the Day of Atonment, they had to be repented of, forsaken and judged by the heavenly court. The dramatic ritual of the Day of Atonment foreshadowed in a most impressive how Christ at His coming will save His people and destroy sin and sinners in a permanent and radical way. In the following chapter we shall examine how the typical services of the Day of Atonment, find their antitypical fulfilment in the final phase of Christ’s redemptive ministry.
PART III: THE JEWISH OBSERVANCE
OF THE DAY OF ATONMENT
No other Holy Day has undergone such a transformation over the centuries as the Day of Atonment, better known among the Jews as Yom Kippur. After all it was a day filled with intense drama and promise of cleansing and renewal. It was a day that offered a grand spectacle in which the chief actor was the High Priest. The scenes included bulls, goats, incense, oblations, sprinkling, the High Priest entering into the very presence of God in the Most Holy, and the dispatching of the scapegoat into the wilderness with the nation’s sins. Most impressive must have been to see the High Priest robed in the whiteness of linen, making a threefold confession of sin for himself, his household, and the priesthood.
Early History. In view of its impressive drama and elaborate ritual, it i surprising that there is little evidence of the observance of the Day of Atonment in Israel’s later history. There is no mention of the Day of Atonment in the Biblical description of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, which took place in the week preceding the Feast of Tabernacles (2 Chron 7:8-10).
As late as 457 B. C. when Ezra came to Jerusalem to introduce much needed religious reforms, the Jewish community seem to have been unaware of the date of the Feast of Trumpets. Ezra proceeded to instruct the people regarding the law in general and the Feast of Tabernacles in particular (Neh 8:9, 14), but surprisingly he failed to mention the Day of Atonment.
Higher critics explain the silence by attributing all the Mosaic legislation regarding the Day of Atonment to postexilic times under the influence of priestly sources. Such an explanation fails to convince because, “it is an impossible task to excise, stylistically or logically, Leviticus 16 from its fundamental place in the scheme of the Book of Leviticus or from the entire priestly system in Israel for that matter. . . . A historical difficulty of insurmountable proportions is this: if the Ark of the covenant no longer existed after the Exile, . . . how could the Day of Atonment have been inaugurated at that late date when its entire efficacy and worth were linked inseparably with that Ark?”59
A more plausible explanation for the silence regarding the Day of Atonment during the pre-exilic period is the recurring lapses into idolatry and apostasy which resulted in the widespread ignorance of religious observances. During the religious reform introduced by Ezra, we are told that “the people wept when they heard the words of the law” (Nehm 8:9), because they had long forgotten its teachings. It is feasible to assume that their ignorance extended to the observance of the annual feasts, including the Day of Atonment.
The Post-Exilic Period. The observance of the Day of Atonment regained prominence after the Babylonian exile, in what is known as the Second Temple period. The Talmud describes some of the customs that were introduced at that time. One of these was the recitation of a short prayer by the High Priest at the conclusion of the service. The prayer expressed the hope that “no exile shall come upon us . . . and may it be your will that this year be a year when prices are low, a year of plenty . . . a year of rain.”60
Another innovation was the reading by the High Priest of portions of the Torah pertaining to the Day of Atonment.61 The Talmud preserves also the text of the three confessions the High Priest made on the Day of Atonment on behalf of himself, his household, and the priesthood.62
An interesting tradition developed in conjunction with the leading away of the scapegoat to a steep cliff in the wilderness. An elaborate system of escorts was prepared to ensure that the goat would reach its destination. When the goat finally reached the designated precipice, the attending priest removed part of the red sash from the head of the goat, tying it to a protrusion on the cliff. Then he would push the goat over the cliff, sending him to his death together with Israel’s sins.
There is an interesting tradition that developed in conjunction with the scapegoat ceremony. A portion of the crimson sash that was tied around the head of the scapegoat, was attached to the door of the Temple before the goat was sent into the wilderness. When the goat met its end in the wilderness, according to tradition the sash attached to the Temple’s door would turn white. This was seen as a providential sign indicating that the sins of Israel had been forgiven.63 This tradition was based on the verse of Isaiah where the prophet declares: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is 1:18).
Another custom introduced in the postexilic period was that of bathing on the Day of Atonment. We are told that the High Priest bathed himself five times during the day.64 From this derives the Jewish custom of bathing on the eve of the Day of Atonment.
The Post-Temple Era. With the destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70, the glorious ritual of the Day of Atonment disappeared, yet its meaning and message remained. “What Yom Kippur has lost in ceremonialism,” writes S. M. Lehrman, “it has gained in spirituality.”65 The solemnity of the Day of Atonment has survived among the Jews without the Temple pageantry, largely due to the resourcefulness of the rabbinic leadership. “In fact,” writes Abraham Bloch, the moral effectiveness of Yom Kippur was greatly enhanced, for the focal point of its observance was shifted from Jerusalem to every town and hamlet, wherever synagogues existed.”66 What must have contributed to the survival and enhancement of the Day of Atonment is its challenge and promise of cleansing and renewal, a day to forsake the sinful past to experience a new beginning. This is a fundamental human need which makes the message of the Day of Atonment relevant to Christians today.
When the hope of obtaining forgiveness and atonment through the sacrificial system was shattered by the destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70, the Jewish leadership was faced with a crisis they had not encountered since the Babylonian captivity. Without Temple, without altar, without sacrifices, how could the Day of Atonment, the most crucial day in the Jewish consciousness, continue to be observed?
Confronted with the threat of the extintion of the Jewish religion once the sacrificial system was gone, the rabbis turned to the Old Testament in search of other means of atonment. They knew that if Judaism was to survive, they had to help Jews shift the center of their religious life from the Temple to the synagogue and from sacrificial offerings to private devotions. Thus, the rabbis substituted for the sacrificial offerings, three key practices: prayer, charity, and repentance.
Prayer. The first important religious exercise that substituted the sacrificial offerings of the Day of Atonment is prayer. The rabbis taught that prayer takes the place of sacrifices.67 They referred to the fact that prayer was one method the Jewish exiles in Babylon used to seek favor with God. Daniel prayed three times a day at the usual hours of prayer at the Temple in Jerusalem, though the Temple had been destroyed.
Individual prayers had been associated with the sacrificial offering in Temple days. Isaiah predicted: “Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Is 56:7). With the establishment of the synagogue in the postexilic period, prayer became an important part of the communal religious life. This was a fortunate development because it filled the void when the Temple vanished away.
The Day of Atonment was spent in intense prayer and supplication. The Jewish philosopher Philo offers us a good description of the importance of prayer in the observance of the Day of Atonment in New Testament times: “Everyone is at this time in prayer and supplications . . . they devote their entire leisure to nothing else from morning till evening, except to most acceptable prayers by which they endeavor to gain the favor of God, entreating pardon for their sins.”68
Charity. The second important religious exercise that substituted the sacrificial offerings of the Day of Atonment is charity. Giving to charity became an important part of the liturgy of the Day of Atonment because it serves to give outward expression to repentance and devotion. The rabbis made charity a fundamental attribute of piety. The following quotations illustrate the rabbinic emphasis on charity. “Great is charity in that it brings the redemption nearer.”69 “Charity delivers from death.”70 “Jerusalem will be delivered only through charity.”71
It is not surprising that charity played an important role in the observance of the Day of Atonment because when Ezra met with the Jews in Jerusalem, he ordered them to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets by giving some of their food to those “for whom nothing is prepared” (Num 8:10).
“In the synagogue long tables were covered with alms plates for every charity in town, for giving to charity is a central theme of the Day of Atonment. Many beggars waited outside the synagogue, certain to receive charity from worshippers eager to perform last-minute good deeds that might tip the heavenly balance in their favor and assure them of prosperity in the coming year.”72
Repentance. The third important religious exercise that substituted the sacrificial offerings of the Day of Atonment is repentance. The rabbis taught that repentance is the ultimate means of atonment. “Great is repentance for it reaches to the Throne of Glory. Great is repentance, for it makes redemption [by the Messiah] to come near. Great is repentance, for it lengthens the years of a man’s life.”73
The renown Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote: “At this time, when the Temple no longer exists, nothing is left but repentance. . . . Yom Kippur itself atones for those who repent, as it is written, ‘For it is on this day that atonment shall be made for you” (Lev 16:30).74 But true repentance must meet certain conditions. It must show a genuine regret for the sinful actions committed, a sincere resolve not to repeat them again, and a willingness to confess orally one’s sins.
Repentance is expressed on the Day of Atonment especially by fasting and confession of sins. Fasting is designed to curb bodily appetites in order to heighten the awareness of spiritual needs. By making the body weaker fasting is designed to make the soul stronger. The confession of sins is the high point of the Yom Kippur liturgy, but confession is done in the plural form , we have sinned. The reason is that “we must share the guilt of another’s transgression because of our lack of effort in preventing others from straying.”75 The recitation of sins is repeated ten times during the day long liturgy.
The prayer of confession is a plea for forgiveness and cleansing: “God and God of our fathers, pardon our sins on this Day of Atonment. Let our sins and transgressions be removed from Thy sight . . .When I measure my life in Thy presence, I am confused and I am ashamed. Help me, O God and God of my fathers, to steer clear of sin. And as for my past sins, purge me of them in Thy great mercy, but, I pray, not through severe and painful disease.”76
The sins are listed alphabetically according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order to jog memory and to cover all aspects of human behavior. Everyone confesses all sins, and each individual applies the appropriate category to himself or herself.77 The focus is not just of the sins of society, but on the changes needed in one’s personal life. “People dredge up their sins, but in a way they are glad to do so because the sins remembered and repented of, are all forgiven. . . . Thus, Yom Kippur is both a fierce jolt and a great relief.”78
The Evening Service. The Day of the Atonment is an intensively religious service for the Jews. In fact, five religious services are conducted during the day. Since the Day of Atonment is observed like the Sabbath “from evening to evening” (Lev 23:32), the first service of the Day of Atonment begins for the Jews before the setting of the sun that signals the beginning of the Day of Atonment.
The Jews gather for the evening service in their synagogue dressed in white kittels, or white garments as a symbol of their contrite heart and of their confidence in God’s promise to forgive their sins. Some worshippers carry a candel to the synagogue, chanting. “Light is sown like a seed for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart” (Ps 97:11). Similar candles burn at home.
A feeling of awe grips the hearts of the people as they prepare for the solemn evening service. The congregation is hushed with expectations when the ark is opened, a white curtain is drawn, and the scrolls of the law are shown draped in white. White is the dominant color of the day of Atonment to symbolize the cleansing and purity offered by God on that day.
When the scrolls are returned to the ark, the most emotional part of the service, the chanting of Kol Nidre begins. Kol Nidre is a moving prayer that is chanted three times, each time increasing in volume and intensity, until the synagogue is filled with its mournful melody. The text of the song is a declaration of annulment of “all vows, renunciation, promises, obligations, oaths, taken rashly . . May we be absolved from them, may we be released from them, may they be null and void and of no effect. May they not be binding upon us. . . . And may atonment be granted to the whole congregation of Israel and to the stranger who lives among them, for all have transgressed unwittingly.”79
The origin of the Kol Nidre chant is uncertain. Some Jewish scholars maintain that the prayer originated during the Middle Ages when the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. Some Jews would have used this prayer to absolve themselves from vows made under coercion. These forced converts would secretly remain faithful to Judaism and chanted the Kol Nidre on the Day of Atonment to express their grief over their apostasy and to seek God’s forgiveness for their unwilling vows.80
For understandable reasons Kol Nidre has faced centuries of strong opposition from within and without Judaism. Malevolent detractors appealed to this prayer cancelling all vows as proof that Jews could not be trusted to keep their oaths or promises. Many Jews also have opposed Kol Nidre because the outright cancellation of vows can easily be abused.
Jews from all walks of life who during the year have neglected or even rejected their faith, are attracted to the solemnity of Yom Kippur, and especially to the emotional part of the service of Kol Nidre. This reflects the desire to make amends and experience a new beginning. It is perhaps the spirit of cleansing and reconciliation of Yom Kippur, that has led faithful Jews to allow offenders to join their congregations in prayer. The admission of transgressors is formalized by reciting this formula: “With the consent of God and of the congregation, we allow transgressors to pray with us.”81 After the admission of transgressors the chanting of Kol Nidre begins.
The plaintive melody of Kol Nidre is “filled with deep sadness, reaching into the soul to draw out the hidden longings of man. The melody has also found its way into the work of such non-Jewish composers as Beethoven (the penultimate movement of the G Minor Quartet, opus 131, and the first movement of the Trio, opus 9, n. 3) and Bruch (the well-known composition entitled ‘’Kol Nidre’).”82 The popularity of Kol Nidre may be due, not only to its appealing melody, but also to its message of forgiveness for broken promises. This is a message that rings true in many hearts.
The Liturgy of the Day of Atonment. Surprisingly the Day of Atonment developed few unusual liturgical practices. Essentially it was a day of fasting, prayer, and confession. Religious services were held at the synagogue in the morning, afternoon and evening. This means that most of the day was spent at the synagogue. The wearing of white robes and the removal of the Torah scrolls from the ark contributed to create an atmosphere of deep solemnity.
During the morning service, known as Musaph, six persons (seven if Yom Kippur fell on a Sabbath) are called to read the section of the Mosaic law dealing with the ritual of the Day of Atonment, known as Avodah. The purpose of this service, is to reenact verbally the Yom Kippur pageantry of the Temple. For example, as the High Priest and the congregation prostrated themselves in the Temple on Yom Kippur when the name of God was mentioned, so the readers of the Avodah, prostrate themselves with the congregation during the recitation of the recitation of the prayer when it says: “We bend the knee and prostrate ourselves and offer thanks to the supreme king of kings, the holy one, blessed be he.”83
It is noteworthy that the regular posture for prayer in the synagogue during prayer is not kneeling, but standing up or sitting down. An exception to the general practice is made on the Feast of Trumpets and on the Day of Atonment. The kneeling posture of these High Holy Days reflect the solemnity of the occasion when the Jews prostrate themselves before God, pleading for forgiveness and cleansing.
A high point of the service is when the entire congregation kneels and falls upon their face when the cantor intones the ancient words which according to tradition were composed by Joshua upon entering into the Promised land: “We bend the knee and prostrate ourselves and make acknowledgment before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, whose glorious throne is in the heavens and the home of whose majesty is in the loftiest heights.”84
During the afternoon service, known as Minchah, the reading from the Law (Torah) is followed by the reading of the book of Jonah. The selection of this book for the Day of Atonment is quite obvious. “A heathen people, given over to immorality and sinfulness, is aroused to repentance by the warning voice of a Hebew prophet. Their cry of regret, their fasting and praying, proves acceptable to God and forgiveness is granted them. The force of repentance is demonstrated and its effect upon the divine will is clearly established. The story thus offers comfort and hope to the worshippers, who have been spending the day in fasting and in praying, that they also will gain divine favor and their sins also will be forgiven, even as was the case with the people of Nineveh.”85
The Closing Service. The concluding service of the Day of Atonment, known as Neilah, is especially solemn. The service is called Neilah, which literally means “closing” or “shutting,” because it originally coincided with the time of the shutting of the Temple’s gates. In time Neilah came to mean the closing of the gates of heaven which stood ajar during the day to receive the prayers and supplications of the contrite and repentant sinners.
The Neilah service assumes additional solemnity because it is regarded as the last opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation. “While the gates are being shut, the people, exhausted by fasting and praying all day long, make another supreme effort to penetrate the gate of mercy and obtain the favor of gracious Providence.”86
The awareness that the fate of each individual is being sealed at the end of the day is reflected in the change of wording during the Neilah prayers. “The prayers often repeated during the ten days of penitence, in which the worshipper asks to be inscribed in the book of life, are changed during Neilah for the prayer to be sealed in the book of life.”87 The service ends with a crescendo. When the sun begins to set, the congregation rises and cries out: Shema Yisrael! Hear, O Israel! Then it renews the pledge of loyalty to God, and calls for the establishment of His kingdom. A long, resounding blast of the shofar signal the end of the Day of Atonment. The call of the trumpet is answered by the congregation’s exclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem!” This slogan is uttered twice by the Jews. The first time at the conclusion of the Passover service, the feast of redemption, and the second time at the conclusion of the Day of Atonment, the feast of the ultimate restoration.
Conclusion. Throughout the centuries the ritual of Yom Kippur has cast its magic spell even over the most indifferent Jews. Its promise of cleansing, reconciliation, and restoration to anew relationship with God, still meets a basic need of the human heart. “Rightly observed,” writes Rabbi S. Lehrman, “Yom Kippur can to this day be the regenerator of our lives, making us at-one with our Creator and bringing us nearer to the ideal from which we have departed. Life demands continual effort and self-sacrifice, for these things ennoble and purify. It is an effort that the day exacts. Understood and observed in this spirit, it will help us to acquire’a new heart and a new spirit,’ helping us to usher in the age when wickedness will be removed from the earth, like smoke before the gusts of health-giving winds.”88
The Day of Atonment holds the hope of regeration and restoration not only for Jews but especially for Christians who believe that Christ is the antitypical High Priest who “has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, but into heaven itself” to make expiation for our sins in the present and to save us at His Second Advent (Heb 9:23-28). This is the theme we wish to explore in the following chapter.